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Review - Cuttlefish

Posted by Lee A. Farruga on July 14, 2012 at 7:10 AM

From the title and the book cover alone you can guess that the main theme of this novel is water. Lots and lots of water.  The author Dave Freer is an ichthyologist (zoologist who studies fish) turned author. He is also a diver and lives on Flinders Island in the middle of the Bass Strait.  He loves water, and it really shows in Cuttlefish.

The story is set in 1976, but it is not the world we know.  In this alternate world, the British Empire still spans the globe and coal still drives the world.  With one chemical discovery and a pre-marital argument in 1898 everything changed, and as this coal based world poured out massive amounts of soot, it led to substantial ice melting in the Artic in 1935, a huge methane burst, the world flooded and our weather erratic and disastrous.

London is now like Venice with all the streets and the tube system flooded.  Only the underpeople dare to live below the surface. They are also hiding from the British Empire and a Royal Navy controlled by a not so pleasant monarchy.  The underpeople are revolutionists who want to return to the old ways of elections and free thinking.  They run a clandestine fleet of submarines that smuggle illegal goods into England - like chocolate and quinine.  Tim Barnabas is one of the underpeople.  His mother encouraged him to become a submariner for the simple reason that they are well fed.  That tells you how bad things are when a mother sends away a child just so they can eat.

This strange alternate world is full of everything that should have stayed in the early 1900's, from airships and coal run submarines, to the Victorian styles and long skirts that our heroine Clara has to wear.

Clara comes from a brilliant family of scientists.  It is her ancestor, Dr. Clara Immerwahr (who was a real person and chemist) who begins the chain of events that alters everything. In the story's time Clara's mother, a brilliant chemist herself, and Clara are on the run from the British and the Russians who both want Dr. Calland to make something that will give them more power over the rest of the world.

This is how they end up on the Cuttlefish. The story revolves around their adventures aboard the submarine as they try to get to a safe and neutral country.  If you like submarines and their workings, this is a tale for you.  While there is a small amount of young adult love story here, it is only a small part of the larger story.  Most of the book revolves around Clara finding that she loves learning about life on the submarine and inadvertantely becomes a cadet. She is just as brilliant as her mother and it is her intelligence that helps get them out of a number of bad situations.  While Tim is a loveable and capable character, it is definitely Clara who wears the pants, figuratively and literally!

My only complaint about the story is that the wonderfully evil Duke Malcolm is not played up more in the story.  There are very short snippets of his manipulations for their capture, but he never really gets his hands dirty or has a chance to really let his evil out to play.

In the end, this is a story of family lost and found, and of making your own.

You can find out more about Cuttlefish at Pyr Science Fiction & Fantasy

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