The 19 Best Steampunk Books To Read

Steampunk is a Sci-Fi subgenre that just sets itself apart. It’s a whole other universe that has as much character as cyberpunk and space western worldbuilding.

And, really, who would have thought joining the vintage and futuristic would be so cool.

The Best Steampunk Books

So whether you love regency fashion, retro machinery, or the idea of another industrial age, you wouldn’t be the only one who’s fascinated by steampunk.

It’s still growing in popularity too.

Steampunk has influenced films, video games, novels, cosplayers, and more over the years, with no sign of the subgenre running out of steam just yet.

And if you love steampunk novels, in particular, I’ve rounded up the 19 best steampunk books that you need to read.

These books have either brought steampunk to the mainstream, pushed the subgenre in new directions, or are simply great reads set in rich steampunk universes.

So start reading these today – or add them to your TBR list!

19 Best Steampunk Books to Read

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines: Mortal Engines, Book 1

Author: Philip Reeve
Date published: 2001

Mortal Engines was a book before it was adapted into a blockbuster film, so it’s one you need to read if you haven’t done so already.

It follows Hester Shaw, a young girl who seeks revenge on Thaddeus Valentine, the ruler of a futuristic London city.

What makes Mortal Engines unique is how all cities are mobile, roaming the earth on massive steam-powered vehicles that are about as steampunk as it gets.

The story is fast-paced and action-packed, centered around themes of power and greed.

Pros

  • One of the most popular steambook books ever written
  • A rollercoaster of a story with unique worldbuilding

Cons

  • Features a connect-the-dots revenge plot
  • Might not be as enjoyable if you’ve already watched the film

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1)

Author: Philip Pullman
Date published: 1995

The Golden Compass, also released as Northern Lights (in the UK), is the first book in the well-known His Dark Materials trilogy.

It’s set in a parallel universe filled with magic, talking polar bears, and steampunk-influenced gadgets and fashion.

While it might be a young adult novel, The Golden Compass features shocking discoveries and heavy themes that really make this book a gripping read from start to finish.

Pros

  • One of the best fantasy books ever written
  • Features vibrant worldbuilding and fleshed-out characters
  • Part of a best-selling trilogy

Cons

  • Doesn’t contain as many steampunk elements are other books on this list

Boneshaker

Boneshaker

Author: Cherie Priest
Date published: 2009

Like zombies as much as steampunk? The Boneshaker is a book that will be right up your alley.

It follows protagonist Briar Wilkes in an alternate version of Seattle as she sets out to find her son and the mystery behind the “Boneshaker”.

You’ll like Boneshaker if you’re partial to female protagonists – especially strong ones.

The worldbuilding is one-of-a-kind too, with a story touching on themes of family, hope, and redemption. And need I say it? Zombies mixed with steampunk!

Pros

  • A must-read for zombie fans
  • Features a strong female protagonist
  • The first book in a series of five

Cons

  • Some readers might find this novel’s concept “gimmicky”

Leviathan

Leviathan

Author: Scott Westerfeld
Date published: 2009

Set in the early 20th century during a fictionalized World War I, Leviathan follows two main characters, Alek and Deryn, whose paths cross in the midst of a battle between two opposing factions fighting for control of Europe.

Alek is a prince and Deryn is a girl who disguises herself as a boy. And, needless to say, they’re both from different sides of the war.

It’s a steampunk world with an enthralling adventure story at its heart, which won multiple awards soon after its release.

Pros

  • Part of a best-selling trilogy
  • Features strong steampunk worldbuilding
  • Won awards for Best Science Fiction Novel and Best Young Adult Novel

Cons

  • Some might not like the long descriptions of machinery and fictional animals throughout the book

Soulless

Soulless

Author: Gail Carriger
Date published: 2009

Soulless, the first book in a series of five, blends steampunk and paranormal romance in a fictionalized London set in the Victorian era.

The main character is Alexia Tarrabotti, whose life changes when she accidentally kills a vampire.

Yep, this book features vampires – and werewolves.

Lord Maccon is one of these werewolves, who Alexia teams up with to solve a conspiracy about the rogue vampires and werewolves inhabiting the world.

If you liked Twilight, this steampunk novel is a must-read.

Pros

  • Features romance set in a steampunk world
  • A must-read for vampire and werewolf lovers

Cons

  • Shares similarities with the romance in Twilight, including the love triangle trope

The Time Machine

The Time Machine

Author: H.G. Wells
Date published: 1895

The Time Machine is a classic that was well before its time – especially when it comes to the steampunk subgenre.

It follows an unnamed narrator who builds a time machine, sending him on a journey where he encounters a futuristic society of peace-lovers and savages.

Touching on themes of society, humanity, and evolution, The Time Machine remains a popular read despite being released over a century ago.

The Eloi and Morlock species in the book are interesting to read about as well, along with the world created.

