Jani and the Greater Game
by Eric Brown
Solaris Books

After space opera, first-contact science fiction, far-future thrillers and more, prolific West Yorkshire author Eric Brown has now turned his vast imagination on steampunk - and what a ride it is.

For the uninitiated, steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that mostly - though not always - reimagines the Victorian era of exploration and adventure with added steam-powered technology, subtle or major changes to history, and lashings of Boy's Own adventure.

Sometimes steampunk has a hard time because its setting is often the British Empire which, let's face it, was fine if you were English, rich, white and male, but perhaps not so good if you weren't.

Brown, who is originally from Haworth, neatly subverts the worst criticisms of the sub-genre by making his protagonist an 18-year-old Indian young woman, and setting his book - the first in a series - on the Indian sub-continent.

This truly is a fine attempt at injecting some proper diversity into steampunk science fiction. But that's not to say Jani and the Greater Game is purely an exercise in worthiness - it's also a cracking read that fairly rattles along like an out of control steam locomotive.

Janisha Chatterjee - the Jani of the title - is more privileged than many of her countrywomen - she is the daughter of an Indian government minister and is undergoing, as the book starts, an education at Cambridge.

However, her father is desperately ill and Jani makes the journey back to India - by airship, of course, because vast Zeppelins criss-crossing the Victorian skies are one of the staple ingredients of steampunk.

But the airship is attacked and Jani, one of the few survivors, is entrusted with a strange device that plunges her into a madcap adventure that takes her across the sub-continent and into the secrets of the Himalayas.

Brown's world-building is exemplary, and his imagined India - squabbled over by the major powers of Britain, China and Russia - fairly leaps off the page.

He has also put a lot of thought into his steampunk technology - there's no "just stick a few clockwork cogs on it and it'll be steampunk" here - Brown has invented a power source, Annapurnite, which is the basis for the advanced technology that has allowed Britain to have dominion over this alternate world.

It's a thrilling adventure with smartly-observed political undertones and the good news is that Jani is returning for a second adventure, to be published by Solaris this year.

Jani and the Greater Game is not only a fine addition to the steampunk genre but also a successful entry in to Brown's astonishing body of work. He really does get better with every book and deserves to be lauded as one of Britain's foremost science fiction authors.

It will be interesting to see where Brown takes Jani next and what fresh insights we get into the fascinating alternate-history he has created.