For a small/indie press title, The Earl of Brass was a surprisingly solid, well-written, enjoyable read. As smooth and professionally polished as anything you're likely to find on the mass market shelves, Kara Jorgensen has crafted a Victorian science fiction adventure that really delivers on its premise.
The story starts off with a great opening scene involving the crash of a dirigible. It's a short chapter, but one that introduces the class of culture and conflict, and which establishes Eilian Sorrell as an admirable, honorable protagonist. In the Victorian era, when class and gender is everything, and lives are guided by familial and social expectations, Eilian is very much an outcast. Not interested in politics or following in the footsteps of his father, he wants to explore the world and get his hands dirty with its history.
With his ambitions stalled by the loss of an arm in the dirigible clash, he makes the acquaintance of Hadley Fenice, a woman who is as much a captive of her gender as Eilian is of his class. Quite the progressive gentleman, he's not only content to have her craft a clockwork/electric artificial arm to replace that which he lost, but he invites her to expand her masculine disguise and join him on his next archaeological excursion. It's there, on a very Victorian sort of dig in the middle of the desert that they stumble upon the underground Utopia of Billawra, where passion and fulfillment trump questions of class or commerce - which, of course, their less noble partners are only too happy to plunder.
As much as this is a story of gender and class, of individuality and social conformity, it's also a story of the clash of technological progress. Here we have dirigibles and clockwork automatons set against technological advances like bicycles that seem quaint, but which are explored as the novelties that they were. Connecting it all together is slow burning friendship/romance between Eilian and Hadley that provides the story with its human angle.
All told, The Earl of Brass was a fantastic read that really succeeds on all levels. It may be a bit wordy for some readers, but I believe it's a deliberate choice of style for Jorgensen, and it really does lend the story that Victorian feel. With The Winter Garden planned for a 2015 release, now is a great time to get in on an outstanding new series.
Paperback, 300 pages
Published June 19th 2014 by Fox Collie