First off, before we get to my regular Wednesday review, please let me wish you all a happy Fourth of July. I love my country, which was one of the main reasons I served it for ten years as an active-duty Sailor, and I still serve as a DOD instructor. God bless our country, bless our service members, and may we hold true to the principles under which our great nation was formed.
Spolier Free Summary: For Steam and Countryby Jon del Arrozis a story about Zaira’s life is thrown off course when her dead father’s will places her on the deck of the last remaining air-ship in the empire. She’s face with the choice to leave the life she thought she’d have or embrace the life her father led, the same life that took him from her. Her life grows even more difficult when she encounters the Wyranth Empire, the empire behind her father’s death. This was my June Book Cover of the Month winner.
Character: I’d say this was the strength of this story. There were issues I had with it, but the characters are proactive (for the most part). Zaira does seem to be a pretty standard character for YA novels. She’s the unsure, female on her own fighting to prove she’s tough enough. The trope is more of my problem than the execution of the character. My frustration is that Zaira seems to pretty much go with things. She does however, start coming to her own in the book, which gives her a pretty decent character arc. Constant reminders of how like her father she is annoyed me as a reader even more than her as a character. I felt like there was a missed opportunity here since her father had been absent for much of her life. Rather than investigate that potential conflict, the book focuses mostly on plot-driven events.
Exposition: This was by far the largest issue with the book. Arroz seemed to fall into a routine. Describe something, explain why it mattered, remind the reader of what just happened, and then explain the historical significance in relation to Zaira’s father. This really dragged down the pace of the story, and, after a while, felt like a bit of a broken record. There was one example of this in which we received a summary of a past event in the book only one chapter after we’d just read about what was being explained. In a book where Zaira is supposed to be the main character, we learn, hear about and observe far more about her father and his history. While reading all the exposition about her father and his grand adventures, I found myself wishing I was reading that book instead of reading a book explaining all of those adventures. In short, this book felt like an oral history of a secondary character with bits of the story I’m supposed to be reading thrown in, where I think the author wanted the opposite.
World building: This was a strength. Fans of worlds with detailed historical context and an interesting steampunk society would enjoy this aspect of the book. I’m always a fan of detailed history, and I could tell Arroz put a lot of time developing the society and history of his world.
Dialogue: I have to say this felt a bit stilted to me. At least have of the dialogue was an oral history of the world and other characters. This was made worse by the exposition of what the speaker meant or how the dialogue made the listening character feel. The most natural dialogue came from conversations between Zaira and the male crush, though even that had the issue of over-stating the “friend-zone” tension of that particular relationship plot.
Description: Other than the non-stop references to her similarities to her father’s physical traits, the description of this book is, what I feel, good for a steampunk novel like this. As always, I stress I’m not one who loves a lot of detail in description. For steampunk lovers, there might not be enough of those little, minute details the genre loves so much, but I wasn’t bothered at all. I saw what I needed to, and my imagination took care of the rest.
Overall: Where I wish I’d simply had the book about her father and his exploits, Zaira’s story is a fairly routine coming-of-age, YA story. If you enjoy those books, you’ll probably be happy with this tale. There is an interesting tease on the overall plot, which makes me think there will be new, more-unique angles investigated in future novels. The main character’s growth is the strongest part of this book. If one focuses on her actions and development, they’ll find a solid story that might have been great if we’d had a bit more dramatic content rather than relying on political intrigue and action, which there’s plenty of if you enjoy those things.