Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
I liked Kali a lot. She’s clearly been through a horrible trauma, making her retreat to the remote island where generations of her family once used to live. Now no one has lived there for more than thirty years, leaving only a ruined cottage for shelter. Everyone she cared for in Liverpool died in the airship attack, she herself barely survived, trapped under ruins for days. She lost her leg, but has used her remarkable engineering skills to fashion herself a prosthetic. Not wanting to be a burden to her parents, who live in India, while she’s physically recovering further, she’s taken what she was able to salvage of her many clever prototypes to settle on a tiny island in the Outer Hebrides.
She discovers quickly that she’s not as alone as she planned. On her first night there, she hears a strange hum in the distance, and when she goes to investigate, she discovers that there is a man living on the north side of the island. He is huge, and his hair and beard suggests he’s been there for some time. They slowly get to know one another, and develop a friendship while walking and exploring the island, both discovering that complete solitude was perhaps not what they wanted.
Fletcher is a Man O’War, a Steampunk sort of cyborg, who I suspect I would have known more about if I’d read any of the previous books in the Ether Chronicles. As far as I could tell, the various powerful nations of the world have airship fleets, and the most promising captains/pilots, if they have a high enough vitality rating of some sort, can be converted into Man O’Wars, who thanks to the machine parts and wiring operated into their bodies actually work as a sort of battery for their airship. The operation also makes them huge, imposing and very powerful, think Captain America in The First Avenger.
Kali discovers that Fletcher captained one of the British airships that drove the enemies out of Liverpool, but that the ship sustained so much damage that he crashed it in as remote a spot as he could (but not before making sure that as many of the crew members as possible survived. Now he’s pretty sure everyone believes him to be dead, as no one from the Navy has come looking for him or the ship. The girl he once courted reacted with disgust and fear once he returned to her after his “conversion”. He doesn’t trust that anyone else can see him as anything but close to a monster now, and is also far too aware that if it was revealed that he was alive, they’d only want him to continue powering warships. He’s sick of being a human weapon, used only for destruction.
Kali makes him realize that his actions in Liverpool were unbelievably heroic; she actually saw his ship from where she was lying trapped under most of a ruined building. Slowly, as they become closer and the trust between them grows, they reveal their back stories to one another and fight their mutual attraction, not wanting to complicate their friendship. The romance in Skies of Gold takes time to develop, which is always the way I prefer it. While their attraction to one another is pretty instantaneous, it’s certainly not surprising from Fletcher’s side. He’s been alone on the island for three months and wasn’t expecting to run into a beautiful and exotic woman. He finds it difficult to believe that Kali could return the attraction because of the rejection he’s suffered in the past.
Much of the novel is just the two of them alone on the island, and while I thought that might get weird or boring, it didn’t. Unfortunately, then “the danger from beyond the island” shows up, and is a bit preposterous. The world-building crafted, with Ether-powered machinery, clearly some sort of complicated war going on and Man O’Wars as these government-sponsored cyborgs was interesting to me, but the villain who showed up in the final third of the book, and the break neck chase to stop him from carrying out his diabolical plan got a bit too silly for me. Having now read the blurbs of the previous books in the series, I can see that there are also call-backs to previous romantic couples from earlier books, which I’m sure is nice for long time readers. I liked this enough that I’m going to be checking out more of the Ether Chronicles, hoping that the others have more convincing antagonists and final acts.