Author: Dave Freer
May Contain Spoilers
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.
Review copy provided by publisher