Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield is the first book in a time travel, science fiction, steampunk, historical series. It is centered around an 18th century bisexual, Jamaican/English, noblewoman who twilights as a highwayman, is in love with a woman who is a genius inventor and who crosses paths (and joins forces) with a Belizean/Creole/Canadian woman from the future who is a Major in a faction engaged in a time war. Phew! That is a mouthful of amazing!
When the cards are stacked against you, it’s time to change the deck, or better yet, time to change the game. Alice’s Payne’s father suffers severe PTSD from the war rendering him unable to work. They are on the verge of losing everything and in 1788, there aren’t many ways for a woman to make some coin. Not willing to surrender, she creates an alter ego, The Holy Ghost, and along with her automaton Laverna (engineered by her lover Jane Hodgson and named after the patron goddess of thieves no less!), robs the rich and deviant traveling along the highway. When a heist goes wrong, she finds herself in another time, with an opportunity she never dreamt was possible.
A great war wages across time between the Farmers and the Guides in an attempt to change history and save humanity. Major Prudence Zuniga has been in the trenches for years, doing everything she can to fulfill her mission and turn the tides of history, but to no avail. It’s time to change the game but she is going to need help. And who better to help than an 18th century highwaywoman?
There are three incredible female characters in this book, all with different traits, but all incredibly adept and strong in their own way.
Alice is not one to give in to fate, she is determined and brave and impulsive in a way I can totally relate to. Her strength in the face of adversity is admirable and her willingness to do what it takes to survive, and how she goes about achieving this, is inspirational.
Jane is a brilliant inventor and Alice’s lover. She is more reserved and rational than Alice but also brave and strong. She is not as prevalent a character as Alice in this book but judging from the end, I think that is going to change as the series progresses.
Prudence Zuniga has lived in 1888 for a decade, trying over and over again to fulfill her mission and change the course of history. Now that is dedication! When the weight of the war and what both sides are doing to humanity hits her, she devises her own plans and Alice seems like the perfect accomplice.
The Writing Style
The characters are just fabulous. For a novella, I felt like they were well fleshed out, entirely interesting and so much fun. The pace gallops along faster than the horses of a runaway carriage with loads of action, romance and time travel drama. The dialogue is infused with much humour and as for the world building, well it is certainly interesting. The historical and future settings are detailed and imaginative and woven together through a dynamic timeline as perfectly as seems possible in such a short book.
Pros And My Favourite Parts
What I liked most about this book, is its take on time travel and how it depicts the battle to change history as really a battle to change people and just how difficult, unpredictable and downright messy the results of such an undertaking can be. Also, a highwaywoman, an inventor and a time traveller as leads… it’s a trifecta of character awesomeness!
Cons And Heads Up
I know this is a novella, but I just would have loved for there to be more. Fortunately, this is a series so I get my wish in the form of Alice Payne Rides!
If the first sentence of this review didn’t convince you that you need to buy this book, well then I don’t know what will. There is so much to love here! It is an incredible story with an incredible cover and a thoroughly engaging and entertaining read.
TLDR (too long didn’t read)
A highwaywoman and her inventor lover are recruited into a war waged across time by a disillusioned Major with plans to end the war her way; permanently and irrevocably.
Excerpt from Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield
Her left calf nuzzles her horse’s belly. Havoc’s withers twitch and he steps quietly to the right, making no sound until she taps fast with both legs and they are out in the open. By the time Havoc stops in the middle of the road, where he has stopped so many times before, she has both pistols in her hands.
“Stand and deliver!” She growls.
The first time she did this, she felt exposed, despite the hat low over her forehead, the black mask and green kerchief, the long grey cloak, the breeches and boots and gloves. She and Jane had meant it half as a lark; Jane was not convinced Alice would go through with it until she had. It was revenge, the first time, against a teacher of the pianoforte who preyed on any girl who was not sufficiently warned by her friends. Revenge, and a little much needed money.
Now it is a regular affair, this robbery on the road. There are plenty of villains making their way through Hampshire, ready to be relieved of a purse, a blow struck in secret for womankind. Despite the fact that all victims are men of suspect character when it comes to women, no one has made the connection, or suspected that the Holy Ghost is a woman, much less that it is Alice. All her skin is covered, lest the color of it call to any local’s mind Colonel Payne’s poor daughter.
Today, after a dozen robberies, she does not feel exposed. She doesn’t feel like Alice Payne, sitting on a horse in the middle of the road, in a disguise. She is the Holy Ghost, and she is about her vengeful business.
The coachman moves – reaching toward the seat beside him? A pistol there? This would make a convenient moment for a partner to ride out of the woods, up to the side of the coach, a second pistol in hand. But the Holy Ghost doesn’t have a partner on the road, not a human one, at least…
Six feet down the road, right beside the stopped carriage, the automaton slides out of the gorse bushes.
There are a dozen good spots for it, all along the roads of the county. Three of them happen to be near churches, and one near an abbey, which has given rise to the Holy Ghost nickname. A reputation is good for a highwayman. When people know what to expect, they aren’t so afraid as to do foolish things. A well-known robber who puts on a predictable show is an institiution, and the good people of England will hand over their tolls with due resignation and respect.
In the twighlight, the sight of Alice’s automaton sends shivers down her own skin. The carved wooden head, painted while with blue eyes and red lips, as still as a Madonna’s. The grey cloak, the same color as her own, the hood brought over the head. The outstretched hand.
The coachman crosses himself.
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The Alice Payne Series
Alice Payne Arrives
Alice Payne Rides
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781250313737
- Publisher: Tor.com
- Kate Heartfield Online
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