This was my first ARC, so I was pretty excited to get the l from the publisher, offering a review copy. My little blog is all growed up! And hey, it’s Dieselpunk secondary world fiction, so I was sold on it from the get go.
The cover is very true to the book – the braid, the eye colour and hair colour, the red cravat, the necklace with saphires, all mentioned in the book. The clock tower in the background too. It’s nice to see a cover with a female main character not being over-sexualized, which is doubly appropriate, since there’s no romance in the book. Nice to see an author not trying to shoe-horn it in where it’s not needed.
It’s a very plot driven book, so if you’re a reader who likes a good adventure, this is an Indiana Jones style story. Capra is a Valoii deserter from Mizkov, having abandoned her people and their war against the Ehzeri, and with her military background, she’s a great butt-kicking heroine to center the story around. She’s also found herself in a part of the world where men don’t respect women, and it grates on her terribly. Also, since there’s no romance in the story, she doesn’t suffer from being rescued by the male lead constantly, and ending the story being the trophy girl for the male lead. It reminds me a bit of the Holly Vesper series, by Lloyd Alexander – adventuring heroine without the need for there to be a male love interest to make her interesting.
One thing I really liked was the fact that the plot was well foreshadowed. Things early on in the book matter later, and the hints were subtle, yet the promise was clear. The Archon that Vasi must be sure to keep in check, the giant unseen thing beneath the tarp in the armoury, visible from all over, the Sevari family memorial that the characters don’t have time to check out the first time you see it. All promises that there’s something cool there, and we’ll get to see it later. And then the author follows though on them, and that goes a long way for me, especially when a lot of debut authors forget the foreshadowing.
The other main characters are fairly well developed. There’s Vasi, an Ehzeri, who’s main drive is also not finding someone to fall in love with, but protecting her younger (twit) brother who’s intent on getting himself into the maximum amount of trouble possible. She’s not quite as kick-butt as Capra, but she has more of a quiet, come up from behind kick-assery, being a magic wielder.
Ironically, Lang being a male author, it was more the male characters that I thought could have used a bit more character development, though even there, it’s not that they’re not developed, it’s more that the development doesn’t get in until after the halfway point. Alim, being the exception – an old friend of Capra’s from the military, sent to execute her for desertion, who blames Capra for the death of his wife.
The worldbuilding was fresh. The story takes place in a city built on the oil industry, as mechanization quickly replaces magic in this world. I’ve always been a sucker for worlds where magic and technology are being mixed, so I love the world. Even the oil itself has the background story of being the blood of the fire giants after their legendary figure cast them down into a pit.
The one world building thing that disappointed me though, was the hand cannons, and lack of detail on them. I kept wondering, are they match-lock, wheel-lock, flint lock? The term historically refers to a hand-held version of what looked like a miniature cannon, dating at least 500 years earlier than the time period the rest of the worldbuilding invokes. The weapon in the story was described as having a wooden stock, though and machined barrel, which sounds more like a pistol. There was mention of the long loading time, but little description of how it was loaded and fire, for all that they were used frequently through the story. Nary a mention of cloth or ramrod.
The bit that really made me twitch though, was when a character dropped the shot into the barrel and then the powder.
But I’ll refrain from ranting, because that was a relatively small thing, and overall I liked the book and it’s themes. There’s the background environmental theme, with the chemical output of the refinery, of labour, and treatment of workers and women. I was particularly intrigued when I realized that the Valoii and the Ehzeri are an allegory for Israel and Palestine, and was impressed with the delicate handling of the emotions of that conflict. It’s an allegory that could so very easily be done very badly, but the author didn’t demonize either side. Instead, he presented characters on both sides of the conflict, and made their feelings towards the conflict, and towards one another feel real as individuals, treating them like people, not stereotypes, and not representations of all of their people. Neither side’s characters were presented as “bad guys”, and I think it was respectfully handled.
It ended with a couple loose ends, but I took that to be hooks for the next book. Where things will go from here, I don’t know, but there are some secrets in Capra’s past that haven’t been told yet. I will definitely be looking out for the next book, whenever that comes out.