2014’s Emilie and the Sky World is the second in Martha Wells’ secondary-universe gas-lamp-fantasy Emilie series.
After the stupendous adventures of the first volume, Emilie finally reaches her studious cousin Karthea. Emilie scarcely has time to relate her adventures to Karthea when two complications present themselves. The first is her domineering Uncle Yeric, determined to bring his scandalous niece to heel. The second is a mysterious object in the sky, whose nature is entirely unclear.
Yeric’s plans for Emilie encounter a number of significant impediments. First of all, he is no longer Emilie’s legal guardian. Her older brother Erin is, as of the day Erin turned nineteen. The fact that Erin ran off to sea and cannot be located does not mean that Yeric has any legal say over Emilie. As well, Emilie has powerful allies in the form of Lord Engal, Dr. Marlende, and their retinue. They will not permit Yeric to bully Emilie into submission.
Not that this matters in the short run. Aetheric telescopes have detected something novel in the sky. Nothing for it but to assemble an expedition and launch an airship to examine this new phenomenon. Emilie joins the expedition. Much to her irritation, so does her younger brother Efrain, who stows away much as Emilie did in the first book.
The object proves to be a vast, alien construct of unfamiliar form. Clearly, it is artificial. Equally clearly, whatever built the aether flyer is not human. Precisely what the builders are is unclear, for the ship appears deserted. Splitting up to explore seems sensible enough. It turns out that the ship is not entirely deserted. Scarcely has Emilie realized that she is seeing a crewbeing of peculiar form before she and the others are ambushed and transported to various locations in a surrealistic alien realm.
Emilie and Efrain soon deduce that they are in some kind of aetheric Sargasso Sea, assembled from landscape and other objects stolen from various native worlds. In the short run the world is habitable. In the long run … who can say how long a seemingly random assemblage will sustain life? Teaming up with a plant-like alien, whom they dub Hyacinth, the group sets out to find their fellow explorers.
Not only do they have total success in finding the rest of their expedition, they find a previous expedition thought lost. Now all that remains is to find a way to return home. Well, and the small matter of eluding mental parasites intent on commandeering the explorers’ bodies for their own use…
Stowing away seems to run in the family. One wonder how exactly Erin joined the navy. One notes with interest that Emilie is quite unsympathetic towards stowaways who are not her.
Like the first book, this is a perfectly functional little adventure, although one might question the frequency with which this small social group stumbles across paradigm-altering discoveries, not to mention how little they seem to have learned from the first novel about not getting kidnapped. Adventurers! Never learn …
This is a perfectly functional adventure novel that provides readers with all the skilled prose and engaging characters they could desire. In the light of Wells’ current success with her Murderbot novellas, readers might be therefore surprised to discover this Wells novel is not just obscure, but out of print. One might be tempted to examine the novel itself for the reason for its obscurity. Is being “functional” not enough?
But (getting all magisterial here) blaming a novel for its lack of success is often misguided. It’s a lamentable fact that to a very large degree, success or failure for books rests on factors generally beyond the writers’ control and often beyond that of the publishers. All too often it’s just a matter of chance. We know that, don’t we? We’d like to believe that our hard work is going to be rewarded, but we have to admit that it ain’t necessarily so. That’s one reason why we read fiction; to briefly live in worlds where it’s possible for things to work out OK. As they do for Emilie and her friends (and even her pesky brother).
Emilie and the Sky World is out of print.