1. The Scar (China Miéville)
The Scar (2002, review here) is the best steampunk novel. It expands brilliantly upon the world of Bas-Lag born out of Perdido Street Station. The reader is brought to Armada, a floating city where giant bonefish attacks and vampire administrators are the norm.
Can be read on its own or as a sequel to Perdido Street Station.
2. Perdido Street Station (China Miéville)
Perdido Street Station (2000, review here) introduces New Crobuzon, a weird and wonderful city held hostage by an oppressive faceless militia. Dan Der Grimbulin, a freelance scientist, is commissioned to return an injured Garuda’s (half bird, half man) ability to fly. Things fall apart and Grimbulin quickly finds himself in a desperate quest to save the entire city of New Crobuzon.
Perdido Street Station is an important book in what is called the “new weird” and builds a rich and disturbing world. Fans of steampunk will want to read this wonderful and challenging book.
3. The Court of the Air (Stephen Hunt)
The Court of the Air (2007, review here) is Star Wars meets The Wizard of Oz in a steampunk world. Elements from Miéville’s Bas-Lag are present in Hunt’s writings.
This is the first book in the Jackelian series and a good read for those new to steampunk. A straightforward adventure story that is made interesting by the exploration of an original steampunk world.
4. The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack (Mark Hodder)
The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack (2010) bridges the gap between traditional Victorian-based steampunk and a completely fictional world-based steampunk. Its most interesting aspect is that it takes real historical persons and subtly steampunkefies makes the important players in Victorian England.
5. Iron Council (China Miéville)
Iron Council (2004, review here) is a Bas-Lag story that is simpler than that of Perdido Street Station and The Star. It takes place farther in the future than the first two books. The story follows the progress of a perpetual train as it crosses a steampunk fantasy continent that contains the disturbingly strange Cacotopic Stain.
Iron Council also tells the story of a revolutionist fighting the oppressive New Crobuzon Mayor’s Office.
6. Scar Night (Alan Campbell)
Scar Night (2006, review here) contains an original world with some memorable characters. The scarred angel named Carnival has some inspiring moments throughout the trilogy, which includes Iron Angel (2008) and God of Clocks (2009). The sequels, however, lack the imaginative setting that makes Scar Night so compelling.
7. The Kingdom Beyond the Waves (Stephen Hunt)
The Kingdom Beyond the Waves (2008) is Indiana Jones meets Batman in a steampunk world. The second book in the Jackelian series, it is the sequel that remains truest to the spirit of The Court of the Air. Commodore Jared Black takes a central role in this story and is a mainstay throughout the rest of the Jackelian novels.
8. Boneshaker (Cherie Priest)
Boneshaker (2009) has the most imaginative setting of any book on the list. The story takes place in a fictional Civil War-period Seattle. A wall surrounds the city and keeps a yellow gas that turn people into zombies when breathed in from spreading beyond the city limits.
This book is the definition of what steampunk should be. Unfortunately, the sequels to Boneshaker are boring and pointless.
9. Retribution Falls (Chris Wooding)
Retribution Falls (2009) is an interesting character-driven airship adventure. Firefly in a steampunk world, it has a strong early 1990s sci-fi television feel.
10. The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (Mark Hodder)
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (2011) is the sequel to The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack. This Burton and Swinburne adventure takes the reader through a Victorian world that is growing stranger by the day.