Friday, February 08, 2013

MANIFEST by Beth Dolgner

Alice Meriwether is a genteel young lady with a keen interest in the New Science that her mother barely tolerates. In Fairburn, Georgia, after all, steam-powered gadgets are not an acceptable pastime for a woman. When Alice becomes engaged, her mother forbids her from even reading about New Science. When she is unable to resist her deep, abiding passion for knowledge, her engagement falls apart and her mother sends her to Atlanta to become a governess. There she meets the uncle of the children she tends to, Roland, and discovers that he is a real New Scientist. Eventually she becomes his assistant, traveling with him to demonstrate an invention she helped to perfect.

This is a fun steampunk reimagining of Atlanta, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Alice attends an exposition, which gives Dolgner a chance to describe many curious machines, such as a clockwork housekeeper and a coffee/tea dispenser. The "science" behind Roland's Ghost Machine is so ingeniously described that I almost started to believe it was possible.

If you view this book as a steampunk exposition, it's a great success, but conflict is very limited. The initial disapproval of her parents and fiance is brushed aside, and potential conflicts (such as a visit from her sister, who could spill to her parents about Alice's further adventures in New Science) fizzle out. Once she leaves Fairburn, there is no serious attempt by anyone to keep her from her involvement and potential objections to her working closely with Roland are minimal. If not for the thoroughly entertaining world Dolgner has built, it would have been all too easy to set the book aside midchapter and let it gather dust. The chronicle of Alice's rise as a New Scientist is far more interesting than any broken engagement or parental disapproval, so I was not bothered by the lack of suspense.

Steampunk fans will find plenty of entertainment here, and this book would be suitable for the YA crowd as well.

Source disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from the author.

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