While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.This is a first and foremost an adventure novel with a large dose of exploration thrown in. It's maybe the sort of thing Jules Verne would have written if he'd written YA in modern language and had a tendency to include subtle feminist commentary (so, OK, not that similar to Jules Verne except for the exploration and adventure part). It's also a more steampunkish setting, with magic and aether currents powering the vessels which travel to the inner world — the one on the inside surface of the planet's sphere.
Emilie was a great character. She constantly compares her current situation with books (always nice to have something in common with the main character) and she takes the dangerous and outlandish situations in which she finds herself in stride. I also appreciated that she didn't have a particularly morbid and depressing reason for running away from her aunt and uncle, but also that her reason wasn't too trivial. She had a proper plan when she set out that could have worked if things hadn't gone awry.
This is above all a fun read. If tales of adventure and exploration of exotic and completely unknown lands appeal to you, give it a shot. Equally, if you're looking for lady adventuresses and some of the opposition they might face (mild sexism, nothing too hideous although a few of the male characters said and did punch-worthy things, in my opinion), definitely give this a shot. As well as Emilie, there's also Miss Marlende, the adult daughter of a scientist-explorer who takes Emilie under her wing, and Rani one of the inner-world people, who seem to have different ideas about women and their place (whereas the outer-world people's opinions are similar to real-world Victorian times, more or less).
I'm rather excited to discover that there's another Emilie book in the works, Emilie and the Sky World, due out next year. I did feel the first book set things up nicely for an indefinitely long series of adventures with Emilie. That said, it stands alone perfectly well if series aren't your thing (but I'm usually a fan of getting more of a good thing).
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2013, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes! Book 1 with more to come, but reads as a standalone.
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: The publisher via NetGalley