Great fun steampunk adventure for the younger YA bracket
Emilie makes a great main character for this age bracket. At the start of the novel, she's running away from home, so she is showing initiative and drive, but as we're seeing her out of her comfort zone, she quickly comes up against challenges that really test her. I've seen some reviews on Goodreads criticising her passivity, and yes, there are some situations in which she lacks a little oomph or allows herself to be lead, but I found that entirely believable for her age (16) and for how far from her ordinary world she finds herself. I feel that these touches of realistic characterisation make for an effective novel, and allow us to easily and readily sympathise with Emilie as an 'everygirl' type character.
The world building is deftly managed, with some really nice touches of description. The different races that Martha Wells has created struck me as unique and intriguing, and seeing everything from Emilie's perspective (although in third person narration), as a curious and relatively naive outsider, brings a freshness and gentleness.
As a steampunk novel (albeit with magical aether-powered devices rather than actual steam), there is a lot of broadly Victorian (or perhaps Victorian-inspired is more accurate) detail in clothing, technology and attitudes. There is a clear feminist slant (note: this is a Good Thing), with Emilie finding an excellent role model in lady adventurer Lady Marlende.
Overall, I really enjoyed this and would definitely recommend it.
From the Back Cover:While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.
Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.
With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.