Martha Wells is one of my favorite writers. I enjoy her characters and worldbuilding, which tends toward fantasy of the magic-fueled technology variety. (There is really not enough of this kind of fantasy out there.) You will get airships, adventure and sorcery, and enjoy every minute of it.
Emilie & the Hollow World is a young adult fantasy adventure with a steampunk feel. Our Titular Heroine is a girl who is extremely determined to leave home for very good reasons (an extremely unpleasant family situation). Her intent is to reach her cousin, who has opened a school, and become a teacher. She attempts to sneak on board a ship, but stumbles into a mysterious situation involving an academic quarrel that has expanded into a full-out feud.
Emilie is taken in by Lady Marlende, who is attempting to find her father who disappeared on an expedition to the center of the world. During the course of the novel, Emilie makes friends, has adventures, makes discoveries and slowly becomes a little stronger and a lot more confident in her abilities. She also becomes integral to the success of the mission when she helps to unravel the complicated plots and counterplots that occur when mad or at least vaguely disgruntled scientists get involved with local politics.
This is one of those books that are a very fast read, with quick pacing and lots of action. There are some hints of romance, but nothing that interferes or overwhelms the plot of the story. (This is something I consider a plus, since books with female characters tend to be romance heavy, which is not something I have a strong interest in.) Wells’ does a good job of explaining the precise reason Emilie is running away from home without tending toward the melodramatic or beating the reader over the head with the anvil of “this is what abuse of this nature looks like and it is horrible.” Wells’ presents the situation, and depends on the reader to understand the situation. I also liked that it was very clearly put that Emilie has motivations for leaving other than her family situation. (That is to say, she has goals and aspirations and plans and while naïve, seems capable of carrying them out.)
The only problem with this book is that it was too short. (No, okay, it is actually a decent length; it just felt short.)