In a firelit study half a mile underground, Professor Werner Thomas Cahill sweated and reddened under a councilor’s beady stare.
I think I want to start by telling a little bit about the setting because it is part of why I think this is interesting, though it isn’t something I normally go into in my reviews. The book is set hundreds of years after a “the catastrophe”, what the even is, is never explored. The inhabitants of most of the world now live in huge underground cities states (something that is explored more in book two). The architecture of Recoletta (the city where the novel is set) is rather amazing and perfectly steampunk, with elevated trains running under the huge cave ceilings, skylights dotting the ceiling and huge caviness rooms as well as kilometers of tunnels. Above ground there is only veneranda houses – just facades – with entrances to the real residents underground. We are told that they city moved underground for security and privacy, which will both become themes of the series. The political system is an oligarchy of nobles running a city council that controls everything – there is no division of powers, no checks and balances. This is the setting that the political thriller part of the novel navigates. As you might have figured out by now, I like political intrigue in my novels. A big part of what sold the novel to me in the first place was the setting.
The two protagonists live quite different lives, one (Jane Lin) a laundress for the upper class and one a police detective (Liesl Malone), but they two women are both observant and resourceful. One is quite naive, while the other is cynical and hardened by a tough job, one is a professional while the other is a servant. I think their looks were described but I didn’t notice – I think Malone had steel grey hair and Lin is young, but that is all I remember of their description. When they meet they don’t particularly like each other, but they come to trust one another. They story is told from each of their point of view, and for once it didn’t annoy me as both narratives captivated me and they didn’t take too long to intertwine. I very much sympathise with both protagonists and liked them – I wanted to follow their adventures.
The political game and themes got me thinking a lot about real world politics and power dynamics – which is a plus for me. It wasn’t copying anything directly but it had me talking with my hubby about real world politics – current and historical. The oligarchy is very much using stability and security to legitimise their use and abuse of power in a security emergency. We talked a lot about the use of curfew and how it is used to control a population. About how easy it can be (in some systems) to use a security crises to put the country under martial law and how that can quickly turn into dispensing with the rule of law and then you have the real problems.
The narrative moves at a quick pace and is entertaining and page turning. I read it in just 1½ day, which isn’t my usual speed these days. It is well plotted and kept me guessing, without any of the renewals feeling like it wasn’t earned. It is in many ways a light book, but with more heavy themes.
If you are in the mood for a political steampunk thriller, I recommend this.
Published: 2015 by Angry Robot
Read: May 14 to 15, 2016
Author: Female, white, USA
The protagonist: Liesl Malone, female, police detective, 40-55, sexuality not clear
Jane Lin: Female, laundress, 20s, straight