Nicole Rossa's Fornax Rising is a wonderful coming-of-age story, suitable for all ages. It's what I would classify as subtle steampunk, in that it's a story with steampunk elements, but which never loses it's character focus. Too often steampunk tales get lost in the technology, burdening the reader with a myriad of technical details that overshadow everything else. Nicole smartly avoids that, developing Cassie so wonderfully that we often forget about her steampunk, prosthetic limb.
Cassie Fornax is the kind of heroine I really wish we could see more often in literature. She's intelligent, inquisitive, and independent . . . a strong-willed young woman who still manages to be spunky and energetic, never letting us lose sight of the fact that, for all her emotional and intellectual maturity, she is still a child. All too often characters like Cassie come across as grown women in a child's body, but Cassie retains the depth of character, the vulnerabilities, and the sheer joy of childhood. Her rebellious nature is admirable, rather than annoying, and she is so endearing that we agonize over her frustrations almost as much as she does.
The story here is simple, and while it takes a while to fully develop, it does so naturally. As Nicole says in her afterword, she has taken some liberties with history and setting, but nothing so drastic or so extreme that it pulls you out of the story. Personally, I quite like what she's done, and I found it made for an exciting story. There's significant tension here (from various sources), a little bit of adolescent romance, and a strong sense of family. There were a few elements that I found difficult to swallow, particularly the case of mistaken identity between Cassie and her uncle, and the conveniently accidental revelation of her secret weapon, but rest of the story is so strong, I found myself quick to forgive.
If I had one complaint about the novel, it's that it was too short. As much as I loved Cassie, and completely understand that this is her story, this is a case where I would gleefully welcome a broader narrative. There's so much going on, I would have loved to see some of the other characters and plot-lines explored more fully. Don't get me wrong, the story certainly doesn't lack for its intimate focus - I simply would have welcomed more.
With a sequel on the way, tentatively titled The Fall of Melnax, I sincerely hope Nicole will be succumb to the temptation to be a bit more indulgent, elaborating on the core of what is already a solid story with great characters. She's a wonderful author, with a distinctly clean sense of style, and I will gladly welcome more from her steampunk powered pen.