Set in the world of For Steam and Country, this novella follows one of the original novel’s more likable side characters, James Gentry, as he embarks on his quest to become a Knight. The story is fairly self-contained, so you can read this offering as an introduction to the world if you are hesitant to commit to the full-size novel.
This is most definitely YA, the old-fashioned kind, concerned with coming of age, first love and a youngster trying to prove his worth in the company of experienced and respected men. The love–or rather affection that might blossom into love–is sweet and innocent. The danger and violence, while heave on the adrenaline rush, are not graphic. Most importantly, this story really is a journey, clearly one of many to come. James is a novice, and so, while brave and clever and quite capable, he is by no means infallible, and not invariably successful. The reader gets to witness the growth, the learning, the failures and triumphs along the way, unsure which part of the mission would succeed or fail and even who would make it through. While this used to be the standard arc of YA adventures, I was reflecting how rare such tales have become. For this alone, the author deserves credit.
The pacing is fast, pausing only occasionally to give us the needed insight into the world or the character’s backstory and motivations, creating a fine balance between action and time to appreciate the bigger picture. The characters are as well developed as one might expect in a shorter offering–enough to know their main qualities and to keep them straight, but also leaving us with a desire to know more. The world is only described in relation to the main plot and James’ backstory. You really need to read the other Rislandia novels to get the full picture, but it’s not needed here. The idea of chasing down a traitor is fairly universal, so not much in the way of explanation is required.
The ending provides enough closure to the plot, but there are definitely many sequel possibilities, and the novella is already listed as part of a series, with the next entry available for sale as of last week.
Highly recommended to anyone curious about steampunk, or in search of a light, fun YA novel, and can be read as a stand-alone or in parallel read to the main Rislandia series.
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