I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I was excited to read this for various reasons: it’s steampunk, includes two women grasping at the opportunity to attend university, and it’s the first book in a series. I was intrigued by the short length of this book and at just over 100 pages I was looking for a novella, but in fact, A Tale of Two Ladies felt more like the opening of a full-length novel than a story in itself, which is the reason for the low rating in this case.
Alicia and Elena are from very different worlds. Alicia is a country farm girl who has dreamed of flying since childhood. Elena is a noblewoman who loved mathematics but is being pushed into marriage by her traditional mother. When the kingdom goes to war, the university in the capital city of Aeterall opens its doors to women for the first time, and these two women both jump at the chance to chase their dreams. This story follows their journey to becoming students at the university, from filling in their applications to meeting briefly at the university’s entrance tests and interviews. I understand from the description that this is a serial, but personally, for me, there was not enough of a story arc in this book. I think that the first part of a series in particular should always have a self-contained story to it as well as being the beginning to an overarching story so that people can enjoy the book in and of itself, but this was just an opening to a larger story.
Apart from the flaws with the plot in this book, I really liked other aspects of this story, and definitely think that if it had been the opening to a full-length novel I would have kept reading. I was getting strong Anne of Green Gables vibes from Alicia’s character, who loves her family and seems to live partly in her dreams of flying. I also enjoyed Elena’s rebellious streak and her resistance to her mother’s choice of husband – there was also a moment with a biscuit that made me laugh out loud. The story in general, with two women from different walks of life meeting and clashing at university, also reminded me of Wicked, which I enjoyed. I liked how the two women clashed somewhat, but there was still a hint at a future relationship. However, I did have some issues with the character development, especially for Elena. She seemed smart and funny in the first half of the novel, but at the university she was suddenly socially awkward and incapable of verbal communication, which felt odd. I would have liked some more consistency here.
I definitely feel like Glenn Song has all of the ingredients for something really fun and exciting – the world-building was good, the steampunk concept was intriguing, and the characters are easy to get behind in their respective goals. With some tweaking, I think that this could be a great opening to a really interesting novel, but on its own, The Mechanical Bird: A Tale of Two Ladies just doesn’t stand up all that well.