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3.20  ·  Rating details ·  2,449 ratings  ·  689 reviews
Everfair, the brilliant Neo-Victorian alternate-history novel from acclaimed short-story writer Nisi Shawl, potently explores the question of what might have come of Belgium's disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had adopted steam technology as their own.

In Shawl's eloquently explored vision, told by a multiplicity of voices that have historicall
Hardcover, 381 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by Tor Books (first published August 16th 2016)
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Average rating 3.20  · 
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 ·  2,449 ratings  ·  689 reviews

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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. It takes place in a beautifully unique setting chronicling the formation and history of the fictional country Everfair. Although it’s shorter 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 diff
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
My experience of reading this ambitious, odd, intriguing novel was akin to spending time gazing at an ambitious, odd, intriguing painting in a museum. There was much to admire about Shawl’s technical skill in crafting sentences, and their ability to never let me get ahead of the story they were creating. There was much to admire about their willingness to take on the immense themes of colonization, racism, war, and espionage, and imagine an alternate history of an Africa that was affected by the ...more
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
Charlotte Kersten
“By their very presence they poisoned what they sought to save.”

So What’s It About?

Everfair is a steampunk alternative history of the Belgian Congo in which Fabian socialists and black American missionaries band together to buy land from King Leopold and establish their own colony, meant to be a utopia and haven for their own people as well as the native people of the Congo who flee Belgian enslavement and violence. They band together with a local king to fight against Leopold’s atrocities, and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

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
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
Allison Hurd
I enjoyed this. A sort of scifi imagining of the formation and evolution of a Congolese nation akin to Liberia.

CONTENT WARNING: (view spoiler)

Things to love:

-Honesty of the exercise. There isn't really more plot than the author's attempt to envision what it would take to form and continue a society of people without human violations, in a time when white supremacy was even
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
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I failed this book - although I really, really tried. It contains everything that I typically love in story making and world building, but I just couldn't put it all together to make it work for me. My fault, not the author's - but I will definitely give her short story collection a read one day in hopes that is where I can connect.

This line was my favorite, taken not from the novel but from the first line of her Acknowledgements:

"Writing is a solitary act that expresses the genius of a communit
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
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
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
Kristin B. Bodreau
Objectively, this book was very good. Well written, evocative, nuanced. There was lush description of place, fascinating relationship dynamics, intrigue and complex political machinations with no clear “good guys.” It even had really cool steampunk tech as well as more traditional cultural elements.

However, I was very bored. This is not the fault of the book necessarily. If you like stories that cover decades and very broad scale changes, this is an excellent book. I am an impatient reader and t
Apr 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: scifi-club-read
2.5 stars rounded up because I appreciate the effort.
The multiple perspectives and general, planning a city without problems, ideas were good but none of it was compelling enough for me. I was unable to attach to any of them and there wasn't much of a story.
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
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. ...more
Aug 22, 2021 rated it liked it
'Everfair' has an absolutely brilliant central concept: that Belgium's genocidal colonisation of the Congo was successfully resisted by a coalition of native people, Fabian socialists from Britain, and African American missionaries. It recounts the tumultuous history of the free country Everfair from 1889 to 1919. While I adored the story and the ideas it contained, I was not keen on the way it was told. The narrative is curiously fragmentary, with short chapters from many different points of vi ...more
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
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Nisi Shawl is a founder of the diversity-in-speculative-fiction nonprofit the Carl Brandon Society and serves on the Board of Directors of the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Their story collection Filter House was a winner of the 2009 Tiptree/Otherwise Award, and their debut novel, Everfair, was a 2016 Nebula finalist. Shawl edited Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars (2013). ...more

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Alternate history is one of the most reliably interesting subgenres in the book game. As a kind of subset of speculative fiction, alternate...
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“I've found something out about myself. I can't bow to another man.” 5 likes
“The steampunk genre often works as a form of alternate history, showing us how small changes to what actually happened might have resulted in momentous differences: clockwork Victorian-era computers, commercial transcontinental dirigible lines, and a host of other wonders. This is that kind of book.” 3 likes
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