The Sapphire Cutlass is exactly the kind of fun YA romp I was hoping for when I started the DIAMOND THIEF series. The characters seem comfortable in their roles, the adventure is exotic, and the stakes are surprisingly high. Sharon Gosling seems to have hit her stride here, rewarding readers with equal measures of romance and action in a well-balanced novel.
Rémy Brunel, Thaddeus Rec, J, and orphaned moppet Dita have flown in their ruby-powered airship all the way from France to India. They seek many things: the location of J’s mentor Desai, information about a cult known as the Sapphire Cutlass, and the truth regarding Rémy’s “one true twin” brother, about whom she knows absolutely nothing. What they find is a power-mad sorcerer, a band of pirates, and a mountain’s worth of sapphires. Meanwhile, distant drums echo ominously through the thick, verdant jungle, and whispered legends might be more than smoke and fables.
There’s less steampunk flavor here than in The Diamond Thief; as the series has progressed, the science-lite tone has shifted in a decidedly more mystical direction. The Ruby Airship featured a hypnotic device and metal automatons along with its hand-waving and oracular proclamations; while The Sapphire Cutlass puts the faithful airship to good use, there are enough scenes containing sentient mist, transmutation of flesh to metal, and a magical puzzle box to make my expectations for gears and goggles seem misplaced.
Still, I enjoyed The Sapphire Cutlass tremendously, happily setting aside a few afternoons to follow Rémy and her friends through the trees and across the skies. The group splits up early on so that Rémy can track down her brother while Thaddeus and the others flee from the army of a jewel-encrusted raja. However, they’re all reunited soon after, and spend the majority of the novel as a unified whole. Rémy and Thaddeus are best as a team working toward a common goal rather than bickering over petty jealousies or misunderstandings. They’ve finally matured into realistic young adults, and the entirety of The Sapphire Cutlass benefits as a result.
There are moments of real history underpinning the fiction: the Indian people are actively subverting and rebelling against the British Empire, and while their intent is certainly admirable, some of their methods may not be, as would be the case in any revolution. Fortunately, Gosling doesn’t make the mistake of turning Rémy into a messianic figure whose assistance is necessary for India’s freedom; the political turmoil serves as an appropriate backdrop for the novel and provides excellent motivation for characters like Desai and the deadly pirate Upala, but Rémy’s focus stays on the Sapphire Cutlass and its evil plans for world domination.
The Sapphire Cutlass appears to end conclusively, though there are hints at the possibility of more escapades for Rémy Brunel and her friends. Since the books so far have featured water-, fire-, and earth-themed catastrophes at their respective climaxes, I’d be curious to see what Gosling can do with air. Reading THE DIAMOND THIEF series in sequence has given me an appreciation for how Gosling is growing as an author, and if The Sapphire Cutlass is any indication, I have high hopes for her future work.