Mediocre fantasy fare buckles under a preposterous physical setting.
Cymbril lives aboard the Thunder Rake, a “wheeled city” on a wagon, with “stables, houses, towers, gardens—even a rippling canal” big enough for two bridges. On “wheels seven times as tall as a man,” the Rake is propelled across land by a rowing system of levers, gears and “tremendous claws, gouging the ground, drawing the vessel forward.” Because the claws destroy the ground, the Rake must “follow the wildest country where no one built or planted,” yet it reaches “cities and towns” regularly to sell merchandise. Another logic flaw big enough to drive a wagon city through is the Rake’s ability, despite being of city-width, to abruptly steer left or right to avoid an obstacle just ahead. Cymbril, a glamorous slave (“[p]eople tended to stare at her startling blue eyes, her olive-golden skin, and, most of all, her shining hair”), sings while Rake merchants sell wares; at night she creeps around the Rake finding magical objects and, once, an entire dark market. As a classic mischievous orphan of unknown parentage, she naturally befriends enslaved Fey boy Loric, and they attempt escape. Overt anti-slavery themes sit uneasily alongside portrayals of the Urrmsh, explicitly free creatures whose description metaphorically echoes happy plantation slaves and wise natives.
Plot and characters are fine (though stock), but they can’t overcome the credulity-straining setup. (sheet music with lyrics) (Fantasy. 9-12)