Charlotte and Tash have escaped the clutches of the Matriarchy (for the moment) and discovered the ruins that are all that’s left of Arslan, an ancient city several thousand years old. Which is great, but … what now? With nothing to do but go forward, they begin a slow exploration of the tunnels and ruined landscape, only to find the crash site of a Matriarchy ship. An old ship; a ship built along utilitarian lines, not the sleek, elegant, and decorated designs of the modern Liberty Thips, like Charlotte’s own.
With no better ideas, Charlotte sets her ship down to explore, only for some powerful force to drain all of the magic away. Tash is now inert, nothing more than a beautiful automaton, and Charlotte is alone in the dark with scorpion-tailed lions haunting in the shadows, machinery made of the same delicate plating Tash is made of, whose gears are as familiar to Charlotte — a Matriarchy-raised aviatrix — as her own hands. But this is old, and the design completely unfamiliar.
What is this place? What mysteries does it hold? And has Charlotte found safety, or only more danger?
This second book in the Tales of the Tantric Aviatrix series picks up where the last book ended, and explores with more thoughtfulness the idea of agency — Tash is a creation of gears and metal, not human; she is bound to obey Charlotte due to her programming so how much consent can she give? Where do you draw the line between property and person? It also examines the reality of the manipulation Charlotte entered into when she used Arlan, the male personality within Tash’s complex mind, using his body against him in order to charge her dying ship.
Charlotte isn’t all that thoughtful of a person. She’s more action oriented, happier when she’s able to physically fix a broken object than when she has to sit with herself and her own thoughts, her own failures biting at her, her own smallness reflected back. Appreciating Tash as a person doesn’t undo the treatment of her as a thing, and not meaning it doesn’t take back the words she said in anger. Charlotte, after the betrayal of her ex-wife, still hasn’t settled that grief or that pain. And she knows it’s not fair of her to put the burden of that weight, all that emotional baggage on Tash, who doesn’t even know what or who she is.
Tash isn’t as much in the limelight here as Arlan is, the male intelligence sharing the body with Tash. According to him the body is his, but somehow during the thousands of years while he wasn’t awake or aware, his mechanical body was made to host this second awareness. The fact that his own autonomy is gone, as Tash is bound to obey Charlotte, the fact that he’s lost his memories as his circuits are made to give way to Tash, that he’s lost his life in favor of someone giving Tash hers, leaves him angry and helpless, grieving for what he lost and can never get back. Such as the man he loved whose memory Charlotte used against him.
While the three of them struggle to find footing (thought Tash and Arlan aren’t conscious at the same time), both as individuals with their own pain and as a group in order to save themselves, they’re also left with the discovery of this ancient temple and what it means. And I loved every part of it. The exploration of grief, shame, and the need for Tash to stand up for herself, for Arlan to let Charlotte know that what she did to him was wrong, and for Charlotte to apologize and to realize that the apology wasn’t about her? So good.
”Any apology that has the word ‘but’ in it isn’t worth the ass saying it.”
The world building is so well done, as the mystery is slowly unspooled, with hints and herrings and the revelation of the magic system beyond sex metals that need sex by sexy people to charge with sex power. The first book was more tongue in cheek, but this book is wonderfully grounded (for a book about airships and tantric magic) and I enjoyed every moment. I can’t wait for the next book in the series!