Today we have the steampunk fantasy novel Hope and the Clever Man by Mike Reeves-McMillan. We wouldn’t want to keep the gnomes waiting, so here we go.
The protagonist is a girl named Hope at Merrybourne, who lives at Merrybourne manor in the region of Koskant. When she was eight years old, she displayed a talent for magic, so her father arranged for her to be tutored in the magical arts. This goes on until it comes time for her to choose a college to attend.
She gains a scholarship to the University of Illene. She joins their magic program and does very well until a certain incident almost derails her stay there. You see, she dates a young man named Faithful and all seems well. Unfortunately, she catches him in bed with another girl.
Hope puts a curse on his boy — parts which will activate unless he stays true to his name. The two women leave and quickly strike up a friendship. The other girl’s name is Briar and she’s going for a law degree.
Upon graduation, Hope and Briar get a flat together. Briar becomes a lawyer and Hope goes to work for the Realmgold (basically the president of Koskant). She becomes an assistant to scruffy “clever man” Dignified, the Realmgold’s chief inventor. Together they create the Koskant equivalent of Skype: Magic mirrors that enable people to chat with one another over long distances. The mirrors are a huge hit and Hope and Dignified receive commendations for them.
Meanwhile, Briar befriends the gnomes that work with Hope and Dignified. As a seeker of justice, she cannot turn a blind eye to the gnomes’ working conditions. They are basically slaves to the dwarven people. Briar sets out to convince the Realmgold to grant them equality under the law. However, this move has serious repercussions. Can Hope, Briar, the gnomes and the clever man weather this storm and still make it to their airhorse race (yes, they invent airhorses)?
Hope and the Clever Man is an entertaining and well-written story. It’s considerably more polished than a lot of books I read and I commend Reeves-McMillan for that.
In addition, the story is refreshingly unpredictable; I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen from one scene to the next. And the fact it doesn’t have an obvious antagonist is a plus. The heroes of this story go to battle against social and legal evils rather than a baddie with shallow world-domination plans.
However, I should point out there’s a brief subplot involving an attempted assault on Hope by a stranger in the middle of the night. It goes nowhere and I feel it could have been left out without causing any problems.
Still, this is a quality story that I have no trouble recommending.