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Everfair: A Novel Hardcover – September 6, 2016
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About the Author
Nisi Shawl is a writer of science fiction and fantasy short stories and a journalist. She is the co-author (with Cynthia Ward) of Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction. Her short stories have appeared in Asimov's SF Magazine, Strange Horizons, and numerous other magazines and anthologies.
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It’s just hard to follow.
That could be because instead of one viewpoint character, or even two or three (see most epics), or five or six (think Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan), we’ve got eleven. They are well-written and unique and fun to read—but even so I struggle to remembered who each one was and what had happened last time we met them.
Add to that some significant time jumps—the book takes place over twenty years, and sometimes a year or more has passed since we last followed a particular character—and they’re in a new place, and a lot politically has happened since then. Technology itself leaps forward—we go from steam tractors to fast dirigibles in the space of a chapter or two, in which the main settlement has also been attacked and had to retreat somewhere else to caves, and we’ve switched character heads…
You get the idea. Really cool stuff is happening, but instead of a single story Everfair feels like six or eight novellas shuffled together. It expects a lot of the reader, and much as I’m ready for mental leaps, for imaginative stretches—that’s part of why we love fantasy—at a certain point the readability gets in the way of the awesome. And bottomline, I found myself less excited to return to Everfair than other books I was reading at the time, despite all the things it has going for it.
So take this for what you will. If you love historical fantasy/steampunk, really diverse casts of characters, or are interested in steampunk imagining some of the wrongs of Leopold’s Congo righted, this book will be worth the work. If that all sounds good, but you’re looking for a book to draw you in rather than having to pull yourself in, it might not be the one.
Read more reviews and see the Top Ten for recent Fantasy at [...]
This is a fascinating, well-written story about several idealists coming from very different perspectives to try to create a free state in African lands once dominated by Leopold II. Aided by steampunk-style alternate history advances in prosthetics, medicine, weaponry, and airships, the diverse cast of protagonists each bring their own special talents to the struggle.
Unfortunately, the unrelenting state of conflict makes it hard to settle into the many moments of personal joy that are delightfully woven into the tale. But that must also be true of any people fighting to establish freedom and equality in a world that either dismisses them outright or abuses their rights as human beings.
The story rotates between perspectives in a third person limited narrative, thereby giving us insight into the thoughts of one person at a time, and vividly illustrating how miscommunication and failure to understand one another feeds social and political dysfunction even in a group where everyone is trying to do the right thing. In light of this, the moments of unity within the story are all the more powerful and persuasive.
Spoiler-free warning: the ending is not a neat and tidy package. If you can't stand books that don't wrap up everyone's story arc, you may feel frustrated.
But "Everfair" is a plodding and rather confusing novel. The book focuses almost entirely on about a half-dozen characters who come to have key leadership roles in the new state, but all but ignores the thousands of others living in the vast territory. There is a lot about the personal relationships between these founders, and a good deal about the steampunk technological boom in Everfair, but not a lot about life in the emerging state itself.
AH purists may enjoy it, but for others, it's a tough read.