This alternate history novel is a Nebula finalist published by Tor Books. The number of recommendations for the novels is gone from the page now, but the Wayback Machine suggests this one came from behind, with maybe four recommendations.

The story begins in 1889. British Fabian socialists join forces with missionaries to buy land in the Belgian Congo from King Leopold II. They set up the colony Everfair, which takes in refugees from Leopold’s atrocities, escaped slaves and other political undesirables who go on to build a life alongside the native population. Over the period until 1919, they fight three wars and try to bring together the diverse groups that make up the colony’s population.

One the positive side, this book has a lot of charm. It’s written in a style that suggests 19th century prose, and uses a gentle, non-dramatic approach to relate the stories of various characters dealing with the issues of love, family and the challenging social, industrial and political backdrop of the 19th century fin de siècle.

On the other hand, this is another book without a plot. It’s composed of 3-4 page vignettes that spotlight characters along a timeline and reveal some of the environment they are living in. There is no action line, and I ended up without a clear vision of the characters, what the settlement looks like or how the colony works. Characters emerged and disappeared, and I didn’t get much of an idea of the larger politics. There were a number of interesting threads that went nowhere. A move by the African king in Everfair to expel whites provided something of a focus on racism at the end, but the coverage was too brief to really investigate the fallout.

Because of the lack of plot and action line, this book was a slow read, and it’s best enjoyed in small bites. Keep it by the bedside and read a bit every night. I’m not sure what to say about it as a novel, because I think it’s really a collection instead.

Three stars.

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