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3.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,977 ratings  ·  577 reviews
An alternate history / historical fantasy / steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo, from noted short story writer Nisi Shawl.

Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium's disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian So
Hardcover, 381 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by Tor Books (first published August 16th 2016)
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3.5ish stars.

Ever read a book that you respect more than love? This is that. It's a sprawling, epic, majestic beast of a novel that spans 30 years in a beautifully unique setting chronicling the formation and history of the fictional country Everfair. Although less than 400 pages long, it feels like the page count is 3,000+. It's also serious, intelligent steampunk, who would have thought? I've got to give Nisi Shawl props for ambition alone. And even if it was super difficult to get through (I
Unfortunately, this is a book full of flaws, but underlying all of those flaws is also a book I really, really want to appreciate.

Why? Because it's a story of the Belgian Congo under an alternate history banner that strives and reaches for its independence despite atrocity and thanks to technology. No more millions dead in unsung tragedy. Rather, we've got nation building in a rather fresh and ambitious undertaking.

Pretty, no? And the themes and the problems explored is also quite impressive, t
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths.

Blending alternate history, steampunk, and fantasy elements as well as tackling difficult social issues (colonization, racism, religious tolerance, and gender intolerance), Everfair sets out to tell an epic story of the Congo from the era of Belgian control (circa 1885) to post-World War I. Featuring a diverse cast, Nisi Shawl crafts her narrative to allow readers to see through the eyes of every one of the characters, as these diverse persons experience import
Jul 15, 2016 rated it liked it
The premise of Everfair is utterly fascinating: an alternate history that takes place in the Congo starting under the reign of the tyrannical Belgian King Leopold II and ending several decades later. As Shawl notes in the forward:
"At least half the populace disappeared in the period from 1895 to 1908. The area thus devastated was about a quarter of the size of the current continental United States. Millions of people died."
It's a story not often told, and all the more important for it. The
Althea Ann
Nov 02, 2016 rated it liked it
After reading a few short stories by Nisi Shawl, all of which I enjoyed very much, I was eager to read her debut novel.

'Everfair' is a steampunk-flavored alternate history. The 'what if' moment is: What if, during the horrific regime of Leopold II over the Belgian Congo, a group of free-thinkers/socialists and abolitionists had purchased a large tract of land on which to found a new, utopian state? The country in question is dubbed, 'Everfair,' and the novel follows the course of this social ex
From the early 1890’s through the aftermath of WWI, a group of Europeans, USAmericans, and African refugees from the horrors of Leopold’s Belgian Congo try to establish a semi-utopia in Central Africa in a very slightly steampunk-ish alternate universe. But vague historical details, a cast of far too many, and too much jumping around in time turns what should have been a fascinating re-imagining into a colorful but non-cohesive mess.
Oh, what a disappointment! This book sounded so good -- go rea
Sep 13, 2016 rated it liked it
A novel with so much potential that just failed to deliver.

Everfair tells the story of the Congo being invaded Belgium and beyond, however, in this version of the Congo steam power has been discovered. Boats float in the air, functioning metal mechanical limbs are given to those who have lost limbs to King Leopold's savagery and a group of African Americans and Europeans have moved to the Congo in hope of a new life. We follow these colonists and the native Congolese people they eventually team
When I heard about this book several months ago, I knew I had to read it. An alternative history where King Leopold's atrocities in the Congo were fought against, where a diverse set of individuals set up a sanctuary (Everfair) in Africa for former US slaves and for those who could escape from King Leopold's rubber plantations.

Each chapter told of Everfair's founding and maintenance from a different character's perspective (in third person) so it was possible to get a sense of the enormity of th
3 stars for execution and 1 for enjoyment, so here we are at two stars. :/ Review to come
Danika at The Lesbrary
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an incredible, complex book. It took me a while to read, because every chapter switches points of view, and there are tons of point of view characters. It spans decades, tackling politics, war, espionage, grief, love and betrayal.

The alternate history of the Congo was fascinating, and although the steampunk element was more subtle than I was expecting, there was so much going on that I didn't notice. For the huge cast of characters, it's incredible how many get developed arcs.

