Book Review

Skies of Gold by Zoe Archer


Title: Skies of Gold
Author: Zoe Archer
Publication Info: Avon Impulse 2013
ISBN: 9780062241443
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Book Skies of Gold The only bad thing about this book is that it ends.  This book is a sublime example of how to do character-driven speculative fiction (specifically, steampunk).  I loved the characters, I loved the setting, I loved the world building, and boy howdy did I love the romance.

The plot:  Kali came to Liverpool from India to work as an engineer.  In the bombing of Liverpool, she lost a leg.  She goes to the windy, rainy island of Eilean Comhachag in hopes of finding solitude and emotional healing.  Instead, she finds a crashed airship and a man named Fletcher.  Fletcher is a Man O’ War, a man who has been mechanically modified for extra size and strength, and for a close technological link to the airship he captains.  Both Kali and Fletcher are deeply emotionally scarred from war but very slowly they form a bond that is tested when they have reason to return to the outside world.

Skies of Gold is the latest in the Ether Chronicles series.  The only other book I'd read in the series was the somewhat disappointing Night of Fire, by Nico Rosso, and it doesn't relate closely to Skies.   I had no problem jumping into the series with Skies of Gold.  The world building is so smoothly integrated that I felt immersed in the world with nary a passage of awkward exposition.  Characters from other books are alluded to briefly, but just enough to give the sense that all the books take place on the same stage.  This book is a great stand-alone book, although it did make me want to read the other books right away.

I think my favorite thing about Skies of Gold is that it takes its time.  I read a lot of books that involve maniacal levels of action, but sometimes I just wish everyone would sit down for five freaking minutes and have a conversation.  In Skies, most of the book consists of Fletcher and Kali hanging out on the island.  They make repairs to Kali's cottage and to Fletcher's airship, they fish and hike and do target practice – basically, they hang out, albeit in mildly challenging living conditions.  The book is actually pretty short, but it feels leisurely (not boring or dragging  – just relaxed).

I'm pretty prudish about sex scenes and I have a bad habit of skimming them (it's a bad habit for a reviewer, I mean – I don't care whether you skim them or not).  I absolutely could not skip a single word of the sex scene in this book.  Both Fletcher and Kali are apprehensive about nudity.  Fletcher's last lover reacted to his modified body with revulsion.  Kali has never shown anyone the stump where her leg was amputated.  This scene is awkward, brave, and beautiful, as both parties face their insecurities (and work out some size issues, since Fletcher’s modifications made him large, umm, everywhere).  Here's an excerpt:

There was no hiding now.  It wasn’t a smooth joining of metal and flesh like his telumium implants.  This was much more crude, despite all her technological skill.  Most of her leg was gone.  It had been so ruined by the collapsing building, saving it would have been impossible.  At least she’d been unconscious when they amputated. 

The straps against her skin were not erotic.  They spoke of a terrible injury, and the limitations of human ingenuity – and kindness.  It was ugly, and she knew it.

She waited for Fletcher to turn away, or the shadow of revulsion to pass across his face.  Instead his gaze slowly moved over her prosthesis – it took everything she had not to run from his gaze – to her thigh.  But he also looked at the dark triangle between her legs, barely hidden by the chemise, and she saw not disgust in his eyes but desire.  His gaze continued upward, until their eyes locked.

“What a warrior you are,” he breathed.  “A beautiful warrior”.

I offer this scene as Exhibit A to anyone who equates romance novels as porn.  If one defines porn as the depiction of sex for no purpose other than titillation, I say this:  I don't think that porn (using that definition, which I just made up) is necessarily a bad thing – but this scene is not it.  It's plenty erotic, all right, and very explicit and detailed.  It's also an exploration of these two characters and of their relationship.  And, speaking as a person with profound body image issues, partially related to extensive scarring, this scene is profoundly moving and affirming. 

I hesitate to just write a review that’s a laundry list of all the things I liked, but there were endless touches of brilliance:

  • There was the subtly and the practicality of the steampunk aspects.  Steampunk isn’t valued here because it’s cool – it’s because it works, and it makes life bearable.  It is an integral part of the world, not some shiny overlay for effect.  The fact that it’s cool is a side effect, not it’s reason for being.
  • There was the way fight scenes worked.  When Fletcher is fighting, it’s a whole over the top, melodramatic steampunky thing as befits a really large technologically enhanced super-warrior.  But when Kali fights, she doesn’t suddenly develop super powers.  Instead she has skills – skills with weapons that we have already watched her learn to use, self-defense skills of the type that any woman, more or less regardless of physical ability, should be able to learn to use is given the opportunity, and skills that come from her technical knowledge.
  • There was the way Fletcher and Kali help each other heal, the presents they bring one another, the respect they offer, whole romance over all – they are simply marvelous characters, alone and together.

