Genre: YA – Steampunk
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Superversive Books (June 15, 2017)
Length: 279 pages
My Rating: 3 stars
For Steam and Country is a young adult, steampunk adventure penned by Jon Del Arroz. It is a light, fast-paced, and action-packed adventure which delivers hours of fun!
Sixteen-year-old Zaira von Monocle is a country girl who has been living alone, tending her family farm ever since her mother died and her father disappeared over two years ago. While she struggles with all her responsibilities, Zaira gives it her best, holding things together as best she can with the help of her neighbor James and his parents. But things are about to change!
A pair of strangers appear at Zaira’s farm driving a new-fangled steamcar. Both of these individuals having known her father well, informing Zaira that Theo von Monocle was something of a war hero in Rislandia, having undertaken many secret missions for the crown against the Iron Empire, and that after two years he has finally been declared legally dead after disappearing on one of said missions. The two of them having traveled to inform her of this fact and that she is the sole beneficiary of Theo’s will, having inherited the farm as well as her father’s most prized possession: an airship!
Zaira is now faced with a choice: stay and remain a farmer, or take on her father’s role as commander of The Liliana. The latter task much more than merely learning how to fly a zeppelin, but requiring our young hero to win over her father’s devoted crew and take on his role as a defender of Rislandia. The vile Iron Empire even now preparing for war on Zaira’s homeland; the king needing every airship he can get into the air to ward off the new threat – including the famous Liliana!
What should Zaira do? Her home might not be safe anymore with the war looming, but she has no idea how to command an airship. Plus, the burden of helping lead the Liliana into a war unnerves her. But if she doesn’t, how can she live with herself if Rislandia is destroyed?
What shines brightest in this novel is the realistic characters crafted by Jon Del Arroz. From the young, inexperienced Zaira to the tough, confident Captain von Cravat, this story is populated with people who are uniquely different from one another, have their own character quirks (Some of which are running jokes.), and organically grow and develop as the narrative unfolds. All of which means it is not your usual young adult story with a Mary Sue lead who does everything exceptionally well and whom everyone falls all over themselves to fall in love with. Nope, the author decided to make this a young adult tale set in reality, which I deeply appreciated.
I feel I also need to praise the author for his deft handling of action scenes. The guy knows how to write them, write them well, and make them interesting and important to the ongoing plot. No, he doesn’t describe every damn riposte like R.A. Salvatore, but in my book that is a good thing, since he gave me the silver screen excitement without a clinical lecture on fighting technique.
As for the world building, For Steam and Country is set in a solid, steampunk world. Not all of it is revealed, not every strange kingdom is highlighted, but there are glimpses of this place, its people, and its past inserted naturally into the ongoing tale. The steampunk machines and contraptions scattered throughout the narrative appearing in a very seamless manner with enough detail added to clearly describe them, but the author not falling into the trap of turning every item introduction into an excuse to fill pages with steampunk techno-babble. And there is even tons of foreshadowing about the amazing things not yet seen to whet ever readers appetite for more in the future.
The only real problem I had with the book is more attributed to my personal reading preferences (i.e. I generally do not like young adult) rather than anything wrong with the narrative. So while I did find this book to be a tightly scripted, fast-paced, and fun story, there were parts of it regarding our protagonists slow maturation and evolving relationships which I found difficult to stay interested in, not because Jon Del Arroz did a poor job crafting those elements but merely because I don’t find those sort of plots very compelling anymore.
Even with my anti-young adult tendencies, I have to say that For Steam and Country was an enjoyable read, introducing me to some interesting characters caught up in a thrilling adventure, while all around them a really cool steampunk world began to take shape. All in all, I’d definitely recommend it to those who enjoy young adult or fun, action-packed steampunk, and I can’t wait to see where Jon Del Arroz takes this series in the future, because it definitely has the potential to be a fine ongoing series, in my opinion.
I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank him for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.