This book is just pure fun. Eveline Duchen has been orphaned and left to fend for herself on London’s gritty streets. She’s made a life for herself, of sorts – but that’s abruptly turned on its head when a grasping government agent plucks her out of her situation and places her in a school for female spies. Of course, he’s got an agenda. He believes that her uncle was a researcher into the use of Etheric sciences, and that Evvie might’ve inherited an ability that can be harnessed for the use of the British Empire. Little does he know that the real researcher was Evvie’s mother, and that Eveline has no mechanical or magical ability to speak of.
However, she’s got plenty of smarts – and with the help of her new friend Beth; she might even be able to figure out who – if anyone – she can trust.
The tale mixes magic and faerie lore with steampunk elements in a way that I found reminiscent of M.K. Hobson. This book is a must for her fans, as well as fans of Gail Carriger, Leanna Hieber and even Kage Baker’s ‘Nell Gwynne’ stories. It’s got fast-paced action, some good twists and turns, and although it’s got a super-attractive, enigmatic Chinese tutor, it avoids tired romance tropes. Like I said, it’s a fun, quick read – with a bit of the feminism and anti-colonialist sentiment that’s de rigueur for any entry into the steampunk genre.
My one quibble: from the title, I expected a Chinese setting. We don’t get to China until 87% of the way through the book, and it’s only a very brief visit (speedy airship travel is convenient). There aren’t even any well-developed regular Chinese characters in the book. Maybe this aspect will be further expanded on in some sequels (it’s a nice opening), but as it stands, in no way was the Chinese trip necessary to the plot, and the brief scene in Shanghai felt quickly sketched out.
However, the London setting felt vivid, the characters’ ‘voices’ were convincing, and even the villains were reasonably well-drawn, with believable motivations (always a good thing). I’d definitely like to seek out Sebold’s two previous books.
Copy provided by NetGalley & Solaris books; in return for an honest review.