Welcome to our steampunk Revelry! Dance with us. Come have a glass of sherry for today we celebrate Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’ new release, the Diamond Conspiracy.
I’m Pip Ballantine, the female half of the writing duo behind the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.
I’ve been a writer for over ten years, in all kinds of speculative fiction, but I was drawn to steampunk back in 2009. I love the combination of imagination and history that it provides. Now I am hooked on airships, and steamtrains probably for the rest of my life. I also really enjoy writing with my husband Tee Morris, which is also rather addictive—just don’t tell him I said that.
The series is onto its fourth book, and we’re still loving writing in this world. If you haven’t tried the series it is a fun steampunk spy adventure, with lots of derring-doing, a touch of romance, and lots of gadgets. Eliza D Braun loves her job as a secret agent for the Ministry, and would probably be described as an adrenalin junky in our modern age. Wellington Thornhill Books, is the archivist-now turned active agent, who finds unknown skills outside of the Ministry offices.
In the Diamond Conspiracy, their world is turned upside down, as the Maestro and his deadly assassin Sophia del Morte, reach the climax of their plan to topple the Ministry. For he has a dangerous new ally—a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself.
From 21st March until the 28th March we’ll be running a rafflecopter competition in celebration.
If you solve the puzzle don’t forget to include your scores. Those who finish the puzzle will be included in the rafflecopter giveaway.
Wellington was slowly making his own way down the ladder, one hand sliding down the outer rung of the ladder while the other defiantly carried their small suitcase of clothes and necessities. Always the gentleman, Eliza thought as he made his way to the gunner’s seat. To the very last.
Underneath her chair she found a pair of goggles and an aviator’s cap. Aviatrix for this flight, she thought to herself. There was also a leather mask connected to an unseen section of their flyer. Perhaps this was a high-altitude breathing apparatus, or a communication device, or combination of the two. Dangling from the mask, she noticed a small coil of cable that offered a connection. Checking the cap, a suitable outlet was apparent.
“Wellington,” she spoke into the mask once she’d joined the two, “can you hear me?” She glanced over her shoulder and could see Wellington adjusting the mask. Once he had made the link between mask and aviator’s hat, his voice crackled in her ears. “You said the aeroflyers were the Avro five-tens. I do believe this is a five-ten
A, an ingenious design that Westinghouse had a hand in developing. An electric engine that, once the charge depletes, immediately switches to a steam engine, but the steam engine actually recharges—”
“You can study it later,” Eliza replied tartly, looking overhead at the release catch. She turned each value one at a time, watching as bright white steam expelled then disappeared into the light of dusk. “Are you ready?”
“Just one moment,” he said. Then came a loud pop, followed by another from behind her. Eliza looked over her shoulder to see Wellington hefting the Maxim off its housing to toss it overboard, out into the shadows of the coming night.
“That should make us considerably lighter, granting us a little more range.”
Discarding weapons would usually send Eliza into a right fit but not this time. “We should be able to make it to land, at the very least.”
“So that’s the plan?” Wellington said with a grunt. Another glance over her shoulder revealed Wellington was removing as much of the machine gun’s mountings as was permitted.
“Fly into London and—”
“Correction, Welly, we’re aiming for shore. We don’t have the range to make it to London, but to shore . . .” She checked the instruments, not that she fully understood what she was looking at, and lied. “Without a doubt.”
She felt the small craft shudder, and caught a glimpse of some unidentified metallic apparatus tumbling into the darkness underneath them.
“Right then,” Wellington said as he settled into his chair.
He secured the belt across his lap and gave Eliza a sharp nod.
“I am all set.”
Fumbling underneath the control panel, she discovered a crank, similar to ones found in other motorcars, and after giving it a few hard, fast revolutions, the centre prop spun to life.
A moment later the right and left props followed suit. She opened the throttle, just as she had been taught those years ago, and all three propellers disappeared in a blur of revolutions.
“Batteries are full,” Wellington reported. “Boilers are as well. Ready for launch.” She felt his head rub ever so gently against the back of hers. “Now, if you please. There is a delegation from the Atlantic Angel at the hatch wondering who the hell is about to nick off with one of their aeroflyers!”
With a cheery wave to the Angel’s security crew, Eliza reached up for the release. With a hard kthunk audible even with the rush of air around them, the aeroflyer dropped, but only a few feet before Eliza pulled back on the yoke, then made adjustments accordingly to both how she handled the steering, how open the throttle was, and exactly how to manage the disruption of air currents. They banked dangerously close towards the gondola, only to level out. The passengers of both first and second class were obvious, pressing their faces against the observation windows to get a glimpse at this wild and unexpected display of derring‑do. Eliza could still make out, in the deep violet of night, the smart white hats and blazers of the bridge crew. She gave a proper salute to the captain before banking away from the Angel and shooting ahead into the grand void.
Her fingertips now felt in the dark for what her eyes had caught a glimpse of, and there at the top of the dashboard Eliza found the solitary switch. It flipped up, and from behind the various gauges a soft light rose, illuminating the cockpit enough for her to plot their heading in the simplest, most base manner. East. They needed to head east.
“Are you all right up there?” Wellington asked.
“As well as we will ever be,” she returned, glancing over her shoulder. Now the only thing piercing through the absolute darkness were the Angel’s running lights, a considerable distance behind them. “If we follow an Easterly course, we should hit… something.”
“Indeed. Even if we reach Ireland, ’twill serve as a story for the ages.”
“You seem resigned to whatever Fate has in store, Welly. Not sure if I like this.”
“For what it is worth, darling,” he said quite frankly, “the past two days have been sheer bliss. If we die on this madcap escape, I will be happy to perish with you.”
Eliza let out a laugh. “I really don’t want to die.”
“Neither do I, so please focus on flying this bloody thing and returning us to terra firma with all speed, safely.”
Her eyes went back to the instruments. She had plenty of altitude. Her course was steady. All that she needed was the pressure to remain constant, for the tailwind to continue, and to last through the night and into the morning. Finding solid ground was going to be the real trick.
Aside from landing safely, of course.
End of Excerpt
[twochop-public idtype=”1″ id=”8983180056728351476″]