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4.6 3
by Dave Freer

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The smallest thing can change the path of history.

The year is 1976, and the British Empire still spans the globe. Coal drives the world, and the smog of it hangs thick over the canals of London.

Clara Calland is on the run. Hunted, along with her scientist mother, by Menshevik spies and Imperial soldiers, they flee Ireland for London. They must escape


The smallest thing can change the path of history.

The year is 1976, and the British Empire still spans the globe. Coal drives the world, and the smog of it hangs thick over the canals of London.

Clara Calland is on the run. Hunted, along with her scientist mother, by Menshevik spies and Imperial soldiers, they flee Ireland for London. They must escape airships, treachery and capture. Under flooded London's canals they join the rebels who live in the dank tunnels there.

Tim Barnabas is one of the under people, born to the secret town of drowned London, place of anti-imperialist republicans and Irish rebels, part of the Liberty - the people who would see a return to older values and free elections. Seeing no further than his next meal, Tim has hired on as a submariner on the Cuttlefish, a coal fired submarine that runs smuggled cargoes beneath the steamship patrols, to the fortress America and beyond.

When the ravening Imperial soldiery comes, Clara and her mother are forced to flee aboard the Cuttlefish. Hunted like beasts, the submarine and her crew must undertake a desperate voyage across the world, from the Faeroes to the Caribbean and finally across the Pacific to find safety. But only Clara and Tim Barnabas can steer them past treachery and disaster, to freedom in Westralia. Carried with them—a lost scientific secret that threatens the very heart of Imperial power.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this steampunk adventure set in an alternate 20th-century, two teenagers bond during a series of death-defying episodes aboard an illegal submarine. Fourteen-year-old Clara Calland and her mother are on the run from the globally dominant British Empire because of their association with Irish rebels. Circumstances place them on the Cuttlefish, a coal-fueled submarine that runs smuggled goods across the ocean. On the ship, Clara meets Tim Barnabas, a young member of the crew who is determined to prove himself. As the Cuttlefish races from port to port, one step ahead of pursuit, Tim and Clara must help save the ship on a number of occasions, while trying to ferret out a traitor. While Freer (Dog and Dragon) offers action aplenty, a fascinating setting, and memorable characters, his story runs on a slow burn, not unlike the submarine at its center. Still, he has created a fun world to explore, and he doesn’t shy away from deeper themes, such as the casual racism that plagues the mixed-race Tim, courtesy of his shipmates. Ages 12–up. Agent: Michael Kabongo, OnyxHawke Agency. (July)
From the Publisher
"Cuttlefish is Dave Freer at his best-and he's always good. It combines fascinating alternate history, superb and comprehensible science, and a propulsive plot that will entertain people of all ages, not just young adults."
-Eric Flint, Bestselling author of the 1632 series

"Filled with coal-fired submarines, scientific secrets, and two young people who fight injustice, work to bring down an evil empire, and quite literally save the world, Cuttlefish is a book to dream upon. Freer's clean style and vivid descriptions, his complex characters and his clear vision make this a book all ages can enjoy."
-Sarah A. Hoyt, author of Darkship Thieves

"Dave Freer always delivers compelling, fast-moving, and addictive fantasy adventures. Write more, Dave."
-Garth Nix, New York Times-bestselling author of the Abhorsen trilogy and the Keys to the Kingdom series

"David Freer is an imaginative author who tells great stories."
-Rebecca Moesta, New York Times-bestselling coauthor of Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights

