When Eilian Sorrell, a promising archaeologist and the eldest son of the earl of Dorset, loses his arm in a dirigible crash, he fears he will face a bleak future among London's aristocracy. On a quest for normalcy, Lord Sorrell commissions a prosthetic arm but finds the craftsman is not what he seems. After the death of her brother, Hadley Fenice takes over his prosthesis business but knows it will be an uphill battle, as women are discouraged from doing men's work. In return for building Lord Sorrell an automaton arm, he offers her a chance at freedom by following him to the Negev Desert under the guise of a man. But what lies beneath the desert is more precious than potshards or bones. As they venture deeper, they discover a society where the path of life is not governed by gain but by passion. When imperialistic invaders come in search of a new colony to pillage, Eilian and Hadley are forced to defend their fleeting glimpse of paradise.
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Hadley Fenice and her brother Adam just lost their genius brother, George, to a lengthy illness. He was the brains behind the family business. Now, Hadley, who also has some natural talent in making prosthesis and mechanized toys, wants to continue the business. Meanwhile, Lord Eilian Sorrell is recovering from a dirigible accident in which he lost his arm. He and Hadley join forces in creating a replacement arm, and then in an archaeological dig in the Negev Desert.
This steampunk adventure is set in England, perhaps the mid 1800s. Obviously, respectable women don’t work, so Hadley has quite the uphill battle in convincing people that she can and does create these wonderful prosthesis and unique toys. She tries several things to get around this inconvenient social bias, such as claiming she in only the assistant or even dressing as a man. Eilian doesn’t really care if she is female or male, as long as the prosthesis works.
Lord Eilian Sorrell, who has been an archaeologist for some time, isn’t too stuffy. He knows what it’s like living rough. Meanwhile, his family is pretty uptight about many things, including how society sees them. In fact, they aren’t too sure what to do with him at dinner parties now that he is missing an arm. The first prosthesis (not made by Hadley) was hideous and greatly disturbed the other dinner guests.
I found these two main characters rather practical (in their own ways) and interesting. Hadley is fiercely independent. For instance, she doesn’t force her other brother Adam into being the face of the family business while she does all the work. She wants to tackle it all herself and she wants the respect that goes along with a well made and well installed prosthesis. Eilian, who needs some assistance at the start of the story due to the loss of his arm, doesn’t linger in a sick bed. He starts training his other hand for the basics, including writing and feeding himself. He’s not hesitant over undergoing a painful surgery to install a useful prosthesis. So, right off, these two characters pulled me into the story.
Once the arm is installed and working, Eilian wants to get back into the archaeological work. He invites Hadley along as his assistant. Of course, she has to cross dress for this and goes by the name Harold Fox. She does it smartly, practicing at home first with what’s the best way to pin down her bosom. She even cuts her hair short as a man would have it. Then the two are off in a steampunky airship to the Negev desert (which is somewhere in modern Israel).
The steampunk aspects of the story are more subtle that I expected. Hadley’s workshop had a few extras but for the most part, the story is an adventure romance story first and a steampunk story second. Of course, the romance can be seen coming a mile away. Hadley has at least one female friend and Eilian has a mom and a sister. Yet, Hadley is pretty much the only female that really gets any time on the page. So there’s no competition for Eilian’s interest. Towards the end, there is a rather silly scene between the two where Hadley gets a little over dramatic. That was the first and only time I rolled my eyes at the romantic element to the plot.
Once in the desert, the two discover a long-lost society. They have chosen to remain hidden from most but they welcome Hadley and Eilian. This hidden society has rather different social norms that Victorian England. There’s plenty of talk about equality, both for women in general and then for homosexuality. At first, this is done well because Hadley and Eilian are simply learning about this society, but later on I felt that certain points were being pounded in and I felt it was a little preachy. Also, there is a small magical element concerning learning the language of this hidden society that felt out of place when the rest of the book steers clear of magic.
The ending satisfied my questions about the future for the hidden society and what Eilian and Hadley are (a couple? business friends?). It also left the door open for further adventures. There were things I really liked about this book (Hadley and Eilian) but there were also things that didn’t hold my attention as much (the hidden society). I’m on the fence about continuing the series.
I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the author (via Audiobook Blast) in exchange for an honest review.
Narration: It took me quite a while to finish this audiobook and one of the main reasons is because of the narrator. He did very little with individual character voices, so most of the time, all the characters sounded the same. This meant I had to pay close attention to the book instead of multitasking. Also, many times, his word pronunciation was off and I had puzzle out what he was trying to say. Whenever this happened, it took me out of the story. Sometimes he chose the incorrect pronunciation on a word that can be pronounced two different ways. Like there is this one small scene where a woman’s lips are being described as akin to Cupid’s bow. Instead of pronouncing ‘bow’ as in bow and arrow, the narrator pronounces it as in to bow before royalty. While I can give Patrick Oniyelu and A for effort, the final product was not an A product.