Pros

  • Features strong themes of civilization and evolution
  • An interesting social commentary that still holds up a century after publication
  • A classic novel that had steampunk elements before it became a subgenre

Cons

  • Might not be enjoyable for young adult readers or those who prefer contemporary fiction
  • Doesn’t contain as many steampunk elements as other books on this list

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station

Author: China Mieville
Date published: 2000

Perdido Street Station is set in a world that’s as interesting as its title.

It follows scientist Dan der Grimnebulin as he attempts to relearn how to fly in a world occupied by an array of unique fictional creatures, including cactus people and steampunk-like androids.

So it’s a must-read if you love vibrant, imaginative worldbuilding, along with unique and interesting characters.

The book won several awards, and was hailed for its genre-defying world and themes.

Pros

  • Features a vivid, imaginative world
  • Encompasses various genres, such as sci-fi, horror, and fantasy
  • Won various awards, including the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel

Cons

  • Some readers might not like the dense descriptions throughout this book

Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel: The Infernal Devices, Book 1

Author: Cassandra Clare
Date published: 2010

The first book in a critically acclaimed trilogy, Clockwork Angel is a story set in Victorian London following teen protagonist Tessa Gray, who has the special ability of being able to shapeshift into other people.

Tessa is captured in the first few chapters by a dark group who want to use her power for their own gain.

This kick-starts a thrilling adventure of magic, demon-fighting, and conspiracies with intricate worldbuilding and fun steampunk elements.

Pros

  • A popular young adult novel that has won numerous awards
  • Features fleshed-out characters
  • Blends steampunk and fantasy

Cons

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (Illustrated 1875 Edition): F. P. Walter Translation

Author: Jules Verne
Date published: 1870

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a classic sci-fi novel that had steampunk elements before it became a subgenre.

At the heart of this is the Nautilus – an advanced futuristic submarine commanded by a captain with sinister motives.

The main character is Professor Annorax, who has his own ship, on which he explores the ocean – eventually crossing paths with the Nautilus in a high-stakes adventure with themes of imperialism and exploration.

Pros

  • A must-read for those who love voyages and exploration
  • One of the first steampunk books ever written
  • Features stunning description of the ocean and marine life

Cons

  • Might not be enjoyable for readers who prefer contemporary fiction

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Omnibus

Author: Alan Moore
Date published: 1999

If you like graphic novels and comics, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the inspiration behind the 2003 blockbuster film.

It’s set in an alternative fantasy universe, with “extraordinary” characters who each possess a unique special ability.

What makes The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen unique is how all its main characters are pulled from other fictional books, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The artwork is vivid and well-drawn, with a story that spans four volumes.

Pros

  • Ideal for comic and graphic novel fans
  • Features a cast of vibrant, interesting characters with unique abilities and personalities
  • Features detailed, colorful artwork

Cons

  • Not for those who prefer novels over comics

The Iron Duke

The Iron Duke (Iron Seas Book 1)

Author: Meljean Brook
Date published: 2010

Part of the well-received “The Iron Seas” series, The Iron Duke features zombies in a Victorian, post-apocalyptic steampunk world controlled by the British Empire.

The protagonist is Mina Wentworth, a detective who pairs up with “The Iron Duke”.

Together, the pair tackle a mysterious conspiracy about a valuable substance known as “aether”, which just so happens to be the powering force behind this novel’s steampunk inventions. It’s as much a romance as it is a steampunk book, with rich worldbuilding.

Pros

  • Features a strong and proactive female protagonist
  • Contains romance and mystery
  • Part of a series

Cons

  • Might not be suitable for young readers due to its romance elements

The Difference Engine

The Difference Engine: A Novel

Author: William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
Date published: 1990

Named after a fictional device that rapidly advanced technology and, as a result, society, The Difference Engine is a steampunk novel through and through that follows two protagonists in the midst of a world-threatening conspiracy.

Set in Victorian-era England with steam-powered machines and advanced cyberpunk technology, The Difference Engine makes for a unique, enthralling read that, at times, blends into speculative fiction.

Pros

  • As much speculative fiction as it is sci-fi steampunk
  • Features rich worldbuilding, steampunk machines, and futuristic technology

Cons

  • Some might find the worldbuilding and description complex and hard to read

The Girl In The Steel Corset

The Girl in the Steel Corset (The Steampunk Chronicles, 2)

Author: Kady Cross
Date published: 2011

Featuring a young protagonist with a split personality, a steampunk-inspired villain called “The Machinist”, and a conspiracy involving a secret society set in Victorian England, The Girl in the Steel Corset is a YA novel with suspense and action in abundance.

And that’s not all this book offers, as it also boasts a colorful cast with supernatural characters that include a shapeshifter and genius inventor.

It’s as engaging as it sounds, especially if you can’t get enough of young adult fantasy fiction.

Pros

  • A must-read novel for young adult readers and steampunk fans
  • The first book in a ten-strong series
  • Features a diverse cast of unique characters

Cons

  • Contains many young adult tropes

Airborn

Airborn

Author: Kenneth Oppel
Date published: 2004

Airborn is the book in a trilogy that’s been praised for its worldbuilding and genre-defying story – with the literary awards to back it up.

