book reviews by Althea

Everfair – Nisi Shawl ***

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Everfair by Nisi Shawl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading a few short stories by Nisi Shawl, all of which I enjoyed very much, I was eager to read her debut novel.

‘Everfair’ is a steampunk-flavored alternate history. The ‘what if’ moment is: What if, during the horrific regime of Leopold II over the Belgian Congo, a group of free-thinkers/socialists and abolitionists had purchased a large tract of land on which to found a new, utopian state? The country in question is dubbed, ‘Everfair,’ and the novel follows the course of this social experiment/endeavor.

What I liked most about the book was the well-thought out nature of it. It borrows a lot from the actual history of Liberia, I believe, but really considers a lot of details regarding the different ethnic and social groups that would be attracted to – or end up in – the country, the complexities of their interactions, the various ideals and prejudices that they would hold, affecting both interpersonal and political motivations. I also liked the characters, and found them interesting and appealing, although to a certain extent they fell into seeming like “representatives of types.”

What I didn’t like about it: The book felt like it was assembled from a much, much longer work, one that had rather randomly had huge chunks excised from it. Again and again, I would be drawn into the action, feeling invested in what was going on… and then suddenly the narrative would jump years ahead and focus on a different character. The plot spans several decades; and though I understand that the goal was to tell the entire history of this imaginary country in one volume, I felt like I would rather have read several smaller-scale, tighter stories, each set in the country and focusing on a narrower portion of the history.

However, pacing issues aside, I feel that this is a very promising debut, and would gladly read more from the author.

Many thank to Tor and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.

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