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Review: The Emperor’s Aeronaut – R.E. Scott and Shelley Adina

The Emperor’s Aeronaut - R.E. Scott and Shelley Adina

Genre: Alt History, Steampunk, Historical Fantasy

Reviewer: Jay

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About The Book

In 1819, France is surrounded by armies. With Russia in the north, the Karlsruhe Confederacy in the east, and a pirate kingdom in the south, Napoleon cannot break out, nor can the English Navy seem to break in. Europe teeters on the edge of a sword. Whichever side rules the air will win.

Celeste Blanchard, daughter of the Emperor’s disgraced Air Minister, is running out of time to develop an air ship that can carry his armies to England and restore her mother to glory. But on a daring and desperate test flight, she is blown off course … and washes up, half drowned, on the shores of Cornwall, in the heart of enemy territory.

Loveday Penhale, cosseted daughter of gentry, has her own inventions to build, even as pressure mounts to behave like a proper young lady and seek a husband instead of a design for a high-pressure steam engine. But when Arthur Trevelyan, heir to the neighboring estate, Gwynn Place, asks for her help in rescuing an unconscious young woman on the beach, Loveday discovers an aeronaut and an inventor as skilled as she is. Between them, a friendship blossoms, and Loveday wonders if they might even pull off the impossible and invent an air ship that will catch the eye of the Tinkering Prince Regent, who has offered a prize to anyone who can help England break the impasse. Celeste’s loyalties are torn in two. If she is caught working secretly for France, she will lose her friend, the love of an honorable man—and her life. But if Napoleon learns she has betrayed him, she will be executed on sight.

Can friendship prevail in the face of war? Or is there a third solution—one where everything hinges on the bravery and daring of a Cornish debutante and the Emperor’s aeronaut?

The Review

When Loveday and Celeste meet they change the course of the Napoleonic wars and the history of air travel. Unlike Shelley Adina’s Magnificent Devices series which is set in a steampunk universe in Victorian times, this books charts what must be almost the beginning of that universe, a steampunk alternative to the industrial revolution. 

The steampunk aspect of the story is incredibly detailed and quite fascinating with its focus on design and its cautionary tales about manufacturing flaws. The idea of the Prince Regent being a ‘tinkerer’ or amateur engineer is a novel one and gives rise to all kinds of speculation about how the war will go. I also loved the ambulatory sideboard which became a character in its own right. 

The differences between ‘their’ Napoleonic war and ‘ours’ make perfect sense in the steampunk context. The budding romances of the heroines with Arthur, the injured army officer who still spies for his country, and with Emory, heir to a steam workshop, are intriguing enough to make the reader want to read the next book in the unfolding tale.

However, I did find it hard to follow the constant switching from Celeste’s story to Loveday’s, given that apart from being different nationalities the young women were almost completely alike in their age, interests, abilities and family problems. 

Recommended for the wonderfully realised steampunk world which is not just a background to an adventure but an integral part of the plot. 

The Reviewer

I’ve been doing book reviews on my website, crossposted or linked to various social media, for a few years. I read a number of genres but I really enjoy all kinds of speculative fiction so thought I’d like to share my views with you. I love sci fi and other speculative fiction because of the way it can, at its best, make us see ourselves in a new light. Quite apart from the exciting stories, of course! I used to be an English teacher, and I’m a writer (fantasy) so I can be quite critical about style etc. but I hope I can also appreciate properly some books that don’t appeal to me personally but might be simply perfect for others. I have, obviously, read widely, and continue to do so.