VOYA - Caitlyn Augusta
Tim Barnabas lives in a steampunk, coal-driven London after the Big Melt. In that event, the world's oceans rose, flooding countries and causing the British Empire to enforce a Draconian rule of law. One island of rebellion is the submarines, necessary to transport goods worldwide but outside any country's dominion. Tim's submarine, the Cuttlefish, has picked up Clara Calland and her mother as political refugees wanted by the British and the Russian governments for the chemical weapons Clara's mother can design. Traveling the world looking for a safe haven for her passengers, the Cuttlefish brings Tim and Clara together as friends and coconspirators who create ingenious solutions to foil their pursuers' plans. Tasmanian science fiction author Freer has created a complete steampunk world that will captivate those who enjoy historical fiction, science fiction, or adventure. The details of the submarine's workings and life at sea are well delineated and smoothly incorporated into the story. At times the story seems to have too many threads vying for hegemony. Racial prejudice (Tim is half Jamaican), political jockeying, spies, traitors, kidnappings, theft, and family loyalty all combine in a dizzying whirl of activity that can be overwhelming. Also, Freer throws readers into the deep end of his world. Even attentive readers will need a chapter or two to understand the politics and the characters properly. Still, for adventure combined with nifty mechanical devices, Freer provides a satisfying marine romp that will please Philip Reeve fans and have them wishing for more Clara and Tim. Reviewer: Caitlyn Augusta
Kirkus Reviews
An overwhelming wealth of precise detail bogs down this steampunk effort from adult-fantasy author Freer. In a world where synthetic ammonia was not invented in 1898 (per the exhaustive backmatter), two primary facts have remained true: The British Empire holds most of the political power, while coal supplies the actual power. By 1953, when the story is set, global warming has resulted in a political sphere entirely unlike the mid-20th century readers know. Fourteen-year-old Clara's mother has notes that may lead to synthetic ammonia at last, so the two of them find themselves aboard the submarine Cuttlefish on the run from the Russians, the British and possibly the Americans. Amid a barrage of minutiae (from engine workings to background elements that try but fail to establish worldbuilding), Clara finds herself and true love with the lone black crew member, whose own story plays a role (and includes some commentary on racism). The repetitive plot consists of near misses and tight escapes; overt statements replace character growth ("She hadn't realized before just how important people who merely made food and hot drinks were"), and the burgeoning romance moves too rapidly from a kiss to "I love you." Moreover, the image of Clara on the cover is reminiscent of the TV Laura Ingalls Wilder in her preteen years. Steampunk and the Cuttlefish's coal engines might be hot, but tepid storytelling sinks this tale. (glossary) (Steampunk. 12-15)

Product Details

Prometheus Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


By Dave Freer

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2012 Dave Freer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61614-625-2

Chapter One

It was after midnight, and London's lights shimmered on the waters that had once been her streets. Something dark moved down there, in the murky depths. Bubbles of smoke belched up in its wake. No one was likely to notice. The still, warm air already reeked of coal smoke, and the rotting ooze lying down on the drowned street that had once been Landsdown Way bubbled anyway.

The dark shadow crept onwards into Wandsworth Canal, and down into Nine Elms Waterway, and then slipped through the rotting concrete teeth into the deep channel.

Like the rest of the crew of the Cuttlefish, Tim Barnabas let out a sigh of relief. He knew all about the dangers of the Stockwell tube run—dead trees, fallen masonry, and, of course, the chance of detection in the relatively shallow waters of London's street-canals. Even though the submarines of the Underpeople did this run often, it was still the most risky part of their journey.

"Up snuiver, Seaman," said Captain Malkis. "Let's breathe before we head down-channel."

Tim worked the brass crank with a will, sending the breathing pipe to the surface of the Thames.

He swallowed hard to sort out the effect of the pressure change on his ears.

And then an explosion rocked the Cuttlefish. Rang the sub like a bell. Tim could hear nothing. But he saw Captain Malkis push the dive levers to full.

A blast of water sprayed out of the snuiver outlet, soaking them all, before the cutoff valve closed it off. The Cuttlefish settled onto the bottom of the dredged channel. No one moved or spoke. Tim's ears still rang, but he could hear sounds again, and saw the captain signal to the Marconi man hunched protectively over the dials and valves of his wireless set. The Marconi operator nodded, wound his spooler, and sent an aerial wire up to the surface.

Tim watched the man's face in the dim glow of the battery lights. His expression grew increasingly bleak. He flicked the dial expertly to another frequency. Then the Marconi operator pulled the headphones off. "I got the Clapham Common sender first. Transmission cut out after an SOS. I picked up Parson's Green. They weren't even sending coded messages. Just reports that Stockwell's been blown, and Clapham had reported that they were under attack by men of the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers, before they went off air, Captain. And I picked up a signal on the Royal Navy calling channel. The HMS Mornington and the HMS Torquay are ordered to start laying dropping mines in the Thames Channel from Blackfriars Point to Rotherhithe Bay. The captain of the Mornington was getting mighty shirty about the operation not running according to orders, and him still being below Plumstead Shoal and not on station."

