Esprit de Corpse by EF Deal

Review by Anna Huber

Esprit de Corpse is a unique tale of adventure and mystery set in a french steampunk setting, largely separating the book from novels that traditionally place the steampunk universe in England or America. The novel makes use of different religion, socioeconomics, and even languages to both fill the book with depth and richness.

Esprit de Corpse begins with introducing the reader to the two protagonists of the book, Jacqueline and her sister Angélique. One may want to continue reading the book purely for fascinating characters. These two draw the reader into the story vivaciously, captivating readers with their quirks, flaws, and overall passionate personalities. Their story begins with a train ride and an automaton that literally falls into their path- a scene which both brings to light how skilled Jacqueline is with machinery, but also begs the first question, is this a story about ghosts in the machine?

From there, the mystery and intrigue continues to build as an unknown man breaks into Jacqueline’s workshop and attempts to steal back a component from the automaton. Though his plan is stopped by a quick thinking Angélique, there is more to this man’s plans and his motives than meets his eye, and before too long he becomes another intriguing character and suggestive love interest.

Then, in an attack, Angélique is kidnapped- or as luck would have it- secretly rescued. Jacqueline is then tasked with two difficult tasks- rescue her sister while trying to discover the mysteries of the automaton who brought the struggle and bad fortune to her and her sister. Joined by a lively and heroic Torque warrior, Jacqueline races to beat a mysterious Count whose ties to her family go further than even she realizes.

One of the masterful things accomplished by Esprit de Corpse is the commentary provided on traditional ideas about female autonomy and women’s possession of their own body. Trigger warning, the book does deal largely with themes of sexual assault and rape, offering a unique view and imagery of how it can effect both the body, the survivor, and family members of survivors. Note, the way this material is handled in the novel may be disturbing to some readers, but the ultimate message of how it can change a person is not to be overlooked. However uncomfortable the topic may be in the novel, it is worth noting that some may agree with the unorthodox and even uncomfortable opinions held by characters- opinions that some survivors may side with. The book also works to provide views of how many women working in predominantly male-led fields may feel in trying to forge paths of their own.

Ultimately though, the book does work to find coalition and common ground between good people- women and men alike- all fighting to stop a common evil and bring peace back to their home. By the end, families both unite and grow. Through pain, hardship, and bravery, the book does end with a fulfilling resolution- completed with even a few good and unpredictable twists. Unity is a word that captures the message of the book, as well as best conveys the real spirit behind Esprit de Corpse.

EF Deal lives in Haddonfield, NJ with her husband and two chow chows. Her work has been published in a variety of ezines and anthologies as well as in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She is assistant fiction editor at Abyss&Apex and video editor for Strong Women ~ Strange Worlds.

Reviewer: Anna Huber: Anna Huber is a Graduate Student in the MA in English Literature Program at Monmouth University in New Jersey. Her love for literature began at a young age as her mother was (and still is) an English teacher who read to her often and imparted to her a love of stories. She plans to pursue a career in higher education and impart an understanding and greater respect for literature to future students.