‘Everfair’ Book Review

Mount Readmore Book Review, 2017 70/100


Everfair By Nisi Shawl

Audiobook edition, Narrated by Allyson Johnson

Finished on 7/21/2017


Description: An alternate history / historical fantasy / steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo, from noted short story writer Nisi Shawl.

Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Genres: Fantasy, Steam Punk, Alternate History, Victorian, WWI

The slaves of the Belgian Congo are revolting, using advanced clockwork technology and aircraft to strike back against the Nefarious King Leopold

Spoiler-tastic review

This book tried to be a lot in a small package. It’s scope was broad, from the nation of Everfair in Congo to England and Belgium, with a dozen viewpoint characters. It was the story of a slave revolt against the Belgians who controlled them. It spans decades, from the turn of the century (1900) to just post WWI. It contains diverse voices, including people from Macau, Europe, Africa and African Americans. It daringly shows inappropriate (for the time period) interracial love, non-heteronormative love, black people in a position of authority and the disabled being competent and powerful.

I wanted to love this book.

The plot was strong, really strong. The nation of Everfair was founded to be safe place for black people in Africa in a time of slavery, but the slavers came anyway. So the people of the Congo had to arm themselves and get allies from all over Africa (and secret allies in Europe and the USA) in order to defend themselves. Lives are lost, and saved. Finally Everfair is established and it must hold it’s own in an unkind world.

The characters were hit and miss. I liked some of them, but others were forgettable. Rule number 1 on this blog is ‘Characters should not be boring,’ but rule 2 is ‘Characters should not be forgettable.’ Unfortunately I can’t remember half the characters in this book by name, or even by what they did. That’s the trouble with the audiobook format- if your characters don’t pop they’re liable to be forgotten.

Honestly there were too many characters. I wished the author buckled down and focused on two or three characters. If there were fewer focus characters and more time given to the chosen characters, then the individual plot arcs would have made stronger pillars to hold this book up. This book shares the same problem with ‘Last Song Before Night,’ another book I wanted to love but ultimately could only like.

This book was a huge story in a small package. I think this book could have been triple the size, or even a trilogy. The individual characters’ stories needed to breathe a bit, and entire plot lines needed to fill out and reach their natural conclusion. As is, this book skips around from plot point to plot point, sometimes skipping months and years, with major events occurring almost always off screen.

I wanted to love this book. The author’s prose was excellent, some of the characters will stick with me for a while and the nation of Everfair was a subject I loved reading about. Unfortunately the rough edges were enough to keep me from investing 100%.

Audiobook notes: the narrator did a fine job. Allyson Johnson did some of the accents very well, and other ones good but not great.

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