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BOOK REVIEW: Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second novel in Martha Wells newest series closely follows on the first novel, expanding the world and characters.


PROS: Deepening of protagonist’s character, cosmology and the world; consistently entertaining; a quick read; excellent Introductory fantasy, especially for readers looking for a female protagonists and role models.
CONS: The novel’s uncomplicated YA nature may turn off readers looking for more complex fare; the lack of space between the two volumes, time-wise, mandates reading the first volume first.
BOTTOM LINE: A sequel that provides an entertaining second visit to Wells’ world and strengthens some of the weaknesses of the first novel.

[Warning: Plot spoilers for Emilie and the Hollow World]

Emilie and the Sky World is the followup to Emile and the Hollow World (reviewed here). Set in a Victorianesque world with some moderate amounts of magic, the novels depictt the remarkable adventures of a young woman, Emilie, who goes from stowaway to valued expedition member with the scientist/mages known as the Marlendes. In the sequel, an adventure-struck young woman like Emilie can scarcely have time to catch her breath before the call to adventure comes again. Fresh on the heels of her trip with the Marlendes to the Hollow World that turned her from stowaway to valued expedition member, their return correlates with the arrival of a strange ship in the sky, in the same sort of aether currents. Clearly, this ship is not from Earth, and is from yet another world, perhaps coming to visit Earth as Emilie and the Marlendes visited the Hollow World. But what do they want? And do they know anything about the last expedition sent up into the aether, an expedition lost without a trace? Why aren’t they signaling or making any attempt at communication?

There’s only one thing to do. With Emilie’s uncle and brother pressing to have her return to her untenable domestic situation, Emilie is once again caught up in an adventure, with one additional twist. This time she is not the stowaway, but rather someone else is.

Emilie’s straight-ahead and straightforward personality make her a relatively simple protagonist. While there are depths and aspects to the reasons why she flees her uncle, Emilie is almost refreshingly uncomplicated. This dovetails with the “Low YA” feel I got in reading the first novel. In the second novel, Emilie does not feel quite so young, despite that the novel follows immediately on the first. Still, Emilie is much more of a high Middle-grade heroine than a YA or adult one. That said, Emilie provides an excellent character engine to quickly pull the reader through the events of the novel. The novel, with Emilie’s no-nonsense approach, reads briskly and is entertaining.

Although the book’s writing style and length does not permit giant helpings of world building or info-dumping, the author cleverly ladles in ideas and concepts about her world to provide a rich background for Emilie and the other characters to inhabit. The fusion of 19th century Victorian science and spiritualism/magic is not unique in the abstract; the author does bring her own wrinkles and unique take on that milieu. Readers learn more about the nature of the universe when the characters do. The Marlendes, for example, are seen to doing cutting-edge magic-science, and through such world building there is a real sense of discovery in the books.

In some ways, Emilie’s world reminds me of the author’s Ile-Rien novels, especially the Wizard Hunters trilogy. Given the antagonist and some of the events in this novel, I do wonder if there is an explicit connection, rather than a thematic one, between those two series and worlds. The worlds are not identical, however, and the cosmological framework, first seen in Hollow World and more explicitly explicated in this one, provides the author with a large canvas onb which to tell numerous stories of the adventures of Emilie and her friends, should she so choose.

The lack of a rest between the adventures of both novels is a mistake; this novel would have been stronger if Emilie had had a chance to reflect, or at least have a domestic beat, after her last adventure. Regardless, now that I am used to the straightforward simplicity that Wells is effecting in this novels, I better can see what she is trying to write in these stories. I don’t think every reader (especially those who do not read YA) will cotton to this style and format. However, readers who are looking for a refreshing adventure story with multiple strong female characters, and with a chassis of the author’s excellent world building, should not hesitate to read both novels.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!
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