Published by Imprint on February 20th 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Steampunk, Historical, Action & Adventure, Romance
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Can she write a world gone wrong?
A certain pen, a certain book, and a certain person can craft entirely new worlds through a branch of science called scriptology. Elsa comes from one such world that was written into creation by her mother—a noted scriptologist.
But when her home is attacked and her mother abducted, Elsa must cross into the real world and use her own scriptology gifts to find her. In an alternative 19th-century Italy, Elsa finds a secret society of pazzerellones—young people with a gift for mechanics, alchemy or scriptology—and meets Leo, a gorgeous mechanist with a smart mouth and a tragic past. She recruits the help of these fellow geniuses just as an assassin arrives on their doorstep.
In this thrilling debut, worlds collide as Elsa unveils a deep political conspiracy seeking to unlock the most dangerous weapon ever created—and only she can stop it.
I enjoyed Ink, Iron, and Glass! It comes off as a bit of a quieter historical fantasy, but it promises nonstop adventure and a cast of delightful characters that work together to pretty much save the world. The setting was pretty extraordinary: we’re looking at the Victorian era of Italy, around the late 1800’s, where Italian unification is taking place. While the book isn’t exactly historically accurate, it does follow some of the politics as the time and place it’s in. Elsa’s character was quite brilliant (despite some special snowflake abilities) as she navigates this new world and makes unexpected new friends.
So Elsa is from Veldana, a world that was literally written into existence. This is through an ability called scriptology, where people can scribe different worlds. When her mother Jumi is suddenly kidnapped and the state of her world is in jeopardy, she travels out of Veldana towards the actual Earth to find her mother and find out what exactly is happening. When she gets to earth, she stays at this house in Italy with pazzerellones, other people with similar abilities as her. The different abilities include scriptology (creating worlds), mechanist, and alchemy. There is a bit of a steampunk atmosphere in this world, but it borrows more from an anachronistic view of technology rather than aspects of the world that require steam power. I think it’s actually quite unique, as I haven’t read of any other alternative history book that has such abilities.
She loved her mother and she loved Veldana, and now they were both beyond her reach, possibly both destroyed… Was it simply the losses that hurt? Or did it also hurt to have nothing at all left to love?
I really liked the friendship and teamwork Elsa had with the other pazzerellones in Italy. At first, she’s very wary about letting people in and helping her onh er quest, but she gradually opens up and discovers what “friends” are. There is an important and well-written exploration of the difference between Veldana, a simple and young fictional world, and the real world of Earth, where people have generations of memories and history. So Elsa’s new crew consists of Leo, a bright mechanist with a dark past, Porzia, a pretty and nosy scriptologist, and Faraz, a Tunisian alchemist who probably is my fave character. I love the little ways Faraz calls out certain things the characters do, like using the word “exotic” as a description. Go Faraz!! Elsa is also a POC with dark skin, although her heritage isn’t revealed (technically she’s Veldananian?). I was pleasantly surprised to see these small but important diverse elements.
With Veldana, she’d walked every square meter of land, knew every person by name, and read every word of the worldtext – she was the master of her world. But the real world was impossibly large and complex.
There’s always an adventure or journey waiting in the sidelines, and I was pretty surprised (in a good way) with how the plot did a dramatic twist. Like seriously – it was an interesting twist that brought new dimensions to the characters. Porzia has an important duty to protect her house and the pazzerellones in it, while Leo deals with heartbreak and family trouble in his past, as well as feelings of inferiority. Elsa’s bright and talented, being a polymath that can excel in more than one ability. But she too grapples with letting people help her and expanding her own world, as she discovers more about Earth.
There is an extremely light and linear romance as well in this book between Elsa and Leo. I didn’t really see the chemistry myself, and I feel like much of it was “interesting person in my vicinity.” Even so, they complement each other pretty well, ability and personality-wise, and it was light enough not to detract from the story while still being relevant. Definitely a good romance to get onboard with!
The most important description I would use for this book is “light.” The action, plot, and characterizations are light. The world-building is pretty superficial and light. That’s not to say it doesn’t go in-depth with certain things, but it’s one of those diverting adventures that you don’t really place much on. I think historical fiction readers will really enjoy this one. It reminds me a bit of Traitor Angels by Anne Blankman (review here) and The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller (review here). Both are pretty adventurous but light stories with relatable characters and a quieter historical setting. Add in some technological-crossed-with-magical elements, and you’re set!
Content Warning: mild violence
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Thank you Macmillan for the review copy!
Ink, Iron, and Glass will be out on February 20, 2018 in US bookstores for $18.99 USD.