Her Sky Cowboy
by Beth Ciotta
This book is FANTASTIC. It’s the closest thing to a feminist, egalitarian romance I’ve seen in quite some time, and the romance subplot is expertly woven into the main treasure hunt plot. With it all set against the steampunk backdrop of a time-travel-altered Europe, this is a spectacularly fun read.
The book is set in 1887, 31 years after the “Peace Rebels” traveled back in time from 1969. They came back to warn the world of the dangers of technology – they had stories of Hiroshima, and the Holocaust, and the horrors visited on the human race by nuclear bombs and tear gas and pollution and other terrible things. Their travel had a consequence, though – they apparently came from another dimension. They’re still human, but when “Mods” have children with “Vics” (Moderns vs Victorians), their children then get labeled “Freaks.” Freaks have kaleidoscope eyes – they’re said to look like time travel, or what the Mods saw when they traveled back to 1887. And Freaks all have some sort of ability – the main Freak in the book is a healer. Others can read minds, or control weather. The danger of this is that no Freak is older than 31 years old; no one knows what they’re truly capable of, not even themselves.
Mods came back in time to warn of the dangers of technology, but at the same time, some of them couldn’t resist re-inventing some of the things they’d left behind. And spreading their knowledge. So the setting is Victorian Europe (Britain, mostly) but with varying amounts of steam power, electric power, gas power – dirigibles and air-cycles and the rumors of a lost time-machine.
Among all of this lies the Darcy family. The Darcys have a family connection to the man that built the first time machine, and as such are somewhat rejected from society, since a lot of people are not very happy with the sudden technology and blame them for bringing it upon them. Baron Darcy is an eccentric inventor who can never focus on one thing long enough to see it through. His three children, Amelia (the heroine of this book) and her twin brothers, Simon and Jules, are all equally brilliant, but it’s Amelia that’s taken after her father the most. She dreams of captaining her own airship someday. When Baron Darcy dies and leaves the family destitute, their only hope to regain the family fortune (and respect from their countrymen) is a contest for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. They each receive a personal invitation to join the hunt for “lost or legendary technological inventions of historical significance.” (Future books follow Simon and Jules’ adventures in this quest, and I WILL be looking for those!)
Amelia’s quest leads her to run into Tucker Gentry, a notorious ex-Air Marshal from America. Convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to hang, his crew rescued him and ran to Europe. Amelia and Tucker immediately strike sparks on each other and soon fall in love. And their love story is one of the best I’ve read recently. It’s repeatedly noted that it’s her mind and personality that drives Tucker wild – her aptitude with aeronautics, her sass, her ability to do things for herself. It’s also repeatedly demonstrated that she CAN, indeed, take care of herself. She rebuilds her air-cycle on his ship – or almost does, until one of his crew members takes over and adds a bunch of new stuff to it as thanks for saving his life. When she’s abducted he finds her having dinner with her captor, bargaining for her own release. She’s the one that leads them to the treasure, putting together the clues and finding the secret cave. It’s that self-sufficient streak that really captures Tucker’s heart: “By marrying you, I’m gaining the wife of my dreams, a woman who’ll share the wheel with me, soar the skies, experience adventures.”
Looking back on it, there were a few times where Tucker soared to her rescue, but I never noticed it while I was reading. They were equals throughout the entire book, and that’s not something you see often in a book with a strong romantic sub-plot. Even in the sex scenes, of which there are two or three, she takes an equal, demanding role. I was extremely impressed, and I cannot WAIT to read more about “The Glorious Victorious Darcys,” as the series is called. This is one hell of a book, and if you like steampunk and don’t mind a romantic sub-plot, you should DEFINITELY pick this up.
So far there are two more in the series, His Clockwork Canary (Simon’s story) and His Broken Angel (a novella about Doc, the Freak from Her Sky Cowboy.)
From the back of Her Sky Cowboy:
Amelia Darcy has no interest in marrying well. Her heart belongs to the sky and the dirigibles of brass and steel that swoop over Victorian England. But when her father, an eccentric inventor, dies, the Darcy siblings are left with scrap metal—and not a penny to their names. Their only hope to save the family name and fortune is to embark on a contest to discover an invention of historical importance in honor of Queen Victoria.
Armed with only her father’s stories of a forgotten da Vinci workshop, a mechanically enhanced falcon, and an Italian cook, Amelia takes flight for Florence, Italy. But her quest is altered when her kitecycle crashes into the air ship of ex–Air Marshal—and scandalous dime novel hero—Tucker Gentry.
Challenged by political unrest, a devious sky pirate, and their own sizzling attraction, Amelia and Tuck are dragged into an international conspiracy that could change the course of history…again.