Captain Malkis's face showed no trace of expression. They all knew that the Inniskillens were Duke Malcolm's special troops. As the chief of Imperial Intelligence, the duke had made them into a regiment to be feared. "Get the aerial and the snuiver down, crewmen." He turned to the engine-room speaker tube. "Chief Engineer. I'll have all the power that you can give us. Mr. Mate." He turned to First Mate Werner. "You work out our time to the mouth of the Lea. We'll see how they like risking their ships in the Canningtown shallows."

"Captain ... should we not go back?" asked the first mate, his voice cracking, his heavy Dutch accent even thicker than usual.

"No, Mr. Mate," said Malkis. "It's us ... or rather our passenger, that they're after. It's just as well that we set our departure forward as soon as the Callands arrived."

Tim cranked the snuiver in. He could feel the heavy, slow thump of the Cuttlefish's engines picking up speed. The breathing pipe clicked home. "Snuiver down, Captain," he said, trying to keep his voice as controlled as the ship's master. It quavered slightly. But he didn't scream. He didn't say, "My mam. I need to go back to the tunnels to see if she's all right," although those were the words that wanted out, and his fear dried his mouth and made it hard to speak.

"Good lad, Barnabas," said the captain, as if this was something that happened every day. "Get down to Chief Barstone in the engine room. He'll have work for an extra greaser if he's going to keep the engines running at this speed."

"Aye, aye, sir." Tim did his best to salute without bumping any of the brass instruments that protruded into the small bridge space.

He turned to leave. "Barnabas." The captain's voice halted him.

"Sir." Tim halted.

"The Underpeople have more tunnels, and locks, and secret ways than the king's men know about, boy," the captain said, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder gently but firmly. "It's our home, our territory; we know it. It's not the first time Duke Malcolm's had a go at us. And it won't be the last. Now get along with you."

Tim swallowed. Nodded. He couldn't actually say anything, because his voice was too choked up. He turned away before the captain could see the tears starting, and hurried along the narrow gangway, and then down the ladder to the lower deck. At the base of it he nearly ran smash into something that had no place on a submarine.

A girl. A girl in a flouncy dress with silly little puff sleeves. Honestly! Where did she think she was? On a pleasure barge cruising along Pall Mall Canal?

"Hi, hold on," she said, grabbing his arm as he tried to squirm past. Her blue eyes were bright and wide with excitement, and one of her pale blonde plaits had come undone. She brushed the fine hair away from her eyes, "What's going on?" she asked, smiling at him.

"I'm busy," he said gruffly, hoping that he'd wiped all trace of the tears away. "Got to get to the engine room."

"Oh, it's so important that you are," she said, teasingly. "Just tell me what the bang was?"

"The Inniskillens blowing up my home," he said fiercely as he pulled his arm free and blundered on, blinded by the tears again, down the passage.

* * *

Clara Calland stared after him. She nearly ran after him too, to ask him what he meant. But ... horrible snotty London boy. He'd looked nice, with a bit of a grin on his brownish face, when she'd seen him earlier, bringing their two small valises to the cabin. And he'd helped to carry Mother's book trunk. When you considered the size of the cabin, maybe it was just as well they'd had to leave everything behind.

She considered going up the ladder to find someone else to ask. But ... it sounded like trouble. More trouble. She'd been so relieved when they had finally got out of the smelly, wet tunnels under London, and into this strange submarine. The whole idea just fascinated her. Of course, submarines were something she'd heard stories about, and hadn't ever expected to really experience. They were illegal, banned in all civilized countries. Yet ... everyone knew they existed. One of the girls from school, one of the Cashel sisters, claimed that she'd once seen one in Tralee Bay. Which was possible ... anything could happen down in Kerry. It was crock full of rebels, down there, like Cork used to be before most of the city got drowned. She swallowed. Daddy had once let slip that his trips away had taken him to Kerry. She'd said that she hoped he was safe from those rebel scum. He'd just tousled her hair and laughed. That was before the men from Scotland Yard had come and taken him to the New East Barracks military prison, to be detained indefinitely at His Majesty's pleasure.

