REVIEW: “Zilal and the Many-Folded Puzzle Ship” by Charlotte Ashley

Review of Charlotte Ashley, “Zilal and the Many-Folded Puzzle Ship”, Podcastle: 502 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

I was amused by this clever adventure story about a girl, her ship-building skills, and the lengths she’s willing to go to get some make-out time with the boy she likes. In an early modern, somewhat clock-punky alternate history, a gateway to another world opens on the ocean offshore from Mogadishu. Official powers are interesting in controlling access, but Zilal, whose clever ability to design mechanisms and ships with surprising features has already begun building her reputation, sees it as a useful place to slip away to with the object of her affection. When they find out why those official guards might be a good idea, Zilal’s “foldable” ship comes in very handy for rescue.

A great deal of the narrative sketches out the ship’s features and their mechanics, but it’s done with a light hand and interspersed with bits of romantic comedy. There is an amusing gender-reversal aspect to the story, as Zilal’s boyfriend fills out the role of somewhat naive “damsel” while Zilal is the genius inventor. As the podcast’s framing material indicates, the story is part of the worldbuilding for a shared-world narrative, but it stands alone quite well.