In 1953, on an alternate Earth still powered by steam, high-level political intrigue and racism in the Outback threaten Clara Calland and her family.
Clara and her scientist mother fled Duke Malcolm, brother to the king of the British-German Empire, with the secret to manufacturing ammonia. His men chased them to the wild desert of Westralia, the one place the Empire didn't care to own. Their steam-sub Cuttlefish needs repairs, and that will cost her crew money. While they hire themselves out to various railroad companies, Clara and her mother try to convince the Westralian government to purchase their secret...but Clara's mother falls ill. Clara seeks the help of her beau, Tim, of the Cuttlefish's crew, in deciding what to do about her mother and perhaps finding her father in jail in Eastern Australia. Duke Malcolm has plans for the secret of ammonia synthesis and the rich mines of Westralia; Clara and her family are in his sights. Adult author Freer's second for a younger audience is set in a sharply imagined alternate world, but readers will need to either be familiar with the first or read the extensive backmatter to keep their heads above the desert sands. Action sags in the middle as the various characters, split by circumstance, reconnect.
Diverting, if not riveting fare for fans. (Steampunk. 11-15)