An alternative history novel set in Victorian Europe, the discovery of a new fuel source which kick starts a new industrial revolution and leaves The British Empire as the dominant force in the world. Ordinarily I'd avoid such obvious steampunk tropes but Baxter has a good track record and so I went in with an open mind.
Interestingly he seems to have chosen to write in the style of the period, at least to my minuscule knowledge of the adventure stories of Wells and Verne it is anyway, which whilst being an interesting novelty became quite tedious relatively quickly. His characters, especially the protagonist, had no depth to them and I struggled to sustain interest in them. Ned Vicars is such a dullard of a man, your stereotypical Victorian English gentlemen braggart and buffoon, on such narrow shoulders a narrative should not be hung.
After such heavy work as the first three books in the Xeelee sequence it must have been a pleasant change for Baxter to attempt an exercise in frivolousness but it certainly wasn't pleasant to read for this fan.