Book Review: The Burning Sky by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #1)
In an alternate vision of history, the Ice Age has lingered in Europe, slowing down Europeans’ rate of civilization and allowing Ifrica (Africa) to take the lead. Add to this a disease in the New World that strikes down the invaders instead of vice versa, and suddenly global politics are entirely different. In this world, steam power has risen as the power of choice, and women are more likely to be the breadwinners. Taziri is an airship co-pilot whose airfield is attacked in an act of terrorism. She suddenly finds herself flying investigating marshals and a foreign doctor summoned by the queen herself all over the country. Soon the societal unrest allowing for a plot against the queen becomes abundantly clear.
Can I just say, finally someone wrote a steampunk book I actually like, and it’s a fellow indie kindle author to boot! All of the possibilities innate in steampunk that no other book I’ve read has taken advantage of are used to their fullest possibilities by Lewis.
I love that Lewis used uncontrollable environmental factors to change the political dynamics of the world. Anybody who has studied History for any length of time is aware how much of conquering and advancement is based on dumb luck. (The guns, germs, and steel theory). Lewis eloquently demonstrates how culture is created both by the people and their surroundings and opportunities. For instance, whereas in reality the Native Americans had to rely on dogs for assistance and transportation against invaders on horseback, Lewis has given the Incans giant cats and eagles that they tame to fight invaders. Similarly, in Europe the Europeans are constantly fighting a dangerous, cold environment and have dealt with this harsh landscape by becoming highly superstitious, religious people. This alternate setting allows for Lewis to play with questions of colonization, race, and technology versus tradition in thought-provoking ways.
Women are in positions of power in this world, but instead of making them either perfect or horrible as is often the short-coming of imagined matriarchies, there are good and bad women. Some of the women in power are brilliant and kind, while others are cruel. This is as it should be because women are people just like men. We’re not innately better or worse. Of course, I couldn’t help but enjoy a story where a soldier is mentioned then a character addresses her as ma’am, without anyone feeling the need to point out that this is a woman soldier. Her gender is just assumed. That was fun.
Although Taziri does seem to be the main focus of this book, the story is told by switching around among a few main characters who find themselves swept together in the finale for the ultimate battle to save or assassinate the queen. This strategy reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton’s Next where seemingly unrelated characters suddenly find how their destinies are all connected together. Lewis does a good job with this, although personally I found the beginning a bit slow-moving. It all comes together well in the end, though, with everything resulting in a surprising, yet logical, ending.
What kept me from completely loving the book is that I feel it needs to be slightly more tightly edited and paced. Some sections were longer than they needed to be, which I can certainly understand, because Lewis has made a fun world to play around in, but as a reader reading what amounts to a thriller, I wanted things to move faster.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the steampunk world Lewis has created after a couple of years of loving the fashions and possibilities but finding no steampunk books I liked. If someone were to ask me where to start with steampunk, I would point them here since it demonstrates the possibilities for exploring race, colonization, and gender, showing that steampunk is more than just an extended Victorian era.
Overall this is a wonderful book, far better than the traditionally published steampunk I’ve read. I highly recommend it to fans of alternate history, political intrigue, and steampunk alike. Plus it’s only 99 cents on the kindle. You can’t beat prices like that.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Won on LibraryThing from the author in exchange for my honest review