Land of Mist and Snow, by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald, is a stand-alone fantasy set an alternate U.S. Civil War. Despite the title [*], the book is mostly concerned with the sea: the Union has discovered a way to power a ship without steam or sail, which is obviously of great benefit despite its unusual requirements (no iron, virgin brass, a virgin woman . . . ). But as a character notes, “the presence of one esoteric ship implies the presence of another esoteric ship,” and soon the chase is on.
[*] Yes, okay, Google tells me that it’s a poetic allusion, but I didn’t know that ahead of time and was therefore puzzled.
Told in epistolary form, this is a fast-paced and enjoyable novel. I suspect it of having structural and symbolic depths that I am unable to recognize, both because that tends to be my experience when reading Doyle and Macdonald’s books (e.g., The Apocalypse Door), and because Teresa Nielsen Hayden refers to it as having allegorical personifications in the middle of a really, really long Making Light thread. However, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy the novel without consciously understanding any layers other than those on the surface.
In conclusion, I must briefly disagree with a short review in this month’s Locus, which complained that a particular person was a cardboard villain—not over whether the person was cardboard, which is a matter of taste, but over the implication that the person was the antagonist, which is not structurally supportable (she says, humbly).