quippe (quippe) wrote,

Harm’s Way by Colin Greenland

The Blurb On The Back:

”You keep out of harm’s way, Sophie Farthing.”

Her father’s advice seemed only sensible. The flying island of High Haven was a dangerous place. So what was she doing down on the docks at midnight, talking to the sinister gentleman with the iron jaw? Where had he come from on his majestic space yacht? And why did he laugh when she spoke of her poor dead mama?

Sophie only wanted to talk to him again. She didn’t really mean to stow away – certainly not on the wrong ship. Her unintended quest is to take Sophie far from home, to the pleasure gardens of the Moon, the grogshops and grime of Lambeth Walk, through the perilous Asteroid Sea and the cruel canyons of Mars where Angels fill the red sky with their ravenous cries.

Meanwhile, on a frozen moon of Jupiter, her destiny waits ...

Set in an alternate Victorian era where England’s sea power has grown into space exploration with giant spaceships navigating the Aether, the novel follows Sophie Farthing who lives with her watchman father in High Haven, a space docks located high above the Earth. Told that her mother died in a space disaster, Sophie’s world is rocked when she meets an iron-jawed ship captain who hints that her mother suffered an altogether different fate and who seems fascinated by the ring that Sophie wears around her neck.

Determined to discover the truth, she stows away on a yacht belonging to singer Evadne Halshaw and finds herself on an adventure that takes her to the gardens of the Moon, the slums of Lambeth Walk, the caves and canyons of Mars and an isolated manor house on Io. Along the way, she finds her life placed in jeopardy from someone who will do anything to stop her from finding the truth about her past and only Bruno, an artist with a mysterious past of his own, can protect her.

This is a sumptuous novel that displays incredible imagination and whose style is evocative of 19th century literature. Sophie is a determined heroine, drawn to find out the truth about herself, no matter how painful and the way Greenland ties her story in to a brutal murder that begins the novel is very clever. However, at times she seems a little too naive, particularly towards the end of the book where her adventures would surely have taught her to be more cautious.

The range of side characters are fascinating and it’s a shame that they’re not on the page for very long. Particularly good are the good-hearted singer Miss Halshaw and her faun captain, Captain Estranguaro who has a tendency towards lewd behaviour. The Angels of Mars are also interesting, with their possessive attitude towards Sophie, while the cold-blooded Bruno’s transformation to lover is well handled.

There are some wonderful scenes – particularly the funeral of the Emperor of Mars, which has shades of Lovecraft, and Sophie’s return to see her father carries just the right amount of sorrow and melancholy. However some scenes drag on for too long – notably Sophie’s sojourn on Mars, while her romance with Bruno comes on too suddenly to quite be credible.

Nevertheless, the quality of writing makes this a book worth reading and I’d like to read more of Greenland’s work.

The Verdict:

Very imaginative and evocative of 19th century literature, this is a novel that’s well worth
Tags: arthur c clarke award winner, colin greenland, science fiction, steampunk

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