The Ruby Airship by Sharon Gosling
The Ruby Airship is a direct sequel to The Diamond Thief and the second book in Sharon Gosling’s DIAMOND THIEF YA steampunk trilogy; though some key events from the previous book are recapped in this installment, I suggest that if you’re interested in the trilogy, you should read these books (and their reviews) in sequential order.
It’s been roughly six months since the water-soaked conclusion of The Diamond Thief. Rémy Brunel and a mechanically-inclined street urchin, known only as J, have moved into the Professor’s old workshop. Rémy works as a stage performer and moonlights as a vigilante, somehow having translated her skills as a trapeze artist into literally-unbelievable martial arts, able to outrun galloping horses and fell a full-grown man with ease. Thaddeus Rec is back at work with Scotland Yard, currently attempting to figure out how the jewels of several well-heeled families have vanished from locked safes. When an old circus friend, Yannick, makes contact with Rémy, this spurs a jealous shouting match with Thaddeus; Rémy makes the rash decision to leave London with Yannick to find Claudette, the woman who raised her, who is living somewhere in France. Thaddeus and J chase after them in an experimental airship, begun by the Professor and finished by J, which is powered and inflated by a green gas which emanates from an electrically-charged ruby. I don’t know much about minerals and their piezoelectric qualities, but I’m pretty sure buoyant green gas isn’t a normal by-product.
Most of The Ruby Airship involves arguments between characters, characters behaving stupidly for no reason other than to create dangerous situations that they must then escape from, and repetitive descriptions of travel on horseback or in the airship. There are allusions to potentially exciting events, such as J’s trip to India to help a man named Desai remove a curse from Rémy, but this seems to have happened between the first and second novel. Additionally, a voyage by sea from London to India during this semi-Victorian time period would have taken four to six months, and the titular airship is a unique anomaly, so how is J back in London already? Why didn’t Rémy go along, especially since removing a curse from her person seems like something she’d want to be a part of? Instead we get Rémy agonizing over whether she should be in love with Yannick or Thaddeus and which young man is best for her, wandering endlessly through forests, and a lot of hints that something big is happening in India (and, therefore, the next book).
For a book which features a former circus performer, very little actually takes place under a circus tent. Quite a few supporting characters are part of one circus or another, but they mainly stand around or put out fires. There are a couple of characters of color to break up the lily-white monotony, but they serve only as mouthpieces directing the main characters toward plot points: Desai and Sato, men from India, reveal a Frenchman’s evil machination to Thaddeus, and a nameless Romani woman mutters vague portents to Rémy about being “an Indian baby” despite her French birth. It’s up to Thaddeus and Rémy to follow up on their respective clues, defeat the bad guys, and exchange tearful apologies when it seems they’re yet again at death’s door.
Yet again, I have the same complaint about this book as I did about the first: it’s just too hard for me to suspend disbelief about character motivations and interactions. They never seem or behave like real people; everything they do or say serves whatever plot point currently needs to be resolved. Rémy and Thaddeus don’t ever seem to enjoy being in one another’s company or to have anything in common, but at the same time, they’re somehow deeply in love and have to be together. Rémy says she loves London more than she ever loved being in France, but abandons her life in that city for France without a second thought. Thaddeus has worked hard to re-establish his credibility with his fellow police officers, but throws it all away to chase Rémy across the French countryside.
Ultimately, The Ruby Airship wasn’t much fun, which is all I was asking from this series. Weak characters and a dull plot created little to no impression in my mind, and the principal events of the novel could have been condensed into a faster-paced and more interesting novella. I hope the concluding novel, The Sapphire Cutlass, is a stronger book.