by Nisi Shawl
Cover Artist: Victo Ngai
Review by Katie Carmien
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765338051
Date: 06 September 2016 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
It is the year 1889. King Leopold of Belgium tears the Congo to shreds for rubber, brutally enslaving and exploiting its people. The Fabian Society, a group of forward-thinking English socialists, outraged by these abuses, raises funds to buy land for a colony. They dream of an integrated paradise, a place where people can come to be safe from the Belgians and together live in harmony. They name it Everfair. But it's not long before King Leopold decides their fledgling colony is a threat that must be stamped out. The people of Everfair--poets and kings, mechanics and refugees, socialists and ministers--will have to fight for their survival with everything they have.
It's hard to start off the review with anything but "this book is really cool"--so let's just go with that. This book is cool. It's got airships and weaponized steam prosthetics and steampunk motorcycles. Basically, it's all the best stuff about steampunk, with a fresh setting and some sharp social commentary on how easily the rest of the world glosses over what Leopold does so long as it's profitable.
Shawl skillfully weaves together the narratives of characters from all walks of life--Mwenda, a king from the Congo; Lisette, a Fabian's wife turned spy for Everfair; Daisy, a poet and community leader; Tink, the inventor who makes most of their technology possible; and more. Of them all, I was most interested in Lisette and Daisy, both their individual arcs and their sometimes-tumultuous romantic relationship. Shawl does an excellent job of showing why they're so complicated together and why they each make the choices they do, even when it means being apart. Mwenda and his queen Josina come in a close second, as relative fishes out of water fighting not just for their lives but for the very existence of their people, they're deeply compelling. (Also, Mwenda has a cannon arm, which is very cool.)
If there's one complaint I have, it's that I feel like there are too many narrators. It's not that any of them are boring--far from it. It's just that I wanted to spend more time with all of them, but because there were so many, I felt like the book didn't have room to do that. I would get really invested in one of them just as the chapter ended, and then it was on to someone else. If this were a longer book, it might have worked better.
Overall, Everfair is a thrilling tale of an alternate history, by turns lovely and brutal. Even people who aren't fans of steampunk might want to give this one a try.