Most of you are, I hope, already familiar with Martha Wells. (And if not, what are you all waiting for?) Emilie and the Sky World is her second book from YA imprint Strange Chemistry, a direct sequel to 2013’s Emilie and the Hollow World.
Sky World picks up immediately where the Hollow World left off, on the doorstep of our eponymous protagonist Emilie’s cousin’s house. In this respect, it feels almost more like the second instalment of a fast-paced television serial than the next novel in a series: don’t expect much time here to catch your breath!
Now, instead of being a stowaway, Emilie is gainfully employed as assistant to Miss Marlende, a scientist in her own right and daughter to the scientist and adventurer Dr. Marlende. But her problems haven’t ended with their return from the Hollow World. Indeed, she’s about to be catapulted into a fresh adventure, for when her friend Daniel takes her to visit his old teacher, Professor Abindon, she warns them that she’s seen something strange in her aetheric observations: a disruption in the aether current of the upper air. It transpires that this disruption is actually a vessel, which appears to be descending from some upper world in much the same way as the Marlendes and Lord Engal descended to the Hollow World. When Emilie’s uncle Yeric tracks her down and threatens to drag her back home, Miss Marlende agrees that Emilie should join the airship expedition to investigate the strange vessel to keep her out from under his thumb.
So she doesn’t need to stow away—not this time. No, this time the stowaway is her younger brother Efrain, who always took her uncle’s side over hers when they were at home. His appearance aboard the airship embarrasses her, but she’s given little time to dwell on old family wrongs. The strange vessel appears deserted, but the first members of the expedition to explore it fail to return. Emilie and Efrain go with the second party, and rapidly find themselves mysteriously transported to a strange and perilous landscape. Emilie and Efrain rebuild the bonds of family as they navigate hostile castaways, invisible mind-controlling beings, and form an alliance with the last surviving crew-member of the vessel from the upper air, a nonhuman person with petals and stalks. There is kidnapping, and derring-do, and tense stand-offs, and last-minute rescues, and terrible revelations—in short, all the ingredients of an excellent adventure story.
There’s an engaging… not simplicity, but straightforwardness, to Emilie’s voice. She’s a pragmatic and perceptive character, but—unlike most of the characters from the works Wells has written for an adult audience—there are no hidden layers or concealed agendas. (It was especially noticeable to me here, because the combination of airships and magic and travelling to strange places reminded me quite strongly of Wells’ The Wizard Hunters, and one thing that Tremaine wasn’t, as a character, was straightforward.) At times this makes the story seem suited to the more youthful end of the YA spectrum, but there’s something purely fun about Emilie and her adventures: you’d have to be joyless and stuffy indeed to not be entertained.
There is one disappointing element: I’d hoped to see a little more of Emilie interacting with—and upending—her everyday world. I’d have liked to see some adventures in the halls of august scientific institutions, more trains and steamships and aetheric navigators. But alas, this time out I was to be disappointed. But perhaps, though, there may be more Emilie books—including at least one where the strangeness comes to her.
Emilie and the Sky World is a delightfully fun, fast read. I’d happily read a dozen more in this mould.
Emilie and the Sky World is available March 4th from Strange Chemistry