She stared blindly down the narrow little passage. She didn't want to be here. She wanted her old, familiar life back again. Mother and Dad together again, home and school and ...

That was where it broke down. Clara, who always tried to be honest with herself, had to admit that she did not want her school life back. Nor did she want to go back to the tall, cold house on Redmond Street that they'd been living in when her life had suddenly turned upside down.

So, instead, she went back through the narrow little steel door and climbed up onto her bunk in their broom-cupboard-sized cabin. On the bed below, her mother was asleep, the deep sleep of absolute exhaustion, and, Clara realised, of relief.

Clara lay down on the thin horse-hair mattress and thought back about just how they'd ended up here. Parts of it cut at her like a knife.


Excerpted from CUTTLEFISH by Dave Freer Copyright © 2012 by Dave Freer. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dave Freer is an ichthyologist turned author. He lives on Flinders Island, between Australia and Tasmania, with his wife, Barbara; four dogs; four cats; and two sons, Paddy and James. His first book, The Forlorn, came out in 1999. He has coauthored novels with Eric Flint and with Mercedes Lackey, as well as written A Mankind Witch and Dragons Ring and various shorter works. Besides working as a fisheries scientist for the Western Cape shark fishery, he has worked as a commercial diver and as a relief chef at several luxury game lodges. His other interests are rock climbing, diving, fly-fishing, fly tying, wine tasting, and the smoking and salting of food. Visit him online at coalfiredcuttlefish.wordpress.com, at www.facebook.com/Freer.Dave, and on Twitter @davefreersf.

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Cuttlefish 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cute bending of history. Well written, good plot and an enjoyable read.
Candace-LoveyDoveyBooks More than 1 year ago
Dave Freer's Cuttlefish is absolutely astonishing! It's 1953 and the world is severely altered by the effects of the Melt. Parts of London are underwater, where old tunnels are inhabited by the Underpeople, and the western part of Australia is dry and sandy. The novel will entertain readers of all ages with it's underwater adventure, humor, and intriguing alternate history. The friendships forged over the course of the novel will no doubt extend to the readers who won't help but become fascinated by the variety of characters and backgrounds. Clara Calland, the bookish outcast of St. Margaret's School for the Children of Officers and Gentleman, embarks on a terrifying journey that takes her and her mother, Dr. Calland, from Ireland to the dry country of Westralia. She finds a place with the crew of an illegal submarine, learning navigation and doing certain chores as if she were a cabin boy herself. While aboard the Cuttlefish, Clara becomes fast friends with cabin boy, Tim Barnabas. Tim grew up in London's underwater tunnels, taking on a submariner job at the urging of his mother so that he would always have food. He proves to be brave, trustworthy to Clara and his superiors and an excellent submariner. Freer takes a very interesting turn when it comes to this character. Tim is persecuted and called "darkie" because of his mixed heritage. Though he was born in London, his father came from Jamaica and the fact that Tim is darker than the other crew members causes a few incidents of racism and prejudice. Tim's character and his friendship with Clara is another layer added to Cuttlefish's deeply layered plot. Tim and Clara's friendship is the most steadily constant during a tremulous time. Clara and Dr. Calland are stuck in a cat and mouse game, running from the Mensheviks and the British Imperial Intelligence, headed by Duke Malcolm. Yet, here are these two young teens who hardly panic in stressful situations and both cherish their growing relationship. Clara stands up for Tim when he's wrongly accused of thievery, and Tim backs up Clara in whatever crazy plots she comes up with. Cuttlefish is exciting for all the action and suspense, and even more so for the blend of steampunk, historical fiction, and science fiction elements. Pick up a copy of Cuttlefish and you won't put it down until the last page is read! *Book provided via publisher in exchange for an honest review* Also posted on Lovey Dovey Books
RovingReader More than 1 year ago
I love this book. Dave Freer took one of those teeny tiny instances that shape the world and used it as a point to shift an entire timeline. Along the way he created a great cast, a fascinating set of world governments, chained them to a strong plot and took me on a world tour. Must read for all ages.