Set in a fictional version of the 20th century where air travel is rife, it boasts steampunk worldbuilding and an adventure-led story.

Following protagonist Matt Cruse, Airborn sees Matt as he navigates the sky with big dreams of becoming a captain.

With Kate de Vries by his side, the two aim to discover a legendary flying creature, delivering a fun adventure of exploration and romance.

Pros

  • Spans sci-fi, adventure, and young adult romance
  • Features a vivid steampunk world set in the sky
  • A multi-award-winning novel

Cons

  • Not for readers looking for something darker and more suspenseful

Incarceron

Incarceron: Incarceron Series, Book 1

Author: Catherine Fisher
Date published: 2007

Incarceron is part dystopia, part steampunk, set in a large steampunk-inspired prison (called Incarceron) where its prisoners have no memory.

The story features two protagonists, Finn and Claudia, who are both prisoners.

Set on escaping, Finn and Claudia must navigate inmates and guards, along with a conspiracy that lies at the heart of the prison.

Themes of power and justice, as well as memory and identity, make Incarceron a thought-provoking read from the first page.

Pros

  • Set in a unique dystopian setting with steampunk elements
  • Follows two interesting protagonists with great chemistry
  • A multi-award-winning novel

Cons

  • Some readers might find this book too heavy due its themes

Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

Author: Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Date published: 2011

The first in the “Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences” book series, Phoenix Rising is an imaginative steampunk novel set in Victorian England, crossing into other genres that include romance, action, and mystery.

The series follows two main characters, Books and Braun, who must investigate various peculiar occurrences that threaten England.

Phoenix Rising offers a solid start to the series, which shouldn’t be missed by fans of mystery and detective fiction.

Pros

  • Blends steampunk elements with romance and detective fiction
  • Part of a well-received series that contains over five books

Cons

  • Some readers might find this book’s mix of genres jarring

The Strange Affair Of Spring Heeled Jack

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack: Burton & Swinburne, Book 1

Author: Mark Hodder
Date published: 2010

If you’re a fan of book series, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack kick-starts the award-winning “Burton and Swinburne” books, which follow explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and poet Algernon Swinburne in steampunk Victorian-era England.

The duo tackle various mysteries, and in the first book it’s a mysterious character called Spring Heeled Jack – a man who is terrorizing the city of London.

The story has elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and detective fiction, with well-crafted characters throughout.

Pros

  • A series with interesting, fleshed-out characters
  • Spans various genres, including science fiction, fantasy, and history
  • Set in Victorian England with an alternative timeline

Cons

  • Young adult readers might not find this book as interesting as others

Retribution Falls

Retribution Falls: Tales of the Ketty Jay, Book 1

Author: Chris Wooding
Date published: 2009

Retribution Falls, the first entry in the “Tales of the Ketty Jay” series, is a steampunk book through and through thanks to its world where steam-powered tech and vehicles are commonplace.

It has page-turning action, as well as an interesting character cast.

Central to this cast is Darian Frey, the captain of the Ketty Jay ship and its crew of outcasts.

After one mission doesn’t go to plan, the group find themselves as the targets of a ruthless, villainous pirate and her unstoppable army.

Pros

  • Action-packed and fast-paced
  • Features a detailed and imaginative steampunk world
  • The first in a series that’s been highly praised

Cons

  • While a fun read, some readers will find the plot predictable

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass: The Cinder Spires, Book 1

Author: Jim Butcher
Date published: 2015

If you enjoy high concepts, The Aeronaut’s Windlass is set in a steampunk-inspired world where civilization lives above the clouds in tall towers, with steam-powered airships as the main form of transport – and warfare.

Following a large cast of characters, with one duo at the forefront, Captain Francis Grimm and Gwendolyn Lancaster, The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a gripping read that involves two opposing factions, dangerous conspiracies, and non-stop action.

Pros

  • A strong start to “The Cinder Spires” series
  • Blends steampunk worldbuilding with adventure and war
  • One of the most popular steampunk books of the last decade
  • Was nominated for Best Fantasy

Cons

  • Some readers will find the main characters bland and unlikable

Buyer’s Guide

Paperback, Hardback, Kindle, or Audiobook

Books can be bought in four formats: paperback, hardback, Kindle (e-books), and audiobooks.

Which format you buy can affect your consumer experience, so it’s well worth knowing what the main differences and benefits are.

If you prefer physical books, the difference between paperback and hardback books is that paperbacks are lighter but less durable than hardbacks.

Kindle books and audiobooks are more portable, on the other hand, but require an e-reader or audio device to access.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it: the 19 best steampunk novels you need to read ASAP.

Some of these books are iconic; others are hidden gems that are well worth your time.

So whether you can’t get enough of steampunk or just want to see what all the fuss is about, start reading these books today or add them to your TBR list!

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Steampunk?

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that’s influenced by Victorian fashion and industrial steam-powered machinery, set in worlds that have both retro and futuristic elements.

The subgenre originated in the 1980s and has since influenced art, films, video games, novels, and more.

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Noah Burton