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REVIEW: Lost and Found – Nita Round

Lost and Found - Nita Round

Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk

LGBTQ+ Category: Lesbian

Reviewer: H.L.

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About The Book

A gifted slave. A cursed woman. Together can they gain their freedom?

Evie Chester is a slave with a precious gift, and lives in a world that both marvels and fears magic and the unexplained.

Evie dreams of being free and of acceptance. When an opportunity presents itself for escape she finds herself pursued with a bounty on her head. Eyes are everywhere. Nowhere is safe.

An encounter with a cursed woman brings about the promise of freedom in return for her help. Everything changes. Is the price of her freedom at too high a price?

Evie Chester is set in the same world as the fantasy Towers of the Earth series. Start reading the adventure today!

The Review

In this alternate universe steampunk version of England, Nita Round has crafted the beginnings of an interesting world and story.

The first chapter introduces us to this unpleasant world where the Gifted, people with supernatural abilities, are reviled and kept as slaves for coin.

Evie Chester is one such slave; it is through her eyes we glimpse two female characters, a tall blonde woman dressed as a man, and her dark companion who wields a sword. But there is no time to dwell on these mysterious characters, as Evie is set to work using her powers to absorb illnesses, before “purging” the toxicity in a viscerally horrifying scene. We feel for Evie and we are shaken by her circumstances, and utterly relieved when the two mysterious women – Magda Stoner and Ascara, members of the mysterious Order – save her and whisk her away to safety.

Unfortunately the excellent introduction is negated almost immediately. Disappointingly, we never see Magda and Ascara again. Evie decides not to join the Order, believing or fearing it would be trading one master for another. She is unsure of her path and allows fear to rule her into bad decisions: she attempts to disguise herself and run, but she is captured instantly by the villainous Bethwood, who enslaves her once more, leaving the reader wondering why Evie had even been rescued in the first place.

During her captivity, which is the entirety of the book, Evie is forced to work directly for Bethwood in absorbing illnesses from well-to-do members of the upper-middle class, for reasons Bethwood keeps close to his chest.

Curiously, Evie does not lament for her loss of freedom, or even really regret that she decided not to join the Order. It is unclear whether Evie’s lack of personal drive and autonomy is a result of being a slave her entire life, resulting in a lack of personal worth, or a flaw of the storytelling. She is a passive character, who rarely drives her own narrative.

At halfway through the book, little has changed for Evie from her circumstances in the first chapter, pre-rescue; it isn’t until she meets fellow Gifted woman Florie in captivity that she has a reason to keep surviving

The relationship is understated, ambiguous as to whether they are friends or something more, but it was a relief to receive a break from the relentless misery, and see Evie take comfort in a true friend. The bulk of the book is a grim read, with Evie suffering with her Gift that is more of a curse at Bethwood’s hands, with little personal drive to escape or fight back. It is not until the final chapter that Bethwood’s motives are revealed, and Evie finally starts to come into her own as a woman with autonomy.

Readers should be warned that there are frequent instances of physical violence towards Evie, at the hands of a character who is sometimes portrayed as an irredeemable villain, then sometimes portrayed as a sympathetic semi-partner to Evie (despite being her literal owner).  Bethwood is both Evie’s cruel master and a curious teacher – someone who will abuse her and force her to use her magic for terrible deeds, while guiding her to push the boundaries of what she believes is possible with her own powers. Evie, for her part, doesn’t seem to feel very strong about her circumstances one way or the other until the very end.

While mostly decent and clear of typos and poor grammar/punctuation, from a technical standpoint there are flaws. The writing style suffers from frequent repetition – e.g. in the second chapter, the kindly Mrs Hickman, who sheltered Evie for her brief stint of freedom, tells Evie to eat her food four or five times in the space of a couple of paragraphs. Dialogue is often stilted, lacking a natural flow, and conversations about dark subjects like evil men’s perversions and survival in slavery are often bland and shallow.

My main complaint is that the entire book appears to be entirely set up for the “real” story, which is touched upon only when we get to the end.  

Despite the dragging middle and the technical flaws, the intriguing turn that the ending takes changes the game and sets up what looks to be a nuanced and challenging dynamic for the next book in the series. Lost and Found is an origin story for Evie Chester; I expect it will be a more satisfying book to re-read when there are more stories in the series to balance it. I very much hope to see Evie continue to grow as a character, both in gaining independence and autonomy, and in developing her powers. I hope to see more consistency and better character motivations going forward. I am curious to see how Round will develop the supernatural elements of this grim world, and where Evie’s journey will take both her and the readers.

The Reviewer

H. L. is a Australian writer of LGBT+ fiction. She holds a Master of Arts in International Relations (2015) and a Bachelor of Media in Communications and Journalism (2012), both from the University of New South Wales.

She is a lesbian of Jewish and of Middle Eastern (Egyptian) heritage and is an #OwnVoices writer. She has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. She is the author of M/M fantasy romance novels Heart Of Dust and Soul Of Ash, Books 1 & 2 of the Death’s Embrace series.

She has had two speculative short stories published: “The Collector” in the 2014 Future Times Award Collection A Tick Tock Heart, and “Entente” in the 2020 Twisted Stories Award Collection Just Alice.  

 

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