If I must find fault with the book, it’s that the action at the end seemed somewhat contrived.  It was well executed, but it seemed less like an organic part of the story and more like something tacked on to get the characters off the island.  And I know this is cynical of me, but I didn’t quite buy the happy ending.  I bought that the two characters would stay together, just not the details of Fletcher’s life.  An extra few pages between the end of the last chapter and the epilogue, or even an additional chapter, would have helped enormously with making the ending convincing and powerful instead of making it seems a little pat.

But honestly, at the end of the day, what I’m left with is the memory of Kali’s first flight, and the clockwork cricket, and what Fletcher says when Kali takes the prosthesis all the way off (you’ll love it).  I’m left with a strong sense of place and time and history without anyone actually telling me about them- they are just there, fully realized, on the page.  This is a beautiful book and a wonderful romance.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jo says:

    What a warrior you are,” he breathed.  “A beautiful warrior”.
    *swoon* You sold me on that quote. Wonderful review, I am definitely picking this one up.

  2. 2
    Aislinn says:

    Sounds amazing! I definitely had to pick this one up.

  3. 3
    Ren says:

    BONUS: In my holycrapgottabuythisrightnow haste, I discovered it’s $1.99 for Kindle as of this moment.

  4. 4
    Vestusta says:

    Also $1.99 for the Nook : )

  5. 5
    CG says:

    Sold! Also $1.99 at B&N.

  6. 6
    Elyse says:

    Squee! I cannot wait to read this! I LOVE damaged heroes/heroines.

    One question, I understand that Fletcher’s modifications would enhance him for battle or whatever…but they made his peen bigger? Seriously?

    I love the cover art too—just a subtle hint of steampunk with the metal plate. Super cool.

  7. 7
    CarrieS says:

    @Elyse – yes, I really should have said, “The Only bad thing is that it ends, also they threw in this trope about his very large penis”.  Not my fav trope.

  8. 8
    Elyse says:

    @CarrieS at least it wasn’t mechanized…

  9. 9
    Ren says:

    @Elyse – Hey, never underestimate the usefulness and versatility of a hydraulic penis.

  10. 10
    Tae says:

    yay for sales!  this looked incredible but I hate buying full prices for books.  I’ve enjoyed Zoe Archer’s other books so I’m looking forward to this one too.

  11. 11
    Elle says:

    And it’s only 99 of your (my!) British pence on – which makes me v happy

  12. 12
    Vicki says:

    I don’t think of myself as prudish since I do discuss sex (sometimes in graphic detail) with the teenagers I see in my office. But I, too, skim sex scenes in books. Often, they seem to go on and on (five or six pages) without contributing much at all to moving the plot forward.

    OTOH, this sound well done and it’s on sale so here we go.

  13. 13
    Faellie says:

    I’m another sex scene skimmer.  It’s not much to do with prudishness, but almost entirely because too many writers, when they get to the sex scenes, forget about “showing” and start “telling”.  They then turn into a mechanical and repetitive “he did this, she did that, that went there” list which is not much different from a school biology lesson on the sex life of the rabbit.  It’s a long time since I had a school biology lesson, and it’s a part of my adolescence I have no desire to revisit.

    The poor technical writing of sex scenes is the failing which makes them able to be skipped with no loss to the rest of the book.  I understand that apparently the sexier books sell better, so there are good reasons to put the scenes in, but I wish writers and editors would put a bit more effort into making sure that they are as well written as the rest of the book.  I get the impression that all too often writers find the sex scenes a chore and editors merely check they are present.

    I’m glad that the Zoe Archer book is different.

  14. 14
    FD says:

    Sold!  99p! Something I want to read right now! (instead of ‘at some point’ I’m looking at you frustrating tbr and angsting about wasting the too, too few days left of my uni vacation)

  15. 15
    Jen says:

    I’d definitely recommend you read Skies of Fire. I haven’t gotten to Skies of Gold yet, but I LOVED Skies of Fire. It has one of the more kick ass heroines I’ve read in a long time. It explains some about the Man O’ War thing too—I don’t know how much was covered in this latest book? I loved the sex scenes in that book too. The heroine had left the hero years ago for not a very good reason and broke his heart, so when they reunite she was the one who needed to prove that she was not going to run off again. The sex scenes were part of that reconciliation, at least in my opinion. (There’s probably one scene where others might have a different opinion, but I found it to be empowering for both characters.)

    Honestly, nearly everything about Skies of Fire worked for me—I’d give it an A- too.

  16. 16
    CarrieS says:

    Courtney Milan is another author who does great sex scenes – in addition to being erotic they show something about the relationship, and move the relationship forward.  Love her!

  17. 17
    Elyse says:

    That’s why I love Eloisa James. The sex scenes reflect the characters’ relationship changing and growing. Often the sex isn’t great right away. But I do love sex scenes. I read them with relish.

