Fiction Review: The Steam Mole

BY DAVE FREER
Publisher: Pyr 2012
Reviewed by Nimue Brown, with co-reviewer James

SteamMoleWhile Steam Mole is a sequel to the exuberant YA novel Cuttlefish, it would stand alone so don’t hesitate to jump in here if this one comes to you first. Young adventurers Clara Calland and Tim Barnabas find themselves in a steam powered Australia as this alternate history takes a series of new and dramatic turns. Imagining Australia without the social effects of the Second World War and with radical climate change creates not only a different political and geographical scenario but also allows Freer to explore the horrors of racial prejudice and corporate abuse.

The plot of Steam Mole is an absolute page turner, throwing the young protagonists and the adults who surround them into a series of perilous events and dangerous adventures. Inclusion of more adult characters and narrative adds depth to the setting and takes this book forward from Cuttlefish, delivering more story and vision than the first book held – which really is saying something.

As the title suggests, Steam Mole takes us underground, with steam powered mining and underground transport technology. In the lethal heat of this imagined Australia, most humans cannot survive on the surface, so underground cities are a must. The underpinning science has clearly been given a lot of thought and anything not explained within the story is tackled at the end in the very useful author notes.
As with Cuttlefish, this book is clearly aimed at the YA market, but will prove irresistible to any adult readers who enjoy this sort of thing. My YA co-reviewer said it was at least as good as Cuttlefish, and like the first book, he found it “amazing”. He was able to engage with the adult perspectives in the story and, despite being a boy, quite liked the romantic elements of the plot! Freer clearly has an eye to appealing to readers of both gender. The romance, as with other emotional aspects of the story, is handled with a light touch, but remains deeply affecting throughout. Younger readers won’t be overwhelmed, while adults will find this aspect powerful. At several points, events in the story almost had me in tears, although it’s not a plot spoiler, given the genre, to mention that things work out in the end.

Overall, a most excellent read. If Freer continues this as a series, I shall keep reading. Highly recommended.

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