I've tried the steampunk genre before, but couldn't find anything that really drew me into the whole steampunk mindset. All that changed when I downloaded The Sauder Diaries on a whim and devoured it over Christmas - as in, stayed-up-till-4am-and-lost-precious-sleep-because-the-book-wouldn't-let-me-go, kind of devouring. Michel's pirate-infused steampunk world is rooted in the historical fabric of Victorian Europe, but with his own distinct slant on how love, war, espionage and life would have continued in a world where airships and clockwork mechanisms are the wave of the future, and Russia the supermenace overshadowing the world.
The protagonist, Hans Sauder, is a gentleman's son who is on his way to university when his airship is waylaid by the nefarious pirate ship The Bloody Rose. Confronted with a decision to join the crew or be tossed overboard into the most volatile wilds of Europe, Hans reluctantly steps into the role of a pirate. As he is given the kind of education no university could have prepared him for, Hans finds himself at the center of a paradoxical world, where the Captain conducts piracy with a gentleman's keen business sense, the most lethal crew members are the women, and the dark underbelly of a "peaceful" Europe is exposed at every turn. No shallow, cardboard characters populate this story; every pirate - from Italian Ethiope beauty Arietta to the seemingly indestructible Blauchuk - is a multilayered soul with peculiar backhistories that feed the plot throughout, and drop curious hints for the series to come.
Being a history teacher myself, I am notoriously picky when it comes to the books I read. The Sauder Diaries defied my skepticsm at every turn - and won the duel, hands down. Romance, warfare, intrigue, humor, and espionage were all interwoven with meticulous attention. Historical and mechanical detail nails down every scene with credible believability, yet is never off-putting for those who might not be history buffs, or of a mechanical mind.
If I had known at the outset what a gem of a book this would be, I would have gladly paid more than the current asking price. This tale is an absolute gem, and I look forward to the promised sequel with school-girlish impatience. Highly recommend it!