by Dave Freer
Reviewed by Ealish Waddell
The coalship Cuttlefish finally has found safe haven, limping into Westralia under the guns of the British Empire. But the submarine was damaged in its desperate flight, and now its crew is scattered across the continent, forced to find temporary wages working on the enormous tunneling diggers, known as steam moles, that crisscross the vast, inhospitable Westralian desert. Tim hates it — he misses the sea, misses the camaraderie of his crew, and most of all, misses Clara.
Clara and her mother, renowned scientist Dr. Calland, may have traveled halfway around the globe on the Cuttlefish to reach Westralia with their world-changing secret, but the desperate forces that wish to silence them have followed. When tragedy strikes, a frightened and determined Clara sets out alone into the wilds to find the only person she knows she can trust: Tim.
Meanwhile, other factions are also racing toward the interior, on missions both virtuous and diabolical, on a collision course that promises to reverberate across the globe.
“The Steam Mole” returns to the alternate-history world Freer draws so well, adding to its steampunk arsenal an array of strange flying machines and massive digging creatures to navigate a topography strongly altered by environmental catastrophe. While the rest of the world has been flooded, Westralia is deadly dry, a place of lethal temperatures and dangerous distances, but not without a fierce beauty.
Just as the setting reflects our world’s real Australia, much of the plot is based on the real struggle of its aborigines, and the experience of racism and intolerance plays a key role in the narrative. “The Steam Mole” is a fast-paced adventure yarn with a noble core, a portrait of a proud people striving for a better future.