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Everfair, by Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl's work of speculative historical fiction is an intriguing thought experiment and important addition to the literature of race, but fails to impress on a literary level. The wondrous impetus is there: no one, as far as I know, has written an Afrocentric steampunk novel, so Shawl courageously breaks new ground. But the structure takes what could have been a glorious work of fiction and instead turns it into a difficult, fractured reading experience.

We dip in and out of the timeline, and the cast of main characters is large and difficult to tell apart. Each of these characters is fascinating on their own, and Shawl could have easily written the whole book about just one of them, or even a series of books, each told from a different perspective but following the same time period. As it is, we only get partial stories, enough to make us want more but not enough to satisfy. Thomas the black American preacher becomes a devotee and priest of the African god Loango? What wonder…

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