  18. 18
    DonnaMarie says:

    First Courtney Milan, now this. Sigh,. I finally get a pc in the house and now realize must have Kindle.  Why, oh why did I take the Visa gift card instead of the Kindle for my sign up bonus? What was I thinking?!! Oh, yeah, trip to Washington in two weeks, that’s what I was thinking.  Any suggestions for a weekend in Seattle from the NWP’ers?

  19. 19
    SonomaLass says:

    I loved this book, and I also highly recommend Skies of Fire and Skies of Steel, Archer’s earlier books in this series. You can probably read them in any order, although I thought the explanation of some aspects of the world building was more detailed in the first book.

    Rosso’s books, same world but in North America, aren’t quite as strong, but I enjoyed them, especially Nights of Steel. Talk about equality between the main characters—both are bounty hunters.

  20. 20
    cleo says:

    Looks like Skies of Fire (first in the series) is also $1.99 at BN. Definitely worth reading, especially at the price.  I think Skies of Steel is my favorite so far but haven’t the latest one.

  21. 21
    LaineyT says:

    I’ve never read any Steampunk and based on the review and the comments this sounded like a good book for testing the waters.  Of course I was thrilled to see this ebook was available for checkout from my local library.  As a fan of Sci-Fi/Fantasy I imagine I will enjoy this new (for me) genre. 

    @Donna Marie
    Not sure what NWP’ers stands for so I may be missing the context of your question completely :P but if you were asking about what to do on your weekend visit…I was there for the first time a several years ago and (as tourist-y as this sounds) I really enjoyed the food tour at Pike’s Market.  I booked the early tour and so I didn’t have to eat any breakfast since the tour included a bunch of samples from the many places we stopped at.  I also really enjoyed the sailboat sunset cruise.  It was pretty reasonably priced, BYOB, got me some fantastic photos and I met a grandmother, mother & daughter that invited me to share dinner with them after since I was travelling solo :)

  22. 22
    LadyJane says:

    I bought this book after reading the review yesterday, and it was lovely…..but. The first part of the sex scene is really lovely, with the excerpt above, and the fact that she trusts him enough to remove the prosthesis. HOWEVER, the next bit talks about how she rode him, and he took her from behind and all I can think of is WTF? The author makes a point about extensive damage to her leg, but does not state where the knee is still intact or not….but how the hell is she balancing though all that?

  23. 23
    DonnaMarie says:

    Thanks Lainey! I meant Northwest Pacificers, so the confusion is all on me. I, too, will be travelling alone, so it’s good to know you had a good experience. I was looking into Pike Place Mrkt tours, and found one for a Chocolate Tour of Seattle. I think that might be a winner.

  24. 24
    CateM says:

    If you go to Pike Place Market, check out the bookstore downstairs, if it’s still there. It’s a used and new bookstore with books piled everywhere and run by a guy who will give you a discount if he’s in a good mood. Definitely not the most organized place on the planet, but it’s fun, and I got a cheap copy of the Scarlett Pimpernel.

  25. 25
    LaineyT says:

    @DonnaMarie…I remember being very tempted by the Chocolate Tour.  Enjoy!

    And CateM…it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know about the book store, otherwise I’m sure I would have been well over my baggage weight limit for the flight home.

  26. 26
    Syeda-Basri says:

    I had really bad acne when I was young. Luckily I am a girl and got put on the pill with the acne medicine in it. Looks like you can’t do that, but if the acne is persistent ask your doctor about a prescription.
    Otherwise, what I do to my face now (and I haven’t had bad acne, or even more than one pimple every once in a while for the past 15 years now) is wash my face thoroughly with every shower, using soap and then a salicylic acid face cleaner, and then using a very light moisturizer. I prefer Clinique brand moisturizer, it’s not heavy or greasy and it’s gentle on my skin, which is now also prone to eczema.
    Also using an alcohol based toner at least once a day, I do at night and then I moisturize again after that, but with a heavier cream, I use Vaseline intensive something… It’s in a white jar. It’s stopped my eczema cold, I haven’t had any in over a year since I started doing that and it does not clog my pores.
    During the day if my skin feels at all greasy I just use a face wipe, just a store brand facial wipe.
    All that said, I’m 30 without a single wrinkle or pimple, or even many blemishes. I don’t even wear concealer, not even when I go out.
    Find a routine like that, but do talk to your doctor first, and as someone suggested try some professional peels or if you can’t afford that, at least try some at home clay masks. syeda basri

  27. 27
    Shannon says:

    Thanks for the review and the comments.  I read two out of the three… now to go find Skies of Steel.  Yes, these are fast reads yet romantic.  On a different note, it’s wonderful to read about recent angst (rather than childhood torture) for a change of pace. It sounds sappy, but I love the steam-punk elements—female engineer, ether, and long skirts.

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