I genuinely had no idea what I was in for with this book. I thought the cover art was awesome (steampunk dragon? Yes please) so I grabbed it and gave it a twirl, and then when I was done twirling I read it!
So what is Shanghai Sparrow? Well to start with it’s written by Gaie Sebold!
The book is set in a steam punk British Empire, which also contains a Chinese Empire and a Russian Empire but they’re only mentioned in passing, and the story follows Evvie Duchen a grubby street urchin, and Holmforth a dedicated a loyal servant of the British Empire. Throw in a pinch of fairy Folk and a dash of magic and you’ve got yourself a good setting.
Immediately I found myself drawn in to Sebold’s story. She definitely has an excellent handle on giving the reader just enough information so that they know what’s going on in the moment, but keep the reader asking questions and yearning for more information! Why is Evvie a thief? What’s up with the weird Holmforth? What’s this magical Etheric science I’m hearing so much about!? Suffice to say Sebold did a wonderful job of keeping me entertained but also keeping me yearning for more.
This, I think, lent itself to the pace very well. I found myself hungrily devouring the text and also wanting to find out that next tiny tit-bit of information that made the world so colourful. But Sebold avoids the pitfall that can be the trouble with a lot of fiction set in alternative universes, which is to talk too much about the world and too little about what’s going on. Of course, I understand the want of authors to talk about their world, they’ve spent years meticulously crafting these intricate universes and only want to share them with you, to enrich your experience of the story! I get that, and at times I love it. Sebold, however, gives us the world with hints and throwaway lines that leave us asking questions.
I understand that this could be a bad thing, but I don’t think it is in this case. We are given just as much as we need to know and and it really highlights that we’re being told about the characters.
And the characters are great. We mainly stay with the point-of-view Evvie with forays to Holmforth and the rare appearance of a mysterious Fox Spirit. None of the characters are just villainous because we need villains and neither do we get the most heinous of crimes and have characters performing actions that are against their nature purely to progress the plot. Each of the characters is developed and as we discover more about them and their motivations we come to understand each of them very well.
And as a side-note: I also very much enjoyed that there were many strong female characters, I am always pleased when this happens. There are no damsels in distress in this book, no sir (or madam)! All of the characters, regardless of gender, are intelligently crafted three-dimensional beings.
This is a great read, Sebold writes very well and drops colourful similes and imagery in to her work that give it that added spark. The way she has set up the plot and the world mean that the pacing is quick and well thought out, you don’t find yourself rushing through the boring bits (what boring bits?) and Sebold knows how to ratchet up the tension.
I was pleased to find out that Solaris Books have commissioned a sequel as well! There is much more I wanted to see, especially of Evvie! So if you’re up for a series then this is the book for you! But if you’d prefer self-contained story, then just pretend I didn’t mention it!
All in all, I was very impressed with Shanghai Sparrow and would heartily recommend it. You’ll find yourself devouring pages on the edge of your seat, whether you like it or not!