Review: Cuttlefish by Dave Freer


Title:  Cuttlefish

Author: Dave Freer

Publisher:  Pyr

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The smallest thing can change the path of history.

The year is 1976, and the British Empire still spans the globe. Coal drives the world, and the smog of it hangs thick over the canals of London.

Clara Calland is on the run. Hunted, along with her scientist mother, by Menshevik spies and Imperial soldiers, they flee Ireland for London. They must escape airships, treachery, and capture. Under flooded London’s canals, they join the rebels who live in the dank tunnels there.

Tim Barnabas is one of the underpeople, born to the secret town of drowned London, place of anti-imperialist republicans and Irish rebels, part of the Liberty—the people who would see a return to older values and free elections. Seeing no farther than his next meal, Tim has hired on as a submariner on the Cuttlefish, a coal-fired submarine that runs smuggled cargoes beneath the steamship patrols, to the fortress America and beyond.

When the Imperial soldiery comes ravening, Clara and her mother are forced to flee aboard the Cuttlefish. Hunted like beasts, the submarine and her crew must undertake a desperate voyage across the world, from the Faeroes to the Caribbean and finally across the Pacific to find safety. But only Clara and Tim Barnabas can steer them past treachery and disaster, to freedom in Westralia. Carried with them—a lost scientific secret that threatens the very heart of Imperial power.


Cuttlefish has been on my radar since I first saw the cover on Amazon.  When I received a review copy, I could hardly wait to start reading it.  Between the covers, I found a compelling adventure, one that was enhanced by the two extremely likable protagonists.  Tim and Clara made the book for me, and it was on the strength of their personalities that I eagerly journeyed to the end.  The pacing could be a little slow as the Cuttlefish journeyed across the ocean, and without these protagonists, who demand that you pay attention to them, I don’t know if I would have found the book as enjoyable.  Sometimes the journey holds your attention, and sometimes, it’s your companions who make the trip worth taking.

Clara is the daughter of a chemist, and when her mother arrives at her school, frantically demanding that Clara follow her with no questions asked, the girl is bewildered.  What is going on?  Why are these scary guys chasing after them?  Clara is a clever girl, and after overcoming her initial fear, she quickly starts to question everything that’s going on around her.  The Russians are determined to capture them, as are the British, all to gain possession of her mother’s research.  And here Clara thought her mother was dull and boring, and overly engrossed in her research!  In reality, she’s the object of a dangerous manhunt that will take them all over the world!

The two end up on the Cuttlefish, a submarine at smuggles goods from around the world back to London.  In the years after the Big Melt, life is difficult for all.  There isn’t enough food being harvested, nations are bickering over limited resources, and the super powers are battling for control of shipping lanes, overland trade routes, and mining facilities.  Once it’s suspected that Clara’s mother’s research could tip the balance of power, everyone is after them, with orders to capture them, or barring that, kill them so that the research doesn’t fall into another nation’s hands.   Yikes!  These guys aren’t playing around, but Clara’s resourcefulness and courage proves to be quite a match for all of the bad guys.

On board the sub, Clara meets Tim.  Tim was raised in the tunnels under drowned London, and there is no love lost between them at first.  Confused, Tim wonders why the women are on the sub.  He also suspects, at first, that Clara is over-privileged and over-indulged.  As they share one dangerous adventure after another, Tim slowly learns how wrong he is about his new friend.  Clara’s honest and open friendship makes him question how he perceives the world, and makes him re-evaluate his plans for the future.  I loved how their growing friendship brought out the best in both of them.  Where Clara is weak, Tim is strong, and visa versa.  While Tim is more laid-back and more of a thinker, Clara is impulsive, jumping into any situation without hesitation.  They manage to get each other into, and back out of, several hair-raising scrapes, by learning to trust and rely on each other.  I loved their relationship.

The pacing was a little sluggish near the end, but the last 50 pages were frantically urgent, keeping me on the edge of my seat.  I couldn’t put the book down, even though it was far past my bedtime.  I was so engaged in the survival of the Cuttlefish that I couldn’t set the book aside.  The thought of being chased across the Pacific, trapped in a crippled submarine, actually kept me up after I finished.  The tension was almost unbearable, and I marveled at the steadiness and calm efficiency of the captain and crew.  I quickly decided that I could never join the Navy, because I would have gone off my rocker if anything like that had ever happened to me!

The strength of Cuttlefish is the likability of the young protagonists, as well as the strong action sequences, especially the huge, heart-pounding near disaster at the end.  I loved the characters, and I can hardly wait to have another adventure with them.  The Steam Mole will be out in December; it’s already on my wish list.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

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Interview with Gwendolyn Heasley, Author of A Long Way From You

Gwendolyn Heasley is making a repeat visit to the Cafe.  When we chatted with her last, her debut novel Where I Belong had just hit store shelves.  Today, Gwen is back with us to discuss her latest release, A Long Way From You.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Gwendolyn Heasley] I’m a native Midwestern with New Yorker parents. I love a story more than anything in the world. My greatest career ambition is to have readers relate to my characters and be moved by their stories.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about A Long Way From You?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] On the plot level, it’s the story of Kitsy Kidd’s summer trip to Manhattan to attend art classes.

On the inner level, it’s the story of Kitsy exploring who she is when she’s away from everything she’s ever known.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Kitsy?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] Peppy. Caring. Brave.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Kitsy would never have in her purse?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] Anything designer or frivolous. Kitsy doesn’t have many physical possessions, so her purse would be very bare. She might carry a lip gloss, but that’s the only make-up she’d ever have on her. She would have something to remind her of her brother Kiki, her most important baggage.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Kitsy’s single most prized possession?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] A poster of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Which of your characters are you more like: Corrinne or Kitsy?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] I’m a little bit of each. I’ve lived in cities and small towns although none as small as Kitsy’s hometown of Broken Spoke. Both Kitsy and Corrinne possess contradictions (which is the basis of a good character in my mind) and I also possess many contradictions. Depending on the situation, I can be shy or loud, timid or brave. I think situation dictates character. We are all capable of acting in many different ways. Throughout my life, I’ve vacillated between being a Kitsy and a Corrinne.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] My life. I mine my own emotional experiences for ideas…but after that, I try to let the characters take their own journeys. (My characters are often more grown-up and mature than I was at that age.)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] Coffee. Diet coke. Silence although I’m always hoping that I can turn into a writer who listens to music while working.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] I recently read Sara Pennypacker’s Summer of the Gypsy Moths and I loved it. It has amazing Gothic elements but is written at a very accessible level.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin made me into a fanatic reader. I think series can be extremely inspirational for young readers. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the BSC.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] I love TV and movies (nearly) as much as I love books. I’m also a big fan of exploring my wonderful city (Manhattan), traveling, skiing, running, interneting, and attempting to cook. I’m also planning my wedding, which is a mammoth but wonderful undertaking.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Gwendolyn Heasley] Hearing from my readers is my favorite part of this job. (And I take readers thoughts very seriously and often incorporate suggestions into my next work) I promise to respond to every email I receive, so please write me at

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can purchase A Long Way From You, as well as Where I Belong, from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below. Available in print and digital