This book is something of a genre mashup – it certainly has strong steampunk elements in it, and the early descriptions of the airship are especially enjoyable. But it is also part romance and part Fantasy, with a strong and well-designed world in which the failing warlocks are desperately trying to rally their fading forces against the powerful, well organised alchemists.
When dirigible pilot Elle Chance accepts an unusual cargo in Paris, she finds herself in the middle of a deadly war between the Alchemists and Warlocks. The Alchemists will stop at nothing to acquire the coveted carmot stone and its key, and Elle must do everything in her power to thwart their diabolical plans.
I felt Schwarz managed to achieve a strong sense of the Edwardian era in her writing, without unduly holding up the action. The period details and customs were well depicted and, particularly the scenes in Constantinople which were full of colour and a number of interesting characters. Schwarz’s lively and pacey writing style is well suited to keeping the tension going in a variety of settings, without losing a sense of place.
Elle is also an engaging heroine – a suitably plucky gel, with plenty of the intrepid drive that finally won women the vote. Her determination to break away from the boring, narrow life of a married woman of the time was both appealing and convincing. However, I was less persuaded by the romantic thread running through the story. Mr Marsh is an interesting character in his own right – and his views on women and their role in society certainly is of the time. The trouble was, this part of the story suddenly seemed to fall into a clichéd dance that didn’t happen in the rest of the narrative. So I found I was slightly skimming the scenes between the two protagonists in order to get to the more interesting plotlines. Fortunately, there is plenty going on that is great fun, so that this was a minor disappointment rather than a big deal.
As the story romped to the climax, I stayed up reading until the small hours to find out what happens – and Schwarz manages to bring this slice of the story to a satisfying conclusion, while leaving some interesting plotlines dangling for the next instalment. Patrice, in particular, is an intriguing villain who kept popping up throughout the book and promises to figure prominently in the next slice of this adventure. Which I shall definitely be looking forward to with interest and anticipation. Steampunk can only benefit with a series like this to add to the genre.