An overwhelming wealth of precise detail bogs down this steampunk effort from adult-fantasy author Freer.
In a world where synthetic ammonia was not invented in 1898 (per the exhaustive backmatter), two primary facts have remained true: The British Empire holds most of the political power, while coal supplies the actual power. By 1953, when the story is set, global warming has resulted in a political sphere entirely unlike the mid-20th century readers know. Fourteen-year-old Clara’s mother has notes that may lead to synthetic ammonia at last, so the two of them find themselves aboard the submarine Cuttlefish on the run from the Russians, the British and possibly the Americans. Amid a barrage of minutiae (from engine workings to background elements that try but fail to establish worldbuilding), Clara finds herself and true love with the lone black crew member, whose own story plays a role (and includes some commentary on racism). The repetitive plot consists of near misses and tight escapes; overt statements replace character growth (“She hadn’t realized before just how important people who merely made food and hot drinks were”), and the burgeoning romance moves too rapidly from a kiss to “I love you.” Moreover, the image of Clara on the cover is reminiscent of the TV Laura Ingalls Wilder in her preteen years.
Steampunk and the Cuttlefish’s coal engines might be hot, but tepid storytelling sinks this tale. (glossary) (Steampunk. 12-15)