The year is 1880, and Jack Baker is a young, driven student at Harvard University for Engineers. In this America, industry depends on “Creation” rather than machines, and most engineers are train repairmen, not inventors like Jack. Even his Creationist friend Clare thinks Jack’s genius is going to waste at Harvard.
There is one man who knows how to put Jack to use, however: famous novelist and sometimes spy Ellis Graveworthy, who wants Jack to come with him to England and build him a flying ship. Graveworthy has been ordered to cross the heavily-guarded coast of Australia, the “Dead Isle” which has no Creation, and which sealed itself off from the outside world more than twenty years before. Rumors abound that Australia is building a war fleet, intent on conquest, and it’s Graveworthy’s job to stop it.
Clare, exiled from Australia as a child because of her ability to Create, is determined to return to her homeland with Graveworthy and Jack, but their journey is not easy. Along the way the three of them will encounter the pirate Purva de la Fitte, con the wealthiest robber barons in Australia, meet surprising allies, and possibly touch off a long-awaited revolution.
Join Jack, Clare, Ellis, and Purva in an adventure spanning half the globe, in search of the answer to a centuries-old question: Why is there no magic in the Dead Isle?
“How would you like the opportunity to build something nobody’s ever built before, something that would last forever?” Ellis asked, lingering under a street lamp. Jack, ten or twelve steps ahead, stopped as if something had struck him between the shoulders. He was silent, so Ellis continued. “Something that would last forever, not just in reality but in books. History books, textbooks, engineering manuals. Something students would build models of, hundreds of years from now.”
Jack’s left hand moved, as if he were reaching for a handrail that wasn’t there. He turned around, tilting his head, and Ellis came forward.
“How would you like to shake the dust of Harvard off your heels and work for me, Jack?” he asked, moving in close. “How’d you like to build something that really matters?”
“What do you want?” Jack said. Outside of the pool of light thrown by the lanterns, his face was streaked with shadow. His dark blue eyes glittered.
“I want you to build me a flying machine,” Ellis said, pushing his advantage. Jack licked his lips. “I want you to come to England with me and build a Leonardo Engine. Or a new kind of engine. Something that flies, something that even your teachers haven’t dreamed was possible. I need to fly across an ocean, and I want you to build the machine that will do it.”
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