Recommend by: Riley
The Tea Machine is one of the most unusual books I have read in a long time. I mean that in the best way!
There are two things that make this book unusual to me. The first is a strange and lovely combination of genres. Basically, it is a steampunk and romance. Then you add time travel. And since the time travel is both backward and forward and in time, historical and science fiction can be added to the list of genres. This combining of several of my favorite genres into one novel is a feat that I truly admire.
The second unusual trait about The Tea Machine is that, with the turn of a page, the story goes from serious, intense action where the heroines are facing danger around every corner to a less intense, danger-free, witty and absolutely hilarious conversations. As I was reading, this constant change in the mood of the story grew on me with each chapter.
The characters in The Tea Machine are truly special. My favorite is Decanus Sangfroid, who leads her unit of Roman soldiers out into space, battling giant killer squid and always seems to live up to her name. On her timeline, the Roman’s never stopped invading. When they ran out of territory on earth, they went into space, unable to figure out any other purpose beyond conquering. Those who know their Latin may be aware that Decanus is a military rank, not a name. That is something Sangfroid will get tired of mentioning to the people in London.
Millicent Aberly is the 19th century woman who is responsible for Sangfroid being in London, apparently on a different timeline than the giant squid timeline. How that happened is difficult to explain, but here is the short version: There is Hubert, Millicent’s genius, inventor brother, a time machine, squid battles going horribly wrong, and time travel.
Sangfroid is tall. Really tall, evidently, towering over everyone on earth in late 1800’s London. Sangfroid is so tall that everyone thinks she is a he and that she is Millicent’s beau. Which is sort of true. Specifically, the part about Sangfroid being Millicent’s beau (belle) is true. It is a slow moving romance, but the two are drawn to each other for reasons they don’t understand or don’t remember. I like this ambiguous beginning(?) to their relationship. It hints that there is more to the story than the timeline you are currently reading about.
I can’t talk about characters without mentioning Sophia Trenchant-Myre. Hubert’s fiancé, Sophia is completely unaware of the true nature of Sangfroid, the time machine and pretty much everything that is going on around her. Totally annoying at first, this character became more interesting as the story progressed and her importance to the plot cannot ignored. Sophia also provides much of the comic relief – which also makes her a vital character.
When asked if I had any interest in reviewing The Tea Machine, I looked at the cover. That was all I needed to decide I had to read it. I think it is pretty evident why. There is an interesting border with a steampunk theme going on surrounding a suction-cup covered tentacle reaching out of a lovely porcelain cup filled with strongly brewed tea. How could I not want to read this book. Did I mention the tea? Tea is my second favorite beverage after water. There is a lot of tea in this book. Tea is represented in many forms from a cup of Lapsang Souchong to an entire tea theology. (BTW, my third favorite beverage is also mentioned in the book. Sangfroid seems to enjoy whiskey too!)
Along with the characters and the tea, Ms. McKnight has created several fascinating timelines in The Tea Machine. Each has its own quirks, dangers, and appealing and unappealing aspects. In the book, it seems that power, corruption, greed, suffering and ignorance can be found anywhere and any time. But so can compassion, generosity, bravery, intelligence, and love.
I found myself admiring Ms. McKnight’s writing skills beyond just telling a great story. There is something about the way she strings words together that is funny and smart and oh, so readable. I could open to any page to find an example of what I am talking about. Here is a brief example of Sangfroid explaining Hubert to her fellow soldier Gallo:
“He’s a professor, the boss of the brainiacs,” Sangfroid told her. “He invented this machine.” She pointed at the contraption in the middle of the laboratory. “It lets you travel through time, so they decided to come visit us and screw us over.” Next she pointed at Millicent. “She’s managed to kill me at least 300 times, and I bet she’s done you in, too.” She concluded with, “And he dresses like that because he likes brown.”
The Tea Machine is the first in The Teatime Chronicles series. It has a satisfying ending, but leaves the reader and the characters with some key unanswered questions. I really wanted answers to some of those questions, but since book one was so good, I’m okay with having to read more of the series to figure it all out.
The Tea Machine is highly recommended! When I decided to group my posts about steampunk under the heading of Teatime Reading, I had no idea that I’d be reading The Teatime Chronicles. I really think The Tea Machine was destined to end up on my bookshelf. On my favorites shelf, to be specific. I am sad that I have to wait until 2017 to read the next book in The Teatime Chronicles series. But I’m sure it will be worth the wait!