Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-224144-3
Fantasy Romance, 2013
Zoë Archer first came under my radar when she wrote two very charming historical romances that managed to pulverize my heart completely and made me feel great in the process. Since then, she’d written stories that have a stronger action bent, and while I still have a great time with many of those books, I never felt the same “someone walked all over my heart and it felt glorious” feeling with those books.
It is therefore a bit of a shock to discover that Skies of Gold effortlessly floors me over with that wonderful feeling easily within the first few chapters of this book. While it a standalone entry to the action-bent romantic steampunk series The Ether Chronicles, this one has enough quiet moments to remind me why I want to read a book by Zoë Archer.
Kalindi MacNeil deliberately chooses to live in a rundown cottage in Eilean Comhachag, an island once home to her father’s people until they left for greener pastures some fifteen years ago. In this quiet corner of Scotland, she hopes to live in peace. No more reminders of the war between Russia and the rest of Europe, please. She is still recovering from the recent assault on Liverpool by the Russians. She lost one leg but survived, while all her colleagues perished. She could still see the devastation left by the war, the way people turn on one another in the aftermath out of desperation… she just wants to live in peace and forget everything.
Unfortunately, she isn’t alone in that island. Our bionic dude, the Man O’War named Fletcher Adams, had his airship crashed onto the island after taking part in defending Liverpool. He survives while his crew died, and in the process, something in him died too. When the army seems to have forgotten him, Fletcher is content to live alone in the wilderness, far from the war. Then comes Kali, oops.
The first two-thirds of this book are all about these two characters connecting on an emotional level. These are two characters that are damaged by the war, and their quiet moments together are as much about healing as they are about connecting with another person that truly understands them. What I really love here is how Kali and Fletcher seem to have something very real and good here, and their scenes together just resonate with raw emotions. Their pain feels real, and the characters’ emotional vulnerability only makes their personal demons all the more poignant to follow.
Their personal refuge from the outside world can’t last, of course, and their past will soon catch up with them. While the author demonstrates that she can crank up the action as good as she tugs at my heart strings, I confess that I end up feeling that these action-packed moments kind of dilute the emotional intensity of the earlier parts of the book.
Fletcher questions his role in the war and he feels tired of fighting… and yet, by violently killing the villain, he gets to move on from his past? Sure, love may play a big part in his healing, but the fact that the author has him doing the things he spent a significant amount of time pondering earlier feels like a reversal, even a regression on his character development. I wish the author had taken a different route and given Fletcher an epiphany that is more in line with the building up of his character arc.
Still, no matter. At the end of the day, Skies of Gold delivers both satisfying action-packed moments and some truly exquisite emotional drama, with two beautifully damaged characters in the spotlight. It’s definitely golden.