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Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold
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Shanghai Sparrow (edition 2014)

by Gaie Sebold

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393292,072 (3.5)2
Member:psutto
Title:Shanghai Sparrow
Authors:Gaie Sebold
Info:Solaris (2014), Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:2014 challenge

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Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold

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Exceeds expectations!

This book is just pure fun. Eveline Duchen has been orphaned and left to fend for herself on London’s gritty streets. She’s made a life for herself, of sorts – but that’s abruptly turned on its head when a grasping government agent plucks her out of her situation and places her in a school for female spies. Of course, he’s got an agenda. He believes that her uncle was a researcher into the use of Etheric sciences, and that Evvie might’ve inherited an ability that can be harnessed for the use of the British Empire. Little does he know that the real researcher was Evvie’s mother, and that Eveline has no mechanical or magical ability to speak of.

However, she’s got plenty of smarts – and with the help of her new friend Beth; she might even be able to figure out who – if anyone – she can trust.
The tale mixes magic and faerie lore with steampunk elements in a way that I found reminiscent of M.K. Hobson. This book is a must for her fans, as well as fans of Gail Carriger, Leanna Hieber and even Kage Baker’s ‘Nell Gwynne’ stories. It’s got fast-paced action, some good twists and turns, and although it’s got a super-attractive, enigmatic Chinese tutor, it avoids tired romance tropes. Like I said, it’s a fun, quick read – with a bit of the feminism and anti-colonialist sentiment that’s de rigueur for any entry into the steampunk genre.

My one quibble: from the title, I expected a Chinese setting. We don’t get to China until 87% of the way through the book, and it’s only a very brief visit (speedy airship travel is convenient). There aren’t even any well-developed regular Chinese characters in the book. Maybe this aspect will be further expanded on in some sequels (it’s a nice opening), but as it stands, in no way was the Chinese trip necessary to the plot, and the brief scene in Shanghai felt quickly sketched out.

However, the London setting felt vivid, the characters’ ‘voices’ were convincing, and even the villains were reasonably well-drawn, with believable motivations (always a good thing). I’d definitely like to seek out Sebold’s two previous books.

Copy provided by NetGalley & Solaris books; in return for an honest review.
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Fun, adventurous Steampunk

The British Empire is on the rise, The (fairy) Folk on the wane but the Empire desires all. Caught in an act of deception by the implacable Mr Holmforth, Evvie is offered a stark choice: transportation to the colonies, or an education – and utter commitment to Her Majesty’s Service – at Miss Cairngrim’s harsh school for female spies.

Sebold is engaging writer, strong characters and nice world building rolled into a rollicking plot and this, the 1st in a new series, does not disappoint. For Eveline Duchen (aka Sparrow) is a wonderful character to spend time with and shines amongst a cast of inventors and spies, greedy business men and nasty predators, stern teachers and half Fae wanderers. The world building is deft, with research imbuing the story rather that weighing it down and is used to bat away the blindness most Steampunk has toward the Victorian era and the British Empire. Fun though in its maturity and the large female cast are downright refreshing. China and London shine (although more China please) and there are airships and new-fangled contraptions that jostle up against a tantalising magical cast.

If anything, it suffers a bit from setup as the plot’s pacing seems to become a bit unfocused in the latter part which is such a shame after its strong start. Still it thoroughly whets the appetite for more and that can only be a good thing. ( )
  clfisha | Aug 6, 2014 |
Eveline Duchen Evvie Duchen, sharp Evvie, Evvie the sparrow, a spry little fringe-dweller alone in the crowd of them, always scraping for a crumb, always with one eye open for a bigger bird, or a cat, or a cruel boy with a stone is introduced to us whilst she is casing a posh house for a possible burglary. She is working for a female Fagin figure and feels it is much better to con and steal than it would be to sell her body. How she ended up being an orphan and street urchin means that certain gentlemen in the British government have taken an interest in her, and her education, and how she can affect the fate of the British empire, and the world.

A good blend of Dickens (you can’t help but compare to Oliver Twist), Folk tales (always nice to see Chinese trickster foxes), spy schools and a light steampunkness - there are steam hansoms, airships (of course) and the plot revolves around “Etheric science”. However the steampunk is very much a background, a plot device for sure, but this story is much more a character journey and the character is really engaging. What was really refreshing for me was that there were poor people in this & Sebold manages to turn a story that is basically about a 15 year old girl going to boarding school into an enthralling read. There are few off notes (although I think the ending felt a little too neat) and I’d really recommend this to anyone, whether you’re a fan of steampunk or not. There are hints that this is a world that the author may visit again in the future and if she does I’d be willing to revisit too even though I’m still hoping for another Babylon Steel book….

Overall – Intelligent & fun steampunk. Worth a visit. ( )
  psutto | Mar 17, 2014 |
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To all the women whose contributions to the sciences never made it into the books, and to those who will come after them:

"Never doubt that you can change history.  You already have"

Marge Piercy
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Eveline Duchen sipped her tea, ladylike as all get-out, and smiled at the cook.
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Shanghai Sparrow is a Far Eastern steampunk tale of espionage, distant empires and thrilling exploits, with a dynamic heroine. Eveline Duchen is a thief and con-artist, surviving day by day on the streets of London, where the glittering spires of progress rise on the straining backs of the poor and disenfranchised. Where the Folk, the otherworldly children of fairy tales and legends, have all but withdrawn from the smoke of the furnaces and the clamour of iron. Caught in an act of deception by the implacable Mr Holmforth, Evvie is offered a stark choice: transportation to the colonies, or an education--and utter commitment to Her Majesty's Service--at Miss Cairngrim's harsh school for female spies. But on the decadent streets of Shanghai, where the corruption of the Empire is laid bare, Holmforth is about to make a devil's bargain, and Eveline's choices could change the future of two worlds.… (more)

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