Also a f
K.J. Charles
A big beast of an alternate history novel with steampunk, taking on the Belgian Congo. That monstrous abomination is a hell of a topic, but Shawl pulls it off to a large degree, reimagining an alliance of Congolese people and variously skilled and motivated immigrants (Chinese, American, French, English, lesbians, socialists, scientists) fighting back to drive the Belgians out with a combination of advanced tech and local knowledge. This could be really superhero-comic in the wrong hands but thi ...more
A frequent objection to utopian literature is that it's boring. Fiction relies on conflict. There is no conflict within a perfect society. One way of dealing with this problem is to develop external threats which the utopians must combat. Yet the big question that undermines the very existence of utopia remains. Is it possible for a society that intends to be utopian to be perfect for all those within its borders?

Everfair by Nisi Shawl is an alternate history that approaches utopia honestly by
Sep 16, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish

I gave this 100 pages (105 to be exact). The writing was lovely and I quite *wanted* to like it, but unfortunately I found it boring and lacking in any character I cared about.

Those 100 pages were told through probably half a dozen characters, none of whom stuck with me very well. And there was a very odd structural build to the narrative. We never *saw* anything actually happen on screen. Instead, character A would be standing in the ashes of some raid opining on all that had been lost. Did
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Sep 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: steampunk, netgalley

It's with some sadness and regret that I have to say upfront... I very much anticipated Everfair, but it ultimately did not reach the potential I thought it had. It has great qualities and some weaknesses, which I will tackle in turn.

In Everfair, Shawl excellently uses steampunk in a new and exciting way. She explores how history might have been different for the Congo if the native people had had access to steam-powered technology, to give them an advantage against the brutal, horrific rule of

Well, I loved the premise of this book and at first I was hooked by the story. But while I was really slogging through the middle of it I realized I wasn't connected at all to either the story or the characters. It should have been right up my alley, but it wasn't.

I am learning more about myself as a reader and I think this book just did not tick my boxes, as it were. I like very fleshed-out characters who engage in real meaningful dialogue that gives me insight into their lives and motivations
Feb 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
With Everfair, Nisi Shawl not only redraws the steampunk map, she reworks history itself, revealing points at which change is entirely within our grasp. Within this sweeping narrative, Everfair's characters are beautifully drawn, yet treated with such a level gaze that one expects to find all of them in history books upon finishing the novel. Interlacing subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in hearts, minds, and communities against the background of the rubber trade, WWI, and King Leopold's reign, Sh ...more
Christina Pilkington
Mar 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
*2.5 stars

When I first heard of this book, I was hesitant to pick it up because the story didn’t seem like something I would be interested in. But I wanted to read all the Nebula nominees this year, so I gave it a shot and read it.

Let me tell you…it was a rough book to get through.

I’ll start off by saying that I have to give credit to Shawl for attempting such a wide-ranging story, a story that spans 1889-1919, all within 381 pages. It was certainly an ambitious goal. It was also ambitious to
I was realllly looking forward to this book. I mean, come on. An alternate history exploring what it would have been like if the Congo Free State (shudder) never existed due to the invention of steampunk-like technologies. Instead, and I'm gonna steal from the blurb here,
"Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo's 'owner,' King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Ut
Sep 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
I was excited to get my hands on a copy of Everfair to see how Nisi Shawl would re-imagine the outcome of the Belgian occupation of the Congo. Since reading King Leopold’s Ghost in college, I remained curious about this period of history that I had previously known very little about. The prospect of an alternate history featuring mechanical prosthetics, airships and the like drew me in, so I agreed to read and review the book. (Thanks Tor!)

The character cast was broad and rather diverse. I was s
Bryan Alexander
Right off the bat I must confess to potential bias. Nisi and I used to work for the same pair of bookstores in Ann Arbor, back in the 20th century. I'm a fan and admirer.

Everfair is an alternate history, with the divergent point coming in the late 1800s, when a group of British socialists, American missionaries, and a local king carve a new country out of king Leopold's nightmarish Congo colony. They create Everfair, a multiracial state that lasts into the 20th century.

