Aether Spirit is another brilliant story in Cecilia Dominic’s Aether Psychics series. I’ve been with this steampunk series since the beginning. Like its predecessors, Aether Spirit is a standalone story that is completely and delightfully unique within the series. The setting has moved from Europe to the Union States (United States) where a civil war still rages in 1871. Chadwick Radcliffe and Patrick O’Connell are both stationed at Fort Daniels, Chadwick as the medical chief and Patrick as an engineer. The third player in this saga is Claire McPhee, neuroticist, who has come to Fort Daniels to attempt to help battle-scarred soldiers get back on their feet by using new therapy methods.
By the way, Claire just happens to be the woman that Chadwick was engaged to before a terrible steamcart accident separated them. Claire’s memories were taken from her and Chadwick was warned to stay away or risk hurting her. Claire has been discussed in both of the first two novels in the series, so I was pleased to finally meet her and get more of her and Chadwick’s story.
As if missing memories were not enough to keep them apart, Chadwick is black (or Negro in 1871 terms). As much as the northern part of the country may have acknowledged emancipation, true equality was a long way off. That included acceptance of a Negro man with a white woman.
While Claire and Chadwick are both consciously and unconsciously working to overcome these obstacles, Patrick is working on a weapon that could end the war. The weapon is to be powered by aether. Chadwick is Patrick’s sometime assistant in his effort to harness the energy source in a weapon and has some hope that the aether might also be an effective treatment to help Claire regain her memories.
While he is tinkering with aether, Patrick has another important role. Between Claire and Chadwick there are very few light-hearted moments, at least in the first half of the story. Claire struggles with missing memories and Chadwick struggles with not being able to be with the woman he loves. These two personalities need Patrick’s cheery, charming temperament to relieve the tension. All three main characters are well developed and critical to the overall story. Additionally, Claire and Chadwick have individual stories that are intricately and flawlessly woven into the plot.
Chadwick and Patrick are the only two characters that were also in books 1 and 2 of the series, with a brief exception. I did miss that ensemble of characters, especially my favorite, Edward Bailey. Personally, I am hoping Edward, Iris, Marie and Johann make their ways back into the story. Inspector Davidson and Parnaby Cobb will show up in Aether Spirit, in small but provocative roles.
The other recurring ‘character’ is the Eros element – or aether. The use of aether, including as an energy source, is the theme that ties the books in the Aether Psychics series together. With each book you learn just a little more about it and I am certain there will be more to learn. As the title of the book might imply, in Aether Spirit the Eros element takes on a personality. This is as much interesting as it is terrifying and opens the series to go pretty much anywhere with future plots.
The background of an extended civil war had me comparing the creation of an aether-powered weapon to the use of atomic bombs in 1945. The debate over whether the end justifies the means was as much a part of the story as it is in life.
On a lighter note, when you read Aether Spirit, look for what I like to call a steam-powered superhero costume. Loved it!
Each book in the series stands alone. Aether Spirit is no exception as Ms. Dominic does a good job of subtly filling the back-story where needed. I can recommend it as a standalone, but I would be remiss if I did not also recommend reading the entire series. It is definitely a favorite series for me!
A review copy was provided by the author.