Jon Foster / Cover of Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
What is Steampunk? For a way to explain a fantasy subgenre, Steampunk is not very descriptive. According to The Steampunk Bible (2011), it can be explained most easily by this equation:
Steampunk = Mad Scientist Inventor [invention (steam x airship or metal man/ baroque stylings) x (pseudo) Victorian (or Edwardian) settings] + progressive or reactionary politics x adventure plot. (p. 9)
Got that? So it's basically fantasy stories set in a Victorian-era England (although not always) with crazy scientists inventing fanciful and/or dangerous objects and contraptions, throw in some female characters that are doing it for themselves and you have got yourself one heck of an adventure story! Is that it? Not by a long shot. But it will do for now. The only way to truly understand this fantasy subgenre that is at once both "simultaneously retro and forward looking" (Steampunk Bible, p. 9) is to explore it for yourself. Luckily for you, Steampunk is in the middle of a renaissance especially when it comes to teen literature.
If you wanted to start at the very beginning you could try classic adventure stories by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Time Machine. Perhaps the Edgar Allan Poe short stories "The Balloon Hoax" and "The Spectacles" are more your speed? Or maybe you've already read Steampunk novels and not even realized it, such as: Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass series, Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series or the graphic novel series by Alan Moore The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Or maybe you've watched the Japanese anime films Castle in the Sky, Howl's Moving Castle and Steamboy. All are considered types of Steampunk.
But what is out there right now and being specifically written for teens? A lot actually:
The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress (2013): Set in Edwardian, England, three girls, Cora, Nellie and Michiko are all assistants to three powerful men who meet by chance at a society ball that ends in murder. Using their unique skills and abilities, the three of them team up to solve the crime(s).
The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross (2011): Finley Jayne, a commoner who lives with a beastly alter-ego inside of her, falls in with the young Duke of Greythorne's set, a group of misfits that includes a female engineer, an American gunfighter and a charming criminal. Together they work to take down a villain known as The Machinist, who wants to replace Queen Victoria with a sentient automaton. Sequels: The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, The Girl with the Iron Touch.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (2009): Set in an alternate World War 1, Deryn, a Scottish girl, has disguised herself as a boy and joined the British Air Service. The transport she is flying runs into Prince Alek, who is on the run from the Clankers Powers, a group trying to take over the world using mechanical machines. Sequels: Behemoth, Goliath and the companion The Manual of Aeronautics.
Legacy of the Clockwork Key by Kristin Bailey (2013): The only thing orphaned Meg has left of her clock making family is a beautiful watch. Now a maid, Meg discovers that her watch is actually a master key and the only way to destroy a dangerous invention. With the help of the stable boy, Will, Meg goes on a journey of unlocking clues and fighting mechanical creatures that will eventually lead her to the most dangerous machine of all.
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (2013): In 1851 England, Sophronia would much rather dismantle clocks and climb trees than learn the proper ways of being a lady. Fed up, her mother sends her to a finishing school to learn dance, dress and etiquette but when she arrives Sophronia is surprised to learn she will also be learning about death, diversion and deceit. See also, the author's popular Steampunk novels for adults, The Parasol Protectorate series.
Riese: Kingdom Falling by Greg Cox (2012): Riese is a princess who'd much rather be fighting than sitting through lessons on court etiquette. Having escaped a lesson, Riese meets the mysterious Micah and she pretends to be a palace servant. When the sinister clockwork Sect infiltrates her mother's court and war from a neighboring country looms, Riese must choose between her duty and her heart. See also the SyFy Channel web series Riese.
The Peculiars by Maureen McQuarry (2012): Set in an alternate 1800s American West, Lena sets out to search for her missing father in Scree, a mysterious northern territory inhabited by exiled Peculiars. Along the way she meets a young librarian Jim and a handsome marshall, Thomas, who complicate her journey.
The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent (2012): In New London, science reigns supreme and witchcraft has been outlawed. Young Vespa, who has just discovered her magical powers, wants nothing more than to catalog items in her father's museum but he plans instead for her marriage. When an evil sorcerer/ inventor threatens the city, Vespa teams up with a young Tinker and a handsome warlock to save the day.
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve (2009): In a Future London, foundling Fever Crumb has been raised as an engineer although women are not seen as reasonable creatures. When she leaves to become an archaeologist's assistant she begins to learn the truth of her past and faces new dangers in the present. Sequels: A Web of Air and Scrivener's Moon. Fever Crumb is also a prequel trilogy to the author's Mortal Engines quartet.
The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron (2012): After the family fortune begins to dwindle, Katherine is sent to the family estate to have her extravagant and reclusive uncle committed to an asylum. What she finds is a kind, childlike man who is also a genius inventor and the employer of hundreds of people. She must find a way to save the estate and her uncle before those around her would destroy them.
Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith (2010): Traumatized after a near abduction, Jack travels to London where he is handed a pair of goggles by a stranger. The goggles transport him to the apocalyptic world of Marbury where he struggles to protect two young boys and fight off a villain who looks a lot like his best friend Connor. Meanwhile, his visions begin to impede his grip on reality and the chance at a new romance. Sequel: Passenger.
Still want more? You can check out this longer list of available titles in Bibliocommons here. If you are interested in learning more about the origins and subculture of Steampunk (including history, cosplay, gears and rock bands) check out The Steampunk Bible and The Steampunk Gazette.