That description makes the
Kaethe Douglas
Everfair - Nisi Shawl It's an alternate history in which a genocide doesn't happen.
It's about a utopian society that isn't so cleverly set up as to avoid all problems, but in which people work to find different, practical, solutions.
It's steampunk that feels utterly plausible.
It's a book that acknowledges the tremendous breadth and depth of people and cultures throughout Africa, although it focuses on one nation.
It is a marvelous accomplishment in every sense of the word, and I'm sure it's going
I think ambitious exceeds craft here a bit, but oh, what ambition! It's hard not to applaud it even when the execution has flaws. As alternate history this is astonishing and inventive, and also uncompromising in its refusal to exposit--if you don't know your late 19th and early 20th century history (and my knowledge is not as great as it might be), this is best read with at the very least Wikipedia near to hand.

That's not what I consider a flaw, by the way; I appreciate a book that goes full s
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Nisi Shawl's Steamfunk alternative history novel Everfair is an amazing tome of historical detail and character development. It centers around a terrible time in history, the exploitation and genocide of the Congo region of Africa by King Leopold II. In Nisi's re-imagining a new country is established in the midst of this horror, Everfair. The inhabitants of this land are a mix; defiant indigenous Congolese, determined Jacobins from England, evangelical Black Christians from America, and workers ...more
This was one of those books that I admired more than I enjoyed. I think it was also a weird read for me because I think it's talking back to mainstream steampunk, but this is the only steampunk I've ever read. It's an ambitious alt history novel that reworks the atrocities of Belgium's colonization of the Congo. Fascinating concepts but the wide scope left me not feeling connected with the characters and not feeling invested in their stories.
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Patient utopians
Recommended to Alan by: Previous work, a decade ago
Nisi Shawl has been on my radar for a very long time. In fact, one of my very first Goodreads reviews (back in September 2008—yes, almost exactly a decade ago!) was for her excellent short-story collection Filter House.

We haven't seen much fiction from Shawl in the meantime—she is much more active in other ways, including as an editor, but her own output is relatively sparse. Which is a shame, because her attention to the craft is remarkable—when she does decide to tell us a story, the results a
Para (wanderer)
Everfair is yet another book I could call brilliant but flawed.

The settlers of Everfair had come here naïvely at best, arrogantly at worst. Due to the orders of the king they had found the country seemingly empty. In the fight against Leopold, their assistance had been most valuable, and they had also brought to the cause the help of Europeans and Americans who would never otherwise have cared for any African’s plight.

But by their very presence they poisoned what they sought to save. How co
I was really looking forward to this ambitious novel: a steampunk Victorian Belgian Congo. For the unfamiliar, Belgian Congo's rubber plantations were host to some of the worst systematic mass atrocities ever recorded.

In Nisi Shawl's newly-formed country of Everfair, you have the polyamorous British socialist Fabian Society, African-American colonists, Chinese defectors, the Congolese kingdom engaged in guerrilla warfare, and a steady stream of Belgian/German/British overlords. Meanwhile, a rap
Janet Martin
Brilliant concept, boring execution. Prose is nice, characters wooden, too many viewpoint shifts to allow the reader to really care much about any particular character. With so much wonderful speculative fiction published in 2016, I'm a little baffled about the Nebula nomination. This book is a wasted opportunity--the world is fascinating and most of these characters deserved to shine on their own rights instead of being subsumed in a mostly unrealized book that stands best as a series outline.
Wow, this book is a true piece of creative fiction. It is dense, there is so much to take in that the book feels longer than it is and it is not a book you can just skim at any section. This is the kind of book that you need to be intentional with when you read.

The story itself covers about three decades worth of alternative history which was thought provoking. There is also many tough issues dealt with within this text. In addition there are a bunch of POV's in this story, a lot of characters
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audibles
GoodRead....I did not love this read or any of the characters I believe I am just not that into sci-fi However I truly appreciated the story.
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Nisi Shawl's story "Cruel Sistah" was included in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #19. Their work has also appeared in So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy and both Dark Matter anthologies. Recently they perpetrated "The Snooted One: The Historicity of Origin" at the Farrago's Wainscot website. With Cynthia Ward, they co-authored "Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Di ...more

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