Skies Of Fire
by Zoë Archer, historical/fantasy (2012)
Avon Impulse, $3.99, ISBN 978-0-06-218449-8


Zoë Archer's Skies Of Fire is the first story in a series called The Ether Chronicles, which is co-authored with her husband Nico Rosso. This one is a nice standalone story, but I can't promise that the others will be the same, heh.

And yes, this is a short story, as you can probably tell from the cover price, but it's a long one for a short story from the Avon Impulse line. Let me put it this way: this is the first Avon Impulse mass market paperback of a short story that has no excerpt of other works - zero, zilch, absolutely none. Either this is the publisher giving me the most value for every cent spent, or someone is going to be heavily reprimanded by the marketing department soon.

Anyway, this one is set in a steampunk world, where it seems like the entire civilized world that matters (the UK and the USA) is against the evil Germans who want to rule the world. In this one, it's all about storming the enemies in Hapsburg.

Captain Christopher Redmond is a "Man O'War". No, not the jellyfish thingy, but rather, a bionic man type created by the British Navy to fight the war. When the story opens, he's on his way to retrieve an operative, but the airships under his command are heavily hammered by the enemies. He'll cut his way through eventually, only to find that the person he is sent to retrieve is Louisa, a British Naval Intelligence agent who loved him and left him years ago. Louisa is determined to carry out what could have been a suicide mission into the heart of the enemy munition base, and Christopher is determined to ensure that she succeeds without becoming a martyr to the cause in the process.

For what it is, Skies Of Fire is a most impressive start of a series. It starts out explosively, and even though the momentum slows down a bit once our hero and heroine are reunited, things rarely let up. Both characters are capable - the heroine isn't a fake kick-ass babe, thank goodness for that - and, while they have some issues between them, stemming mostly from Louisa's insecurities about love in general, the angst is kept to a minimal. As a result, this one feels more like an action-oriented steampunk tale with romance instead of the other way around, not that there is anything wrong with this because it's all so fun.

And indeed, fun is what this story is about. Capable and likable characters, plenty of action, and solid pacing all contribute to Skies Of Fire being a fun roller-coaster ride of sorts. It's too bad that this story has to end so soon.

Rating: 86


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