Where I Got It: ARC from Netgalley (thanks!)
Who I Recommend This To: Steampunk fans!
Publisher: Solaris (2014)
Length: 373 pages
Series: Book 1 Shanghai Sparrow
Set in Victorian times, Eveline (Evie) Duchen and her family live in the country, a life of privilege, and also a life that rubs elbows with the Fae. But then tragedy strikes, and Evie, her sister Charlotte, and her mother must move to the city and live with her uncle. But then tragedy strikes again and Evie finds herself living on the streets, until she is taken in by the steampunk tinker Ma Pether. From there, things get even more odd for Evie. A British agent (Mr. Holmforth), who is stationed in Shanghai, has an unhealthy interest in the little known (and quite under appreciated) science called Etherics. Believing that Evie has inherited some family talent for this esoteric field, he hunts her down. And that is when she finds herself forced into a school for girls, one that trains them to be spies for the British Empire.
The world of Evie was so easy to fall into. The steampunk and fairy elements weren’t all glitzy and distracting. No, they were subtle and a part of Evie’s every day life. And that allowed me to focus on Evie and her storyline, which was very engaging. She’s cheeky, but also tries very hard to take care of those she cares about. Her life of hard knocks has taught her the value of listening at doors, sneaking around, and being nimble of mind as well as foot. And all those skills are put to the test in her interactions with Mr. Holmforth.
The story actually starts with Mr. Holmforth in Shanghai. He’s trying to climb the ranks of the bureaucracy of the British Empire but something about his bloodlines holds him back. Or rather the prejudices of his fellow workers and, well, the whole British society hold him back. We learn he is scheming, trying to get his hands on a weapon in development that could launch his career, make him a shining star in the eyes of his coworkers. And then he tracks down Evie and only tells her the barest of information while motivating her with promises of security balanced by threats to those she calls friend.
I loved the way the Fae in and out in this story. We learn a tiny smidgeon of their lives away from humans, but mostly we see how Evie interacts with a few choice Fae. They find humans a pleasant distraction, and interesting digression from their normal lives. Liu, who is more fox than linguistics teacher, shows more of an interest in Evie and her talent in Etherics. In fact, he is the one to give a most potent warning: Do not threaten the Fae, for if they take you seriously, they will annihilate all of humanity. Gulp! That can’t be good. So Evie has to try to navigate that while keeping Mr. Holmforth happy.
If I have to put down a criticism it is that the story starts out with Mr. Holmforth in Shanghai, and then jumps in time and location to Evie in England. It took me a while to figure out that not only had a geographical leap been made, but also a chronological one. That was early on in the book and I got over it quickly and went on to happily enjoy the rest of the novel.
Steampunk, fairies, precocious young lady, secret spy school for young girls, and an esoteric science known as Etherics. Yeah, all that goodness wrapped up in an awesome book cover. go get yourself a copy!
What I Liked: Evie was so easy to connect with; little bits of steampunk placed into the crannies and corners of the narrative; Liu and his foxy tail; the side story of Charlotte; how Evie sorts it all out; spy school for young ladies; the cover.
What I Disliked: There was one leap in time and place early on in the narrative that threw me off. But I got over it. 🙂
What Others Think: