Elsa’s homeland can’t be located on a map: Veldana and its people exist as a result of scriptology, a craft whose practitioners can scribe new lands into existence.
Veldana is the creation of a white Frenchman, but Elsa’s mother, a Veldanese master scriptologist, advocated for her people’s autonomy and is now the fabricated world’s caretaker. (Among other colonialist acts, the creator scribed pregnancies against the brown-skinned Veldanese women’s will.) The dark-skinned, green-eyed, 16-year-old Elsa, also a brilliant scriptologist, will one day proudly inherit the responsibility. When her mother is abducted, Elsa leaves Veldana for Earth—the real world—to find help. Events lead her to a yet-to-be-unified Italy, where she finds herself a resident of the Casa della Pazzia (“House of the Madness”), a sentient residence for orphan pazzerellone, or “mad scientists.” Each student possesses one of three “madnesses”: alchemy, mechanics, or scriptology. There, the fiercely independent Elsa reluctantly finds allies: olive-skinned Italians Leo and Porzia and brown-skinned Tunisian Faraz. As the four get closer to finding Elsa’s mother and learning the reason for her capture, they discover an enemy who will stop at nothing to use scriptology as a weapon to “edit” the Earth. This debut novel is fully realized steampunk-fantasy, offering an alternate history that deftly and creatively adopts the politics of 19th-century Italy to create a compellingly unique world. Although the book uses the language of mental illness to describe its characters’ specific magical talents, in this world “mad” seems to carry none of the baggage it does in ours.
Exciting and original. (Fantasy. 12-adult)