The Skyborne Corsairs is a short steampunk novel written by Alexander Rooksmoor which I had the pleasure to read and review for you. My interest for the novel derived from the title: I like everything airship-connected. And everything steampunk too, so I considered this a must-read.
Anthony Cavendish is travelling in the Mediterranean Sea toward Algeria, where he is going to take his next command. The ship is attacked by sky pirates, who fly a type of aircraft never seen before. The pirates take everything valuable, kill whoever tries to oppose them and kidnap as many woman as possible, including Henrietta, Anthony’s wife.
Anthony is quite resigned never to see Henrietta again, but two other passengers, an Italian revolutionary and a Canadian author, convince him not to surrender and together they decide to hunt the pirates and free the women.
The British ambassador in Algeria is unable to help them officially, so the trio manages to get help from Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Carbonari. Posing as prospectors, they visit a mountainous area in North Africa and discover the pirates’ hideout.
The pirates attack ships from any nationality and the enemy base is attacked by French airships, but it proves useless. The French airships are destroyed and most of their soldiers are killed. Some are rescued by Cavendish and his team and they join them in his mission.
The day comes for the final attack. Our heroes manage to inflict some losses on the pirates and take possession of the enemy vessel, but Cavendish is knocked out. When he wakes up he finds to be alone in the enemy liar.
I won’t reveal more in case you want to read the story for yourself.
The beginning and the ending are disappointing. We begin the novel with the attack and kidnapping having already happened, recalled in flashbacks by the protagonist. Having the events already panned out, and Anthony resigned to the fate of his wife, didn’t play well and I found it hard to feel sympathy for him.
Luckily the novel gets better in the middle. There is much action (actually, a lot of interesting action) and the reader never gets bored. Characters are developed and the relationships between the various groups are complicated enough to add another layer to the narrative.
This novel is set in a parallel 1865 where Italy was never unified and airships are common. Garibaldi, who was one of the heroes of Italian unification (the so-called Risorgimento), appears here as an old warrior who couldn’t accomplish his life’s mission and is quite a tragic figure.
In general the powers in play in the area (England, France, the Ottoman Empire) try to remain in equilibrium avoiding a war, which makes it difficult for anyone to go and hunt the pirates.
Cavendish is the protagonist, but he is no superhero. He was wounded in a previous battle, so he is not at the top of his capabilities. He starts to become tired of blood and war; he has his doubts and sometimes he wrongs and makes a mess of the situation. But he tries to do his best and has the support of a strong team.
The ending is unsatisfying, though. I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I write that a key scene is missing. There is a resolution of sorts, but it is anticlimactic. This is a pity as the author has demonstrated that he can write interesting scenes, events and settings.
There is an interesting appendix of historical facts which were used as inspirations for the story. It also details the differences between our own history and the novel’s, which shows the author did his homework.
In conclusion, if you can forgive a weak beginning and conclusion, prepare to be captured by The Skyborne Corsairs.