So, I’ve decided to start a new, intermittent series discussing some of the various reading materials I’ve picked up at con. I think this will be a fun way for me to steer readers in the direction of some good reading (after you’re done Flood Waters Rising, of course, :P) and also to give some exposure to local authors that I really like.

Before I start, though, I just want to lay out some ground rules for these reviews, since I am also an author and publisher, and I want to be clear on some basic premises, for anyone who has had their book reviewed or would like it to be reviewed.

Rule #1: I am only ever going to be reviewing books I liked, or books that I thought had some interesting quality that would appeal to my readers. This is not a critical blog, and it won’t ever be. Only positive reviews will appear here.

Rule #2: I may not include something that I read from con for various reasons, not necessarily because I didn’t like it. To be completely honest, I just may not have gotten to it yet. My policy on things I haven’t reviewed will be strictly don’t ask, don’t tell. Please don’t be insulted if you sold me a book and it hasn’t appeared.

Rule #3: I’m going to try and keep the reviewing limited to indie works that I’ve picked up at cons, but anything that I get at con will be game.

Those are the rules, so without further ado:

Sunset Val!

A Thrilling Tale of Airship Piracy

By Rob St. Martin

Let’s start with the basic premise of this book: A fierce, redheaded girl named Val with a penchant for dreaming and some skill with the fencing foil gets pulled into an alternate universe of steam and airships by a mad scientist. When an attack by air pirates separates Val from the man who brought her through the dimensional rift, she and her friend Eve, a girl patched together like Frankenstein’s monster, must overtake a slave ship and fight, with lots of interesting new allies at their side, for their freedom as the sky’s newest all-woman pirate crew.

Sound awesome? You know it does.

The look and feel of this book, both from a design point of view (the cover is sepia-toned, and the typesets swirly and antique) and in subject matter, feel decidedly steampunk, but I think that what sets this book apart from other selections in the genre is its narrative voice. Because Val is from our time and place, and because the place she travels to is an alternate universe, the narrative avoids archaisms or pseudo-victorian language in favour of Val’s interior narrative, which is gutsy, funny, and definitely true to the interior narrative of a teenage girl.

The book isn’t very long (173 pages) and feels stylistically like a YA book, but it still holds its own with older readers, aka me. I liked some of the elements of victorian dress-up that were present in the book, and think that this book will especially appeal to strong young women with a flair for the unconventional. My one word of warning, without meaning this as a criticism, is that any parent who may want to buy this for their son or daughter should know that the subject matter gets pretty serious at times, and may be more suitable for the older
teen reader. The author does not pull any punches regarding the main character’s enslavement, an unnecessary surgery performed on another character, or any of the violent battle details that accompany the girls’ rebellion on the slave ship. However, Val’s sarcastic wit and feisty character pull you through, and some of the chapter subtitles really add touches of whimsy that keep the mood from bottoming out. With regards to content, my advice would be just to know your kids, and if they like action, adventure, and a little bit of a scare, go for it.

I think, in conclusion, that my favorite thing about this book was the strong female characters who don’t just lie down and accept their fate, but fight for the world that they want to live in. I love strong female characters, especially ones that feel real to me, that aren’t just girly stereotypes on the one end, or uber-masculine killing machines on the other. Every girl or woman in this book has a distinct personality, prejudices, and flaws that need to be overcome in order to work as a team and triumph, and I think that’s a great overall message for everybody, guy or girl. I’ve picked up the sequel at this year’s con, and I can’t wait to dig into it. (Might be a while though, as I just started Nicholas Nickleby before the con… have you ever seen the size of that book?)

Anyhoo, if you want to buy Sunset Val and check it out for yourself, go to: http://http://www.amazon.com/Sunset-Val-Rob-St-Martin/dp/0986653101

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