In a vastly different and darker Philadelphia of 1844, steam power has been repressed, war threatens from deep, dark waters, and one young lady of high social standing is expecting a surprise at her seventeenth birthday party–but certainly not the one she gets!
Jordan Astraea, who has lived out all of her life in Philadelphia’s most exclusive neighborhood, is preparing to celebrate her birthday with friends, family and all the extravagance they might muster. The young man who is most often her dashing companion, Rowen Burchette, has told her a surprise awaits her and her best friend, Catrina Hollindale, wouldn’t miss this night for all the world!
But storm clouds are gathering and threatening to do far more than dampen her party plans because someone in the Astraea household has committed the greatest of social sins by Harboring a Weather Witch.
Man, I got sucked into this one fast! This is like the supernatural, alternate universe version Philadelphia, and it is awesome. Instead of the pilgrims coming to America to escape religious persecution, the pilgrims have crossed to the New World to escape magick. At first, I wasn’t sure what was happening, but as the story unfolds, it just gets better and better. I was immediately invested by the beginning of chapter two. And really, how could I not love a book in which a character says, “More strongly of the opinion that one should let sleeping dogs lie. Because that is all politicians do anyhow. Lie.” Jordan is a spoiled lady of rank, but one who shows a tiny spark of curiosity and decency. Her best friend, Catrina, very obviously wants Jordan’s man, Rowen, who Jordan is not in love with. So I immediately felt a part of me rooting for Jordan, and the way Delany describes Philadelphia and the magick that powers the city is amazing. Plus the way she describes and fashions the way of life for the upper-class was so interesting. I love court intrigue. This one also feels a little dark, and you guys know I love dark. And the Weather Witch being Harbored by the Astraeas? Jordan. That’s not a spoiler. It’s what the book is about. She’s carted off by creepy Wraiths at the end of chapter three. There are also other storylines, one involving Lady Astraea and one involving the Maker, Bran. Learning his story was one of the best parts of this novel in my opinion. There are little splinters of stories, one involving the Astraea servants, another with a boy thought lost, and a third with Rowen.
Rowen is not adjusting well to Jordan’s absence, though Catrina seems to be doing just fine. Rowen acts recklessly and must run from the law, while Jordan keeps trying to convince herself that she is no witch. I liked all these characters, even Catrina, though she treats her so-called best friend like nothing. Rowen was spoiled and vain, but he had principles and stood up for them, and I liked his views on how marriage worked at the time. It wasn’t love he was looking for with Jordan, but friendship, companionship, and understanding. He already had that and realized how lucky he was in the land of marriages for political/societal advantage. I kept forgetting this was Philadelphia, because Delany makes it sound so old world, so full of life and imagination, that I kept assuming they were in London. I just loved it so much, the description, the plot, the characters. It’s a bit twisty and confusing at first, but so were my other favorites so far, 17 & Gone, Mortal Fire, and Charm & Strange. This is also so much better than the last weather book I read (and then quit in a fit of rage), Struck. Of course, it’s more fantastical than scientific, the way Struck tried to be. And, you know, this one really reminded me of Shadow and Bone, which is probably another reason it struck me right away.
When the stories of Jordan and Bran converge, it’s brutal and you kind of dread it because you know what’s coming even while Jordan is in denial. It’s at this point that I’d like to state that this book is not only about Jordan Astraea, and I think the summary did us wrong by not including Bran, Rowen, and Marion Kruse into the mix. This is a story of many, each broken in their own way, each doing something they don’t want to do, each have seen and done things they never want to see or do. We also get little stories about Lady Astraea and an Astraea servant named Chloe. This was many tales weaved into one, and it’s done perfectly. The only thing lacking is character development, but I didn’t mind that, because the story was the main character. Philadelphia, the Hill, Holgate, those were the characters, and they were fleshed out completely. The wordbuilding in this novel is astounding. And the story isn’t very nice. People you like will die or be tortured. Delany isn’t afraid to kill her darlings, I see.
I also really loved the ending, which sets us up for another book, Stormbringer, due out next year. I’m really excited about this one, guys. It reminds me a little of Shadow and Bone, as I mentioned, but it also has bits of Seraphina. I can’t really describe my love better than this, though I wish I could. Another great YA fantasy, this time with an alternate historical backdrop!