Review of Cuttlefish – Dave Freer

Posted: August 7, 2017 in fantasy, Review, young adult
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The smallest thing can change the path of history.

The year is 1976, and the British Empire still spans the globe. Coal drives the world, and the smog of it hangs thick over the canals of London.

Clara Calland is on the run. Hunted, along with her scientist mother, by Menshevik spies and Imperial soldiers, they flee Ireland for London. They must escape airships, treachery and capture. Under flooded London’s canals they join the rebels who live in the dank tunnels there.

Tim Barnabas is one of the underpeople, born to the secret town of drowned London, place of anti-imperialist republicans and Irish rebels, part of the Liberty – the people who would see a return to older values and free elections. Seeing no further than his next meal, Tim has hired on as a submariner on the Cuttlefish, a coal fired submarine that runs smuggled cargoes beneath the steamship patrols, to the fortress America and beyond.

When the Imperial soldiery comes ravening, Clara and her mother are forced to flee aboard the Cuttlefish. Hunted like beasts, the submarine and her crew must undertake a desperate voyage across the world, from the Faeroes to the Caribbean and finally across the Pacific to find safety. But only Clara and Tim Barnabas can steer them past treachery and disaster, to freedom in Westralia. Carried with them—a lost scientific secret that threatens the very heart of Imperial power

Pyr

Purchased from an Amazon Reseller

Reviewed by Jacqui

I probably should not review this book without first warning you that a physical copy might not be readily available, although Amazon has the e-book. But since I had already accidently acquired a second copy of the sequel, I thought I really ought to get hold of Cuttlefish and then read them in sequence.

Cuttlefish is very much a steampunk novel, but unlike most it is not stuck in Victoriana. Freer has created a solid scientific and alternate historical background, choosing as his turning point not the outcome of some momentous battle or treaty, but a simple pre-marital argument, which meant that the Haber process for the production of synthetic ammonia was never invented. And this changes the world. In the 1950’s when the novel is set, the world is still heavily dependent on coal, and global warming has drowned many of the world’s coastal areas. If there is a message here, it’s about consequences.

Enter our heroes. Clara must escape with her mother, a brilliant chemist who has discovered how to synthesize ammonia. Starting in Ireland they are chased by Mensheviks and Imperial British agents to London where they meet up with the rebels and smugglers who roam the canals of the flooded city. There they are taken aboard the Cuttlefish, a coal-fired sail-submarine. And there Clara meets Tim, a young half-Jamaican submariner, and initial dislike turns to eventual friendship as Cuttlefish battles her way to the other side of the world…

This is in many ways a simple and familiar story of young people finding themselves as they run into peril and adventure, escaping a relentless enemy. It’s the setting that makes it different, that adds both excitement and interest. Cuttlefish is a character in itself, a truly remarkable vessel, and her crew are a curious bunch as well. I can happily recommend this book to young adults, and to readers of any age who fancy something a bit different in the steampunk theme.

 

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