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Good fun, but rife with Americanisms and fact-checking could be better
on 4 January 2012
At 18 and just finishing her rather confining ladies' school education, Lady Claire Trevelyan is far more interested in scientific discovery than she is in the traditional art of snaring an aristocratic spouse. She despises the more superficial amongst her classmates and longs for a life as a scientist and adventurer. It is only after her father's shock demise, and an unexpected reversal in the family's fortunes that Claire begins to see opportunities that will enable her to pursue her own destiny. Her mother, younger brother and some of the family's retainers depart for the family estate in Cornwall, leaving Claire with the responsibility for concluding the family's London life and overseeing the sale of their townhouse. But an attack on the family home, and then herself, lead to a total change in Claire's circumstances - presenting challenges, adventure, and an opportunity for her to take charge of her own destiny... if she only has the courage.
Claire falls in with a gang of thieves - the very gang that had sought to rob her - when she discovers that they're a rag-tag group of children in sore need of education, moral guidance and some serious scientific up-dating!
I generally liked this steampunk novel - about a titled, wealthy, but intelligent young woman on the brink of being forced into a straitjacketed existence that really doesn't suit her character at all. It's a stirring and interesting fantasy adventure and I enjoyed it considerably. But it's not without fault. Shelley Adina's world introduces a range of fictitious 'devices'/wider applications of gadgets than actually occurred. All good so far. But there are also a number of factual inaccuracies/historical liberties taken in the background set-up that aren't acknowledged. The US author's language isn't always convincing ("fall" for 'autumn' isn't a typical feature of 19th C British English) and English schoolgirls completing their schooling in the 1880s aren't normally as closely associated with graduation parties as seems to be the case here!
The heroine wants to attend university at Oxford and there are several references to the institution, including the statement that "she could have gone for a master's degree at Oxford with that" ['that' referring to an amount of money]. However, although Oxford had opened its doors to female students by 1889 (the year in which this novel is set), this was only a limited admissions policy. Women were able to attend lectures, sit examinations (and receive honours in those exams) but were debarred from receiving the degree that the same results and being born male would have entitled them to... until 1920.