In 1815, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, two of England’s wealthiest lords place a high-stakes wager on whether a popular set of books, which claim that the author has traveled to many unknown places, are truth or, more likely, wild fiction. First Light is an epistolary novel, told primarily through former aide-de-camp Gregory Conan Watts’s journals and letters to his fiancee from the airship Dame Fortuna. The first recruit is, necessarily, the airship’s owner: war hero, famed genius, and literal knight in steam-powered armor Sir James Coltrane. Persuading him to lend his talents and refitted airship to the venture requires bringing along his sister, his cousin, and the crew that flew with him against Napoleon. Then they must track down a Scottish rifleman, a pair of shady carnies, and a guide with a personal investment in the stories. When they set out, the wild places of the world – including the far American West, the Australian interior, and darkest Africa – are thought to be hostile enough. No one expects the trip to involve a legendary storm – or the Year Without a Summer of 1815-1816. Additionally, some parties are not at all happy with the post-war political map. Most problematic of all, the crew hired by the other side of the wager seem willing to win by any means necessary. Dawn of Steam: First Light follows these adventurers as they open up the world and lay the foundations for an age of enlightenment and technology to come.
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