In March 1896, Widow Evaline “Evvy”Amstel has been left with a tremendous debt―before he was murdered, her husband had promised to build and deliver a revolutionary airship, The Empress of the Clouds, to Erasmus Marchand, an embittered Southern millionaire who resents the fact that the damned Yankees won the Civil War. Now that Amstel is dead, no one in Joplin, Missouri, a zinc/lead mining boomtown, knows where the Empress is . . . or if it even exists. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin also has a stake in finding the airship. He has accused Evvy’s husband of stealing the original designs from him and is determined to recover the ship in order to build up Germany’s military might. Evvy takes over her husband’s failing airship company and the company thrives for a time. But Marchand is fanatical in his quest to find the Empress―to arm it with a weapon of mass destruction at a pivotal moment in history and instigate anarchy. He'll stop at nothing to achieve his vision and Evvy is proving to be a huge impediment. It’s up to her and local deputy Sean McTavish to find the airship before Marchand or Zeppelin does, because the future of the United States is in peril. The Empress of the Clouds is a steampunk adventure, an alternative history tale that features a spunky resourceful heroine who doesn’t allow adversity and evil to overpower her but seizes control of her own destiny.
The cast is strong and diverse, and the white protagonists have an almost modern acceptance of and respect for the nonwhite characters. Unfortunately, that depiction is undermined by some questionable narrative choices, including eye dialect, period-accurate racist language, and characterization derived from caricature. People of color are used as props for white people’s characterization—a Chinese-American surprising a white man by speaking fluent English, an enslaved teen girl being sexually exploited by Erasmus—and vanish from the story as soon as the point is made.
The tale is ripe with drama and daring feats, but the telling is dry and matter-of-fact (“She brought the lever forward as smoothly as possible to abruptly halt the craft from diving into the landscape below”), reducing the tension in otherwise exciting events and making it hard to emotionally invest in the wellbeing of the characters or the relationships they form with one another. Nonetheless, the well-constructed plot creates a real sense of adventure. Evaline is an inspiring heroine for anyone who longs to see a bold and self-reliant woman stare down danger and do what’s right.
Takeaway: Steampunk fans will admire the bold and self-reliant heroine of this airship adventure.
Great for fans of Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, Gail Carriger.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: -