Jacqueline is a teenager living on the streets of the Free City of New Orleans, scratching a living in the only free city and independent city in the Confederacy. She is helped by her constant companion - the Orisha Oya, lady of winds.
She doesn’t want to stay - she wants to see the world and Anne Marie, agent of Haiti and the Free Islands, may be the ticket out there on her airship.
But first they have a city to save…. As a Haitian scientist has been captured and with the secret of their most powerful weapon: the Black God’s Drums.
Oooooh, yes, yes this is me intrigued
This is an alternate world, a steampunk world - honestly I don’t even know why I’m calling it a steampunk world because i think there’s only one airship to give me that hint, but the whole sense of this is really evocative of steampunk. In fact the whole book has an incredibly powerful sense of of place and setting. It’s surprising because this is done with very neat language. Normally when I describe a book as evocative and with a strong sense of place it’s a very positive spin on “really overwritten” or “in need of an editor with a big pair of scissors”. But this isn’t overwritten - it’s short and the writing is wonderfully concise at giving this sense of the entire world with minimal info dumping despite a massive amount of information to impart
And this world is fascinating. We have the standards of steampunk with the airships et al. But we also have a mix of magic and religion with the yoruba gods and loa having direct effect on the world and clear other magic systems being powerful influence. The United States is divided, the civil war still ongoing for years albeit with a truce. New Orleans is a free city, fiercely independent with strong allies allowing it to be independent from the Confederacy despite forces trying to undermine that. The Caribbean is independent, the Free Islands, following Haiti’s revolt now aided by powerful technology and divine intervention
It’s a fascinating world setting to take a steampunk setting and then outright addressing and combating the themes of colonialism which are almost inherent to this genre - or completely ignored by this genre. By openly addressing this, addressing the bigotry and oppression and then taking the magic and technology of the setting and using it to overturn some of that, it really does subvert so much of this genre. And any historical genre - there’s so much ”alternate history” fiction out there which basically replicates exactly the same modes of oppression that exist today - and the exact same victors, despite throwing in all kinds of supernatural elements. There’s no reason to repeat the same reality we have today when so much else is changing.
Our protagonist is Jacqueline (known as Creeper), a classic Urban fantasy orphan who lives on the streets of New Orleans. Her mother, a sex worker is gone - but despite that still has multiple maternal figures - from a collection of subversive spying nuns, to the madam at a brothel (and both she and Jacqueline are clear in combating and resisting any sense of shaming of sex workers) who are there to try and grab her off the streets and still look out for her. She also has a deep relationship with the goddess Oya, orisha of the winds, storms etc which is a fun relationship with powers and visions - albeit at Oya’s will not Jacqueline’s - I think Oya definitely has her own agenda