Everfair by Nisi Shawl. ★★★
Everfair is a novel that collapses partly under the sheer weight of its ambition. Yet for all that, it still contains some interesting ideas at its core.
Essentially, Everfair is a steampunk novel taking place in the Belgian Congo. A group comprised of an odd melding of Fabian Socialists and African American missionaries joins forces to purchase land from King Leopold II to ideally create an utopia, Everfair. But the group soon comes into conflict with King Leopold and with itself.
The good news is that Everfair doesn’t annoy me the way a lot of steampunk novels tend to. I feel like too often steampunk novels just take the aesthetic and use it without rhyme or reason, putting very little thought into the divergences of their world from ours. Steampunk stories are also almost always centered on either Europe or America and can overlook the forces of colonization. Everfair doesn’t fall into these traps and instead feels thoughtful and purposeful in its construction of an alternate history.
So what’s Everfair‘s problem? It spans thirty years and three wars, and the result is a narrative that feels rushed instead of in depth and focused. I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if it had cut down on it’s time span (maybe moving the later years to a sequel) and had a smaller range of POV characters. As is it felt hard to connect with anyone because we only got brief flashes of their lives. I spent a lot of the novel feeling like I was just grinding through it, and I would not have finished if this hadn’t been an ARC.
I think Everfair was fairly effective at showing the racial divide within the supposed utopia. For one thing, the settlers bought the land from King Leopold instead of from the native and display not a little arrogance in thinking the land belongs to them. However, like most of the book, these themes may have benefited from more page time.
I’m not adverse to trying out other works by Nisi Shawls, but I think Everfair was lacking in execution.
I received an ARC of Everfair from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.