In a debut that promises to be the first of two novels set in this world, Cato introduces a likable heroine and a serviceably imagined steampunk fantasy painted with broad strokes of magic and political intrigue.
Octavia Leander is a young healer, a
“medician,” whose magical
ability to heal is extraordinary even in a world flush with airships, chimeras,
and the expected steampunk trappings of clockwork science and unusual magic
systems. Her journey to a new life as the resident healer of a small country
town takes her onto the airship Argus, where unlikely plots and assassination attempts pull her deep
into the troubles of a country suffering from the effects of war. The
companions she collects in her travels are, unsurprisingly, not what they seem,
and Cato employs many conventions of fantasy adventure to set the story in
motion: a kidnapped princess, elite spies, a patchwork religion and an
enthusiastic embrace of simple romance. The characters Octavia meets are appealing
in an exaggerated way; the plot is often graceless but has the undeniable
ability to encourage the dogged turning of pages. While the narration is
sometimes tripped up by awkward shifts into Octavia’s interior monologue and
swathes of absurd description—like the comparison of a woman’s bosom to
“planets of flesh that hovered above an unblemished satin sky”—it gains a
prickly insistence from a depiction of magic that depends on sacrifice as well
as power. The magic in this world does not always arrive without a price, and
that gives it a depth that would otherwise be missing.
A light read that suffers from heavy-handed prose but may offer an interesting new world to readers who enjoy the flavor of steampunk fantasy and soap-opera intrigue.