When I picked this 30,000 word novella up, I read the first three chapters in one sitting, and it wasn’t bad. The title character is the stereotypical steampunk heroine; smart, witty, strong-willed, and of course, wealthy. Her anticipation of exploring Africa with her father is infectious, and the dynamics of the Carlisle family is charming. When I put the book down, I was interested in picking it up again when I next had time to read.
The next day, when I picked the book back up, I felt like I had mistakenly picked up another book. Between chapters, the plot had advanced several months. Acacia Carlisle was suddenly more hardened, more cynical, and not wholly like the character I had met the previous night. Though I do expect a character to change over the course of a book, this sudden change felt like a jolt. She had good reason for the change in character, but I feel it would have been a more powerful experience to witness the transition myself so that I could better connect with Acacia.
Connecting with Acacia and the other characters is something I had difficulty with. Though I like a strong female character, I also like characters with depth. Acacia has no real flaws to add any complexity to her character. She’s good at everything, especially maths. She always gets what she wants. She never has to sacrifice anything of consequence. She never has to compromise. Though this all makes for a virtuous character, I found her to be a bit flat. Likewise, the other characters also felt a bit flat to me as well because I rarely saw them react emotionally to anything. I was told by the narrator that they felt this way or they felt that way, but I rarely got to see their feelings reflected in their actions or their decisions.
Another thing that added to the disjointed feeling of the book was a shift in point-of-view. The first three chapters were all straight third person point-of-view from Acacia’s perspective. Starting in chapter 4, the point-of-view shifts around to various characters, including one scene in which a minion divulges the entirety of the villain’s plans. It is the only scene in which this particular character has point-of-view, and it is a monologue of a couple pages right in the middle of the book and serves to clear all mystery and surprise out of the plot. After this scene, I found myself just waiting for the end, since I had been told what was going to happen.
Aside from a character giving away the entire plot in the middle of the book, the plot is consistent. Acacia is trying to recover her brother, who left in partnership with the villain. The plot is adequately resolved in the ending, but it’s never really clear to me what the consequences are. Again, the brother left under his volition. He chose this. And though Acacia apparently is after him in order to preserve Carlisle family unity, it is never clear to me what this means to her, why it is so important to her, and what she stands to lose both internally and externally if she fails. I don’t know what the risk or consequence of failure is, and so it is difficult for me to invest myself in the plot.
The ending is oddly sudden, and yet drawn out. The climax feels rushed because it happens all at once without much build-up or tension. Boom. It just happens. But as soon as the villain is defeated, a second action must be taken to try and rescue her brother, which ends up feeling tacked-on and extraneous.
Kudos to the author for wrapping up the plot line without the cliffhanger I feared was coming. The plot is wrapped up nicely and succinctly and left me feeling satisfied with the resolution while it introduces a new and appropriate dramatic question that invites the reader to the second book in the series. Though there was some violence, it was never graphic, and it was so over-the-top as to almost be comical in places. I also appreciated the nods to the more scientific end of the steampunk spectrum.
All-in-all, this could be a good story told in a style reminiscent of Gail Carriger, and I would like it to be a good story, but it severely lacks polish. It feels unfinished, in that it needs the attention of a good editor. The characters could have more depth. The story line could use some development and fleshing out. The climax could be streamlined. Extraneous exposition could be cut. Unnecessary characters could be removed. And a copyeditor could certainly help with the numerous text errors such as missing words, missing punctuation, and repeated phrases.
(review of free book)