CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 17 . . . . January 5, 2018
Backstory: In the first book of this duology, Dominion, readers are introduced to 14-year old Molly Stout, a young and intrepid engineer on her father's airship, the Legerdemain. Their task, and livelihood, is to track down and capture spirits that come from mysterious fonts that seem to appear out of nowhere. The spirits are then used as a source of power to run everything from the airships, themselves, to factories, to lightbulbs and other everyday devices. Haviland Industries, named after Molly's ancestor, Haviland Stout, is the mastermind behind the whole industry of spiritual machines, but, as Molly begins to delve into her family's history and the history of the company, the more frightening her world becomes, and Molly finds herself becoming a reluctant revolutionary in the city of Terra Nova.
In this follow up to Dominion, readers are thrust into the chaos unleashing itself on Terra Nova as factions fight over the role of spirits and Molly tries to convince everyone that they have been lied to about the intentions of the spirits over the past century. With the help of the large spirits like Legerdemain and Loam, and other smaller but no less determined spirits, Molly is able to help her family and the Unionists wage a final battle against Haviland Industries, Charles Arkwright, and the Disposal agents, working to dismantle an entire system and create a newly designed society from scratch.
Personally, I found Terra Nova to be tighter, more urgent, and to contain greater complexity than Dominion. Molly feels better developed overall, particularly her torn feelings about her role in the uprising, the fate of her family, and the position she has ultimately put her father and her siblings into within her quest to change the future of Terra Nova and their reliance on the spirits. I found the final showdown to be satisfying, and the follow up conversation between Molly and her antagonist was beautifully rendered: "If it was Haviland who had survived, and not you. If we had done it at the spirits' sides, not on their backs. We could have gone further." The connections between this exchange and current events is palpable, with so much of current society being built on the backs of the working class.
While there were areas that I could see needing more development for some readers, I think that overall the pacing is much more consistent than the preceding novel and the overarching plot more cohesive. One character, Wîskacân, could potentially be seen as a stereotype of an Indigenous individual, although I believe that was not the intention. It appears the name is of Cree origins, but the narrative doesn't give much detail about him or his origins other than that his people are from "the mainland", and it is this lack of background for the secondary character that could potentially lead to more critique.
In the end, Terra Nova is a strong work of science fiction/fantasy filled with wonder, imagination, life lessons, and complex characters. Molly is the kind of strong protagonist and revolutionary figure that young readers need in today's society where revolution may not be too far away.
Rob Bittner has a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies (SFU) and is also a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He loves reading a wide range of literature, but particularly stories with diverse depictions of gender and sexuality.