The time and place
London, Paris, and Rome. An alternate summer of 1870 in which the American Civil War is still going.
The suspension of disbelief
Scientists have discovered aether, the substance between matter, and can isolate it. It’s the “stuff” (medium) light passes through. There are airships with floating gondolas. Also, some people have psychic powers.
The quick summary
Iris McTavish, an archaeological expert, stands in for her father on a scientific expedition to find ways to use aether as a power source. She needs the money the project backer promises to retain her independence from an unwanted and unscrupulous suitor. While on the expedition, she finds herself drawn to Edward Bailey, the aether scientist. But nobody on the expedition is what they seem to be. With enemies determined to disrupt the trip at every turn, can Edward and Iris unlock the potential of the Eros Element?
Not everyone would like the hero, Professor Bailey, but he makes me go squee. He’s querulous and neurotic and sweet and intelligent and tenderhearted. The high-maintenance professor type. His admiration for Iris is a complex thing: they share a passion of discovery while constantly challenging each other.
Our heroine, meanwhile, is plenty paranoid. If she touches significant objects with her bare hands, she has uncontrollable visions of the people and places the object has been associated with, and this has made her see ugly things. She chafes at the restrictions her gender and economic consequences have placed upon her. At one point, someone calls her on her detachment, thinking it’s unnatural for a woman to be so composed when she’s witnessed something so horrible. That’s her way to cope, though, she’s smart and means well. The secrets she keeps are understandable and she has good reason to not confide in people.
The baddies are convincing. There’s a visceral immediate threat, and also a more mysterious far-ranging one.
Despite the title, this book is PG. I don’t mind that when I expect it, but I did wonder if there would be more of the sensual in dealings with the Eros Element.
I felt that the cast’s traveling around was a whirlwind, and I didn’t get the feel of all the cities as differentiated from each other (except the culinary details).
There was also lots of setup done in this book that fleshed out the secondary characters, not because of their importance now, but because they might be the foci of later books in the series. The book raises a lot of questions it doesn’t answer probably until later in the series.
Read if you
- Require keen intellect in your reads
- Enjoy ensemble casts
- Are interested in ancient conspiracies
Skip if you
- Want a he-man hero
- Are looking for a high heat level
- Hate airships
I chose to review this book because its hero is a little different. There’s a mix of science and the paranormal in this steampunk read.