299 pages. Appendices including glossary.
In an alternate history, it is 1953. The dictatorial British Empire dominates the world, thanks to the Navy and control of key resources. The devastating Big Melt that flooded much of the world has made the Empire even stronger. Suddenly, young Clara Calland is snatched from her school by her scientist mother, and they are on the run from British secret police and Menshevik agents. And nobody will tell Clara why!
Clara's adventure soon takes her to rebel-dominated London and escape on board the Cuttlefish, a remarkable coal-fired submarine involved in the global smuggling trade. Can they find refuge and share her mother's discovery for peace, or will the might of the British Empire stop them?
Along the way, Clara meets Tim Barnabas, youngest cabin boy on the submarine. Tim worries about the mother he left behind in submerged London, but he must adapt and grow to overcome injustice, discrimination, and fight to save the girl he comes to love.
The author plays a game with the reader, explaining his alternate history background a piece at a time so that the picture gradually becomes clearer. (Or you can cheat and read the appendix, where the history is explained.) Similarly, the story is told from the viewpoints of Clara and Tim, who only gradually come to understand the realities of their world.
The author's terse style allows for an action-packed book, giving Clara and Tim plenty of opportunities to brave danger and outsmart adversity. It's a rousing adventure in grand style.
Part of the plot involves the growing romance between Clara and Tim. This is handled in a tasteful fashion, and is suitable for teen readers. My only caveat is that the author does not make clear how old Clara and Tim are, so that it is difficult to judge if their romance is age-appropriate. (They seemed a little too young for some of what was going on, to me.)
Otherwise, a fun book that you'll eagerly read from cover to cover. It is aimed at a young adult audience, but older readers will also enjoy it. Recommended. Lots of wargaming potential. This is the first book in the Drowned World series, and has already been followed by a sequel, Steam Mole.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .