Author: Laurel Anne Hill
Publisher: Sand Hill Review Press
Publication Date: 21. October 2017
Rating: 5./5. Stars
Diversity: LGBT Characters (gay SC), PoC (black, latinx)
TW: rape, violence, ableism, murder, racism, csa
Summary: A mystical vision of an airship appears to fifteen-year-old Juanita. The long-dead captain commands her to prevent California’s thrown-away people—including young children—from boarding trains to an asylum. That institution’s director plots murder to reduce the inmate population. Yet to save innocent lives Juanita must take lives of the corrupt. How can she reconcile her assignment with her belief in the sacredness of all human life? And will she survive to marry her betrothed?
Juanita sets out despite inner trepidation to sabotage the railroad. Her ancestor Billy, the ghost of a steam locomotive engineer, guides her. Then bit by bit, she discovers the gut-wrenching truths all her ancestors neglected to reveal.
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Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book starts with a thrilling story about the escape from a train whose destination is death. The little girl Juanita, who is saved by her grandmother and the ghost of her husband, grows up to be the towns mystic. When she has her first vision at 15, she soon realizes that she has to go on a deadly mission to save many.
This story cleverly combines steam punk, western, ghosts, and romance in a quite elegant fashion. While I’m normally not a fan of relationships with a huge age difference, I actually grew to enjoy the relationship in this story quite a lot, since there was so much build up between these two. There are other relationships however that are more disturbing to read.
What I absolutely loved was that no of the characters were purely white or black. Good characters did bad things, bad characters did good things, it kept the story very interesting. Juanita was also an incredibly great character, I absolutely adored her. She always had a goal that she wanted to achieve and despite her young age, she worked relentlessly to get there.
Another thing I absolutely adored was how lively the side characters were. Despite there being quite a huge cast of supporting characters – the cigar-smoking ghost of a mechanic, a mysterious man with a twisted past, a member of the cruel and feared Mendoza family and a creepy mechanical creature – none of them felt one-dimensional or boring. they were all very fleshed out and even though there were some absolutely despicable characters, there are times where you just can’t help but feel for them, at least a bit.
My favorite thing, however, was how incredibly vivid the story telling was. At times I actually felt like I was being transported in that hot desert world and riding beside Juanita and Guide. It was truly an amazing story and it was an absolute joy to read it.
Since none of the other reviewers have mentioned it yet, I thought I’d include a list of trigger warnings before I end my review. There are many mentions of rape throughout the book and there is one attempted rape scene and one rape scene that’s shown a bit more. It’s not detailed, but I definitely would have liked a warning before I started the book. There is also a short mention of csa. With the theme of murder of the poor and those who the higher classes don’t think are useful for society, there is also ableism, racism, violence and murder mentioned. There is also a relationship with a huge age difference (an 18-year-old girl with a slowly aging 100-year-old man, who looks like he’s 40)
All in all, this story was definitely different, but in a really, really great way. I absolutely adored it.