Rating: 5 out of 5
I really liked this book. I didn’t know what to expect—or, rather, as soon as one starts the book, what to expect from it becomes abundantly clear. Mr Tchaikovsky has chosen, in this case, to repeat a number of motifs over and over again, and it is so nicely done that it adds a layer of the dramatic and not the comedic.
The story itself has elements of the societal fiction that the author has also explored in his ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series. Here, however, it is taken further into a purely nobility versus technology context, and we get the view-point of the noble, so to say. Their opponents, cowardly beasts, are yet made more human than the nobles who throw themselves into the fray, such that by the time the author describes the Golden Minute, the reader appreciates with Emily what exactly it took to pull off.
Emily is the main character throughout, though the compendium of associates she gathers around herself is nothing short of impressive. For me, her journey with the Mayor-Governor was the truly spectacular one—more so than the war—though also the reader’s ability to see how Emily develops while Alice and Mary stagnate at home helps the appreciation of Mr Northway over some of the other guys. Indeed, the reader’s unique opportunity to assess Northway against her other suitor illustrates just how much depth there is to the man.
Despite the romance, for many this book will be about war. We have both the heroic and the foolish commander, the wise and the craven leader. Emily’s first day is not her best, but (very appropriately) she always comes through in just the right way even though she felt she might not have what it takes. It turns out, when people really rely on her, she’s made of fire and steel.
One other character deserves a mention, and this is the dreaded Doctor Lam. A man most would consider unremarkable, he has an aura of dread around him. Yet, when he does enter the fray, we get an eminently reasonable fellow. What does this say?
This book is so much fun, partly because of these opportunities the reader has to connect events to their real-world counterparts. We know what’s coming when the drafts come by, we know the stories with the revolution, we know about this technological development that’s happening on the front line, and yet we read these characters struggle through the story without the full picture. Would we understand in their shoes?
Overall, this must be one of my favourite books from recent times. Truly recommend this to everyone!