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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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  Cover Art: Dread Eagle
Dread Eagle
By Alex Woolf
Scribo, 2014, ISBN 978-1-909645-00-4, £9.99 / $16.22


Even at seventy-five years of age, Napoleon Bonaparte remains Britain’s nemesis. Now he threatens her with his newest weapon, a device that will make him invincible. But Agent Z, a spy in the British Imperial Secret Service, knows about this and notifies his contact about the impending danger.

Z, however, is not the only spy who works for the government. Eighteen-year-old Lady Arabella West is an aviatrix, who performs fantastic aerial feats in her steam carriage, which she dubs Comanche Prince. Her mission this time is to help the French underground, but when she lands behind enemy lines, she discovers her usual contact is dead and she does not possess the particular skills needed for the assignment. Since time is of the essence, she and her new mechanical partner, Miles – a Mobile Independent Logical Englishman Simulacrum (a robot with some surprising abilities) – set out to steal the plans to Napoleon’s new weapon. Getting in and out are fraught with perils, not to mention betrayals, but just when success seems assured, an American named Ben Forrester pilfers the plans from Arabella.

After she returns home, Arabella risks her life to save a drowning man, the lone survivor of HMAS Borealis, the third airship to vanish over the Atlantic Ocean in a single month. He recounts a horrifying tale of a gigantic eagle that captured his vessel. Since British forces are on the verge of launching an offensive against the French, Arabella and her other Sky Sisters are tasked with locating this eagle before it can interfere with the planned mission. One of the girls finds the eagle, but gets into trouble, so Arabella disobeys orders to rescue her. Doing so lands Arabella in a major spot of trouble when she becomes a victim of the eagle herself.

Taken to the secret airship of a diabolical pirate captain named Odin the Sky Magister, Arabella must either reveal what she knows or die. She goes for the latter, but Odin prefers the former and threatens to turn her over to Commodus Bane, an expert torturer who’s a tad insane. Who comes to her rescue? None other than Ben Forrester! When she learns he intends to sell the stolen plans to the pirates, she is furious. But to save her from both torture and death he insists that she and Miles are essential for constructing a larger, more useful version of the weapon Ben demonstrates. Arabella is determined to stop the pirates and Ben, but how? Can she do so before Odin uses the device to destroy the British taskforce?

Dread Eagle, the first book in a new steampunk series entitled Iron Sky, is written for young adults, although adults will also enjoy this action-packed adventure that has more thrills than a roller coaster and aerobatic airplane rolled into one. From first page to last, Woolf keeps you guessing, wondering what will happen next, and when the bottom drops out from under your feet, you gasp for breath while you wait to see how Arabella escapes her latest predicament. The pirates are both diabolical and nasty villains, and the world they inhabit is vividly described, making it a fascinating place to visit. (Living there, however, is decidedly not an attractive option, especially if you’re one of their captives.) If there is one caution to this story, it pertains to Commodus Bane. He inflicts pain, and while neither gory nor gruesome, it is definitely not for the faint of heart and may make you cringe. (I certainly did.) Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed this refreshing and extraordinary piratical tale. There are plenty of hints as to what future volumes of the Iron Sky series may hold. For those who seek memorable characters, high adventure (both literally and figuratively), and a combination of historical fiction and sci-fi, Dread Eagle more than fits the bill.
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Review Copyrighted ©2014 Cindy Vallar

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