Everfair – Nisi Shawl

About the Book

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.

384 pages (hardcover)
Published on September 6, 2016
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Everfair is a book that got my attention right away. I am a huge fan of alternative history, but I have never read one dealing with the Congo. I know pathetically little about that area of the world, but I know enough to know that it has a tragic history, and a tragic present, and most of it is due to colonization.

In my mind, the true sign that an alternative history novel is any good, is how much it makes me research the actual history of the time period that is being touched on in the book. I can honestly say that right now I know more about King Leopold and the Congo than I have ever dreamed I’d know. This book really put a bug in me to learn all I could.

Everfair surprised me for another reason. I really don’t like steampunk. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. I just don’t. It’s not me. When I realized this book was a steampunk novel, I almost didn’t read it. But I decided to give it a shot. Let me tell you, this is unlike any other steampunk book I’ve ever read before, and it is honestly the first one where the steampunk elements didn’t annoy me at all. In fact, they felt incredibly natural, like that was the natural evolution of technology at the time, and in many ways the steampunk was understated, which just made it work that much better.

This novel is shockingly human, involving a few different perspectives. At the start of the novel it’s hard to picture how all of these lives and individual stories will come together, but Shawl wastes no time in weaving all of the threads into a tapestry that tells a really engaging, compelling story. But the bonus in all of this is that these people are so well crafted that they are actually real, and it turns so many aspects of this conflict from something abstract, a compelling idea, into a narrative that actually matters and makes a solid impact on the reader.

Everfair is incredibly well written. It’s the kind of book that you can enjoy for the prose as much as anything else. There are a lot of plot points in this novel, and Shawl really takes an honest look at a lot of important problems like race, sexuality, gender roles and so much more, as well as other more obvious issues involving colonization and political issues. There are a lot of ways Everfair could have turned out, but Shawl’s ability to look in the face of so many important issues turned a book that could have been interesting to something completely compelling and enthralling.

There are some aspects of Everfair that will either be hit or miss with readers. The book spans an impressive number of years and follows this one colony from its foundations, and through its various growing pains. This book, while being a good size, isn’t really extremely long. Some of the events are summarized and alluded to rather than allowing readers to experience them as they happen. This might annoy some readers who will encounter changes of opinions or situations and wonder just when (whatever) happened, as it didn’t obviously occur in the narrative. IE: Some things happen off stage, and while that didn’t bother me in the least, I can see that annoying some readers, so be aware.

Aside from that, Everfair was a staggering work of genius that highlights a period of time that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Shawl took a dark, tense world, and shined some necessary light on it, and never once shied away from some impressive, intense and important issues that transcend time. The writing is superb, and the characters leap off the page. This is the first book by Shawl that I’ve read, but I can absolutely guarantee it will not be my last.


4/5 stars


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