TITLE: The Gilded Scarab
Author: Anna Butler
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Sub-Genre: Series, Steampunk
When Captain Rafe Lancaster is invalided out of the Britannic Imperium’s Aero Corps after crashing his aerofighter during the Second Boer War, his eyesight is damaged permanently, and his career as a fighter pilot is over. Returning to Londinium in late November 1899, he’s lost the skies he loved, has no place in a society ruled by an elite oligarchy of powerful Houses, and is hard up, homeless, and in desperate need of a new direction in life.
Everything changes when he buys a coffeehouse near the Britannic Imperium Museum in Bloomsbury, the haunt of Aegyptologists. For the first time in years, Rafe is free to be himself. In a city powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston, and where powerful men use House assassins to target their rivals, Rafe must navigate dangerous politics, deal with a jealous and possessive ex-lover, learn to make the best coffee in Londinium, and fend off murder and kidnap attempts before he can find happiness with the man he loves.
This story starts with a full on action scene which hooked me into the story immediately. One of my first thoughts when reading this story was about how cool the technology is, and how I love the way the author has set up this steampunk type world. It’s not just the technology which is well thought out and detailed, but everything about this world. It felt as though I was reading about somewhere with a rich history rather than just something put together for this story. I loved the way the author takes our technology and gives it a slightly different spin, like the characters using datareaders instead of ereaders.
I thought the social set up was very interesting with the different houses, the hierarchy within them, and the way in which a house pays for an individual’s education but is then owed something in return. I enjoyed the politics within the story, and the layers it added to the world building. As an aside, I’m also a big fan of the author’s Taking Shield series—she does a fabulous job with world building and politics in that too, although it’s a very different world from this one.
I loved the characters who inhabit this world, and in particular Rafe and Ned, although I guessed Ned’s true identity very early on. This story is really Rafe’s as he and Ned don’t meet properly until mid way through the story, but I thought that worked well. I liked the way Rafe and Ned’s friendship grows over time, and how they want to get to know each other, which is very sensible, especially considering their society’s stance on same sex relationships. It fits with the time period in which this AU world is set, with its echoes of our own from the mention of Wilde, and WWI which is a few years off here.
I connected to all the characters immediately and found myself trying to work out who was who, and whether they were good guys or not, although I don’t want to comment too much about one character as that would be giving the plot away. As an aside, I very much enjoyed the mention by a couple of customers from the colonies of New Zealand. The supporting cast is great, and I enjoyed their interactions as Rafe sets up his coffee shop.
The action scenes as the tension and plot rack up are very edge-of-seat, and had me sitting up late reading as I needed to know what happened next. Although this is book one in the series, I’ve already read and reviewed book two—which I loved as much as this one— and really hope the author has plans to continue writing about Rafe and Ned, and their life and adventures together.
I’d recommend The Gilded Scarab to readers who enjoy rich world building including a good dash of politics, solid storytelling, and interesting characters.
Reviewed By: Anne
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