This is a steampunk fantasy. Wendy Magdalena Braca was born into wealth in Jupiter city on one of the 500. The 500 are habitable planets that for a fee you can jump to and are controlled by various countries of the mother realm earth. There are more than the 500 planets but The 500 are civilized while The Outlands, are wild, less habitable, and lawless. At the age of twelve Wendy gets convicted for killing her mother. She is innocent, but that fact was irrelevant. She is deemed insane, convicted, and locked in Greenleaf Asylum for Troubled Girls to be forgotten.
Greenleaf fits a Gothic description of an insane asylum. Patients are placed in cells, forced medication to keep them docile, food is limited and lacks nutrition, and treatment is questionable. Thompson, the doctor, who for all intents and purposes is God and ruler of the asylum, regularly offends against patients with the help and participation of male orderlies. There is no one to protect the girls, they have no family, Nurses and staff are fired if they say anything, and they can’t protect themselves. Their word means little against the doctor’s; he’s a pillar of the community.
During a particularly gruesome interaction with Thompson, Wendy has a break . All her senses are heightened and her strength is increased. She kills the doctor and orderlies. Since she is a fourteen year old girl, without the physical ability to mount the ferocity of attack and brutality found, she is not suspected . An orderly knows she was there, but to vocalize his concerns would force him to admit knowledge of lascivious, despicable acts of abuse. He has no intention of incriminating himself. For the moment she is safe, but despite her fear, and Wendy’s best efforts, she can’t replicate what happened to her during her break. Disease breaks out at Greenleaf causing it to be quarantined. The asylum, considered a hazard, is set to burn to dispose of the diseased bodies As it goes up in flames, Wendy, remarkably untouched by the illness, is saved by a stranger.
Wendy’s rescuers are a guild of Validus Assassins and believe she is one of them. Validus are people with powers beyond those of normal human beings. Her new family believes Wendy exhibits signs of being the fabled Curse Breaker, a special kind Validus of extraordinary power, and the reason other Validus located and targeted her when her powers activated at the asylum. They think the illness and asylum fire was created to dispose of her because any guild would rather kill her than let her fall into the wrong hands. Every guild but her guild, that is, they do things differently. Does this mean they always do the right thing? It depends on your definition. They are assassins, but they use their skills for the betterment of humanity. She will have to learn if she agrees with their tactics as she becomes an adult and one of them. It’s one thing to believe and do something as a child without power, options, or control. It’s another to believe it when you are an independent, educated, adult.
Wendy is twelve when she is introduced to us, but this isn’t Young Adult. It explores sex, drugs, and violence on a New Adult level. This is not a romance. It also isn’t overly graphic. Wendy’s experiences, guild characters sexual interactions, and drug use are used for the purpose of coming of age. It marks different levels of growth and coping mechanisms. I applaud the concept that sex is not solely a device for instant love, gratification, or moral purposes. My one frustration, however, is some situations and character reaction did not always ring true. I felt the gravity of some experiences, if they were going to be introduced, needed more depth. While Kerr was purposeful about with situations for character development, the character reaction seemed to be abrupt and lacking.
It is steampunk and I enjoyed it. Kerr built a world where people are able to jump to planets both civilized and uncivilized. It’s an interesting hybrid of science fiction and alternate history with its own version of the internet, airships, and portals. For Kerr’s purposes, being able to jump to other civilizations was developed in the 1800’s. He provides us with enough historical and scientific explanation for plausibility without detracting from the pace of the plot. Suffice it to say, I found Kerr balanced the needs of world building with most readers attention spans. There is a class divide between the Validus and regular humans, although this is kept secret, but also a divide between the elite and the poor. The elite only live on “The 500,” planets better suited to human civilization and are structured by a Victorian standard. Men wear top hats and suits: the women are in dresses covering them from head to toe. The dominant population in The Outlands are poor, dress code is in the style of the Wild West, in rough homespun garments worn repeatedly with patches. Clothing is worn for comfort and use rather than cultural morality standards. The poor also populate The 500. A noticeable difference between the elite and everyone else is a lot more skin is shown. Clothing, machinery, and airships are described in detail to honor the genre. That being said, a large amount of attention is devoted to describing merry widow corsets and the length of a skirt.
This is an enjoyable novel. I have every intention of picking up the next installment in this series. I need some of you to read it so Kerr can go about the business of getting the second book published. I hope you took that as a hint as it was meant as one. I need to know what happens next. While I mentioned a few things that felt off to me the writing is very good. I recommend this for anyone who likes Steampunk, alternate history fantasy, and older teens and above.
I received this from NetGalley and Curiosity Quills Press in return for an honest review.