A sister searches for her missing brother as a new power rises amid the splendour
and the squalor of a once great city in this thrilling hydropunk debut from J.S. Emery.
Lower Rhumbsford is a city far removed from its glory days. On the banks of the great river Rhumb, its founding fathers channelled the river’s mighty flow into a subterranean labyrinth of pipes, valves and sluices, a feat of hydraulic prowess that would come to power an empire. But a thousand years have passed since then, and something is wrong. The pipes are leaking, the valves stuck, the sluices silted. The erstwhile mighty Rhumb is sluggish and about to freeze over for the first time in memory.
In a once fashionable quarter of the once great city, in the once grand ancestral home of a family once wealthy and well-known, live the last descendants of the city’s most distinguished engineer, siblings Samuel and Briony Locke.
Having abandoned his programme in hydraulic engineering, Samuel Locke tends to his vast lock collection, while his sister Briony distracts herself from the prospect of marriage to a rich old man with her alchemical experiments. One night Sam leaves the house carrying five of his most precious locks and doesn’t come back…
As she searches for her brother, Briony will be drawn into a web of ancestral secrets and imperial intrigues as a ruthless new power arises. If brother and sister are to be reunited, they will need the help of a tight-lipped house spirit, a convict gang, a club of antiques enthusiasts, a tribe of troglodytes, the Ladies Whist Club, the deep state, a travelling theatrical troupe and a lovesick mouse.
Epic, rollicking and in love with language, Jacob and Sara Emery’s sprawling debut novel of humble kitchen magics and awe-inspiring civil engineering is a rare and delicious commodity – the world’s first hydropunk novel. Amazon
J. S. Emery is a brother-sister writing team, born in North Idaho into a homeschooling family of seven children, each of whom received an air rifle and a copy of The Odyssey by way of a fifth birthday present. This background prepared them wonderfully for writing fantasy novels
but very poorly for formal education. After dropping out of secondary school, they worked jobs including ballet dancer, emergency room janitor, and map librarian in various parts of Europe and North America. They now live in the United States, where they are godparents
(and, increasingly, dungeon masters) to one another’s children.
My thoughts: this is a big book, a nice chunky doorstop but I whizzed through it, like the river rumbling its way through the pipes beneath the city. The plot crackles and carries you through the streets of Lower Rhumbsford and out into the countryside beyond with Sam and the drawing rooms of the finest houses with Briony. They uncover ancient plumbing on its knees, plots to wipe the city away, murderers and theatrical types, Sam is forcibly enrolled in the army, Briony almost marries a despot and the two siblings have so many adventures on their way back to each other.
This was so much fun, even if it was a bit heavy to hold, it might have been good in two smaller tomes, each with a lovely cover – the bronze river flowing down the the dust cover. Also one of the heroes of the book, possibly the most heroic, is a small spotted mouse.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.