Publisher: Silver Leaf Books
Release Date: September 1, 2016
Etherium is an air world, with mountain top cities and great seas of clouds transversed by great sail-driven airships. Fifteen-year-old Tak is the son of a prominent sailweaver, which grants him a good deal of freedom. Some in the royal court would say too much. Take likes to sail his small airship near the big naval ships, which often gets him into trouble with their captain. Until the day Take witnesses a giant gas bubble rise up from the depths and explode, taking a ship with it. In an act of bravery and folly, Tak rescues its captain. His actions are rewarded with suspicion though but Admiral Scud who seems hell bent on creating war with the Gublins, underground creatures that live far below the clouds within the mountains. And so Tak sets off on an adventure to discover Admiral Scud's true intentions, discovering new friends along the way and a level of bravery he didn't think he had in him.
There is a lot of work that goes into building a new world, particularly one that despite being fantasy in nature, is grounded in some science. Minerd handled this part of the story very well. Etherium is a fascinating planet, for lack of a better world. A place where the air is thick enough to allow ships to sail through the clouds, caught on the wind. The people who live above and beneath the clouds have evolved and adapted well to their environments. Long histories, wars, science, are all hinted at, but long exposition was rare. Appendices in the back of the book expand upon the world, but much of the information was scattered throughout the book and so the appendices felt more like a behind the scenes in a film.
As for the characters, Tak is a fun character who doesn't exactly change throughout the book, but rather discovers what kind of person he truly is. Is he really the kind of person who will board a burning airship to save a man? No one is watching. He could just leave. At the end of the book, I think that we know Tak so well that when he is confronted with a similar choice, we already know what he will do. I particularly liked that these characters felt so real as Tak has to address issues like PTSD and what it means to be privileged.
Luff, a young goat herder with a rather janky airship is the first of Tak's new friends, rescued from the tentacles of a jellyfish. I liked Luff although I wish there had been more to his character. He was a bit backward and fearful, not at all heroic like Tak, but I did expect more of him and was disappointed when he returned home 2/3 of the way through the book. On the other hand Brieze, the wizard's daughter, was a wonderful secondary character. In Etherium wizards are basically scientists and so Brieze has a bit more insight into the happenings of their world than either of the boys do. It makes her a great asset and a bit mysterious. I was sad to see her leave too, but for a completely different reason than Luff.
In the end, this was a solid science fiction book that dips its toes in the fantasy and steampunk genres. I look forward to reading book two.