Guest Post: Beth Cato

I like to joke that I’m a hipster when it comes to the steampunk genre—I liked it before it was cool, and before it was even called steampunk. I grew up savoring retro-future science fiction like the corny 1980 Flash Gordon movie, but sci-fi wasn’t my biggest love as a kid. No, my full-out obsession was with horses. I checked out every for-kids horse book to be found in my local libraries. I collected Breyer model horses. I begged my mom to drive routes that would take us by ranches where horses grazed in the San Joaquin Valley sun.

My interest in horses caused me to pick up books with horses on the cover—historical fiction novels. On the brink of my teenage years, I fell for fantasy role-playing video games, and soon thereafter found a new home in the fantasy book section of my hometown B. Dalton. Games like Final Fantasy VI crossed genre lines, evoking the magic and mythological creatures of fantasy, and innovative technology out of the industrial age. I loved that kind of crossover, and I didn’t find enough of it in the book section.

Years later, the Internet taught me the word steampunk. I found an entire online community devoted to snazzy, classy attire, and I spent hours staring at corseted and goggled eye candy. Even more, I found steampunk had its own literary subgenre. I ate up books by Gail Carriger, Cherie Priest, and Lindsay Buroker.

I needed to start on a new novel of my own, so I decided to give steampunk a try. I started with a basic idea: Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but on an airship, with a healer as the target of assassination.

The Clockwork Dagger developed from that point. I decided to set it in a world of my own creation, one inspired by World War I Europe. That gave me a factual basis for technology and clothing. I set up my own magic system, like that of a medieval-inspired fantasy book, with healing herbs and worship of a gigantic tree known as the Lady. I delved into nonfiction books on the Great War and battlefield medicine to make my setting feel real.

The result was a set of two novels, The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown. I also have additional works set in the same world—my Nebula-nominated novella, Wings of Sorrow and Bone, and two short stories, The Deepest Poison and the Final Flight.

I’m not stopping with this series, either. I have a steampunk series that’s set in an alternate 1906 San Francisco; Breath of Earth, Call of Fire and Roar of Sky!

I still read as much steampunk as I can, too. It’s a genre with endless potential to create new twists with history, science, and magic. And you know what? Horses still play quite a role, too. Steampunk just makes me happy on every level.


Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE. Her most recent novel is ROAR OF SKY. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

Follow her at and on Twitter at: @BethCato.

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  1. November 29, 2019

    Hi Beth and Alex! I’ve always been curious about Steampunk and Beth, your book covers are so very gorgeous to boot! Adding to me to-read list… which I’m determined to work on whittling down in the coming year.

    • December 2, 2019

      I love her take on using WWI as a reference point and then, throwing in her own take on steampunking it with healing magic. So unusual.

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