Venturess

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Mechanica. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Venturess was written by Betsy Cornwell and first published in 2017. It is a steampunk fantasy story that focuses on a gifted inventor and young prince as they try to unite two warring nations. As the novel follows on directly from where its prequel – Mechanica (2015) – left off, you really need to read the novels in order to have any idea of what is going on.

Following her success at the exposition, Nicoletta Lambton has become a household name. Every woman in Esting wants to buy her glass slippers and a line of fashionable dresses made by Jules and the Buzzers has proven equally as popular. She has fallen into a comfortable relationship with Fin and Caro, and she’s confident that she will be successful despite the difficulties that the embargo with Faerie has put on her business.

However, everything changes when Fin is shot during a speech. Old hatreds are ignited as the incised people of Esting begin to cry for a strike on Faerie. It is at this time that Nick receives a note from her old Fae housekeeper, Mr Candary, who invites her and Fin to the shores of Faerie to discuss a truce with their leader. Eager to prevent a war, Fin agrees at once to travel to the distant land for a meeting.

However, it may be too late for even the prince to be able to stop the war. Fitz has already begun work on an army of automaton soldiers and many members of the Fae resistance are unwilling to trust humans. It’s up to Nick and her friends to convince the sides to stop fighting, yet when Nick makes a sinister discovery her belief in what is right and wrong is shaken. How can she possibly put an end to the fighting when both sides harbour dark secrets?

I was incredibly excited to get my hands on this book as I thought Mechanica was a fantastic opening to the series. While the story of Cinderella has been told a thousand times over, Cornwell really took the faerie tale and made it her own. The backdrop of mounting political tension, the clockwork insect minions and Nick’s choice of independence over marriage were all rather original and helped to make the novel incredibly memorable.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think that Venturess was quite as strong. The book was well written and got off to a very exciting start. Within the first few chapters, we see that Esting and Faerie are on the brink of war, and that Fitz’s desire for power has led him to make some incredibly questionable choices. The early hints that he is building a mechanical army, and the evidence that he can use the ombrossius oil to make them look like anything or anyone is very sinister and made me curious to find out what would happen next. Unfortunately, the book began to slow down as soon as Nick and her friends boarded the airship.

The disappointing thing about Venturess is that it’s a novel of missed opportunities. Even though there were parts of it that I really enjoyed, I still always felt that it was lacking something fundamental. When Nick does finally reach Faerie, we see so little of it. For most of Nick’s time there, she is wounded or hidden away underground. We don’t see an awful lot of the fantastical world that she dreamed about visiting since childhood.

The threat of war also doesn’t really add a lot of tension to the story. While this is certainly building, nothing comes to fruition until around the 80% mark of the Kindle version. After this, the battle is over far too quickly. Despite the fact that Esting has been manufacturing a mechanical army, the high stakes battle only takes up a couple of chapters and Nick’s involvement is minimal. We don’t even see much of her helping the Fae to build their machines. In this book, a lot of Nick’s tinkering happens off page.

The climax of the story was also unsatisfying. It just felt too rushed and tied everything up too neatly for my liking. I doubt there will be any future instalments to this series purely due to how everything was concluded in the final chapters. So many plot points were just brushed aside. The worst of these was probably the Brethren – an anti-magic religious order who have the King’s ear. While they seem significant early in the tale, they don’t have any real impact on proceedings after Nick and her friends get on the airship.

However, the book did do a couple of things that I liked. For example, it contained a couple of decent twists. The main one is the true nature of the Ashes. These played a major role in Mechanica as they enabled Nick to animate both Jules and the Buzzers, however it was never entirely clear what they were. It was implied that they were something unpleasant, but no more was said than that. This time, it’s made abundantly clear why the Ashes are taboo and it’s pretty shocking on the whole. I won’t spoil any more of it here, but I can fully appreciate why the Fae in the Night Market wouldn’t talk to Nick about them.

I also enjoyed the way that sexuality and gender are portrayed in this book. It was made clear in Mechanica that Cornwell was not going to be including any love triangles in her work and instead has taken Nick, Fin and Caro’s relationship down a very different route, portraying the three of them sharing and bed and generally being in a loving relationship with each other. This was actually pretty refreshing. Polyamory isn’t something that I’ve seen in a young adult novel before and Cornwell portrayed it in a healthy, positive and non-sexualised way. I also liked finally encountering the genderless Fae, who are given their own pronouns (fe and fer). In the previous story, all we really saw were half-breeds of Fae and humans (which all had genders) and so it was nice to finally encounter the purebred Fae.

The characters were also pretty well done on the whole. While we see less of Nick’s engineering this time around, she was still a very strong protagonist. In this book, she learned a lot more about her parents and childhood abandonment. While this would be enough to break a person, Nick is able to put it into perspective, realising how her past tragedies led to her becoming a stronger person, as well as her relationship with Fin and Caro. This felt nicely affirmative and I enjoyed reading the direction her personal development took after she learned the truth about the Ashes that she worked with.

However, the other characters didn’t get so much time to shine. I was disappointed by how little Wheelock appeared in the story. At first, he felt like an interesting new addition but he wasn’t really given enough time to come out of his shell. Fitz (the closest thing that the story has to a villain) is also absent for most of the tale and so never really felt like a true threat. Even Fin and Caro kind of fade into the background in the second act, which is a bit of a shame. Yet the most glaring thing for me was how Nick’s reunion with certain key people from her past was kind of glossed over. This could have been very emotional, yet just wasn’t focused on strongly enough to make much of an impact on me.

Anyhow, I think I’ve said enough. Venturess is an enjoyable sequel, but is not as strong or memorable as Mechanica. There were a lot of missed opportunities and the plot really slowed down after the intriguing opening section. If you enjoyed Mechanica, you might get a kick out of it, but it felt a bit unnecessary on the whole.

Venturess can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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