Author Andrea Cremer Gets Teens Thinking About History in New Steampunk Series

"The Inventor's Secret" author explains her influences, her favorite books, and the appeal of steampunk to technology-obsessed teens.
Regan McMahon Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two Categories: Reading, We Recommend
Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two

Andrea Cremer writes books you can sink your teeth into. Nightshade, her gripping, bestselling werewolf trilogy, put her on the map globally and was followed by two prequels, Rift and Rise. Then last year she teamed up with David Levithan for the compelling Invisibility, a love story between a contemporary New York teen girl and an invisible teen boy only she can see.

Now Cremer, who was a history professor at Macalester College before becoming a full-time novelist, has taken a new turn, delving into steampunk fiction. The first book in her new series, The Inventor's Secret, is set in 1816 New York and imagines life -- and brewing rebellion -- if the colonists had lost the Revolutionary War. We asked Cremer a few questions about the new series.

What interested you in steampunk?  Which steampunk novels have influenced you?

Steampunk offers the opportunity to explore history and fantasy -- my two great loves. As a professor of history, I've been steeped in archives but wasn't able to deal in alternative narratives and counterfactuals. The Inventor's Secret allowed me to build on my research and fill it with marvelous twists to create a new world that is both familiar and strange at once.

I've been influenced more by the "founders" of steampunkMary Shelley, Jules Verne -- than contemporary steampunk literature, though I am a fan of the genre and think amazing writers are working steampunk. I love Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl; I know he doesn't consider that novel to be true steampunk, but it has amazing elements of steampunk that really inspired my own work.

Why do you think the steampunk world appeals to today's technology-obsessed teens?

Steampunk revisits technological advances and industrial development in order to infuse them with organic, quasi-magical characteristics. While much of what our technology can do today is astonishing, steampunk takes that potential and makes it reality. In steampunk, the impossible becomes possible, yet seems within reach.

What intrigued you about imagining if the colonists had lost the Revolutionary War? How do you think your British fans will like The Inventor's Secret? 

I've taught early American history courses for years, and a common point of discussion remains whether or not the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States created a wholly unique political and culture phenomenon (i.e. American exceptionalism as both true and hegemonic). American exceptionalism ascribes the United States and American culture with a providential nature that revolves around liberty and individuality. Because this particular American character locates its origin in the American Revolution, I wanted to investigate whether that identity could still emerge if the War for Independence was lost. Was this specific manifestation of "America" only possible in that particular historical moment, or could it emerge in other ways? And if so, what would that history look like?

I hope that British fans will know it's not the United Kingdom I’m villainizing. Empires throughout history exploit power and repress their subjects. The American Empire of the late 19th to early 20th century wreaked as much havoc on the world as any of its predecessors. The Inventor's Secret uses a particular moment in history -- the imperial contests of the early 19th century -- to explore the abuses of empire and colonialism, but that critique isn’t aimed at Britain itself. If it were, that criticism would be terribly flawed, given that most American ideals of liberty and equality were inherited from British philosophers!

Is there anything from your teen years that you brought into this story?

The desire for great adventure. As a teen, I always wished I could be swept into some amazing journey full of action and romance, with a great purpose at its end. In The Inventor's Secret, I gave my characters the adventure I always longed for.

What should parents know about your new series? Are there any issues in it that would be good for parents to discuss with their kids? I know a lot of adults read your YA fiction.

The Inventor's Secret provides a fantastic means by which to discuss history and American culture with kids. The world presented in the novel has enough familiar elements that it is a great jumping off point to think about the way history works; why do we think certain events happened instead of other possibilities? The plot also explores forms of oppression -- for example, Britain ended the slave trade well before the United States, so in The Inventor's Secret chattel slavery doesn't exist, but class oppression is rampant. As far as romantic content goes, The Inventor's Secret is PG, so there aren’t any delicate subjects that parents need to be forewarned about.

Do you think the paranormal romance trend is on the wane? Are readers tiring of vampires and werewolves? Are you tired of writing about them?

That's a tough call. Fantasy -- paranormal and other -- has always been my favorite genre, and I believe it will always retain a very loyal following. I do think its moment in the spotlight may have passed, but for me that’s a result of the media's search for the next big trend rather than a reflection of fan loyalty. I'm definitely not tired of writing paranormal. I cut my literary teeth on Dracula and Frankenstein; that's the kind of love that doesn't fade away!

Can you recommend five of your favorite books for teens?

There are so many incredible books out there! A few favorites: Kristin Cashore’s Fire, Garth Nix’s Sabriel, David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing, Marie Lu’s Legend, Beth Revis’ Across the Universe, Jessica Spotswood’s Born Wicked. That’s six -- oops! I could list dozens more. 

About Regan McMahon

Regan has been reviewing children's books for more than a decade. A journalist and former book editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, she cites as one of her toughest assignments having to read and review the 784-page... Read more

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