Cower not, fierce reader! This day, I am glad to say, my faith in Castalia House has been largely restored(see my review of Starship Liberator for details). I actually decided to try Mr. Cheah's novel based on the responses of a few friends. Anyway, let's take a look and see what darkness lies within!
In some ways quite possibly most offensive to the SocJus crowd might be the alternate religious background of this story. While very clearly fictional, it also is very much based on real world religions, with one being clearly based on Islam, and multiple being based on aspects of Christianity and also Judaic and even Pagan traditions. However, only Islam is clearly represented.
Why do I bring this up as an offense? Spoiler: the Islamic world is being run by bad guys, very similar to ISIS in fact. The spiritual beings in this world do not simply sit still, but instead are preparing for conflict, getting actors for themselves, for they would possibly break the world.
Another point of offense is the presentation of his alternate Europe. Very much like modern Europe, parts of it are run by weak and useless capitulators, and parts by strong people that want to remain who they are. And who doesn't love Paris this time of year?
Anyway, there's also a solid and at least fairly consistent magic system, well written small combat using such, espionage, romance, and an airship. So yeah, there's not much not to like.
Oh, wait. We've got that representation of Islam bit. Yeah, we've got a bad guy with a harem, who beats his women, discards them when he's bored, and well, is a bit of a mastermind. Yeah, it's ok to not like him, he's the BAD GUY. Ah, yes, an antagonist that is clearly evil. Hm. Nope, that doesn't work for the SocJus crowd, especially with his observance of what is clearly HIGHLY based on Islam.
My only negative criticism is that Mr. Cheah, being from Singapore, doesn't quite get all of his idioms right. That said, he does an excellent job; and there are SO many fully native speakers that don't do as well that I want to weep. While I wouldn't call it alt-history like Vox in his Dragon nominations post, I can see why it should be in the running. 8 of 10 fell deeds.
When you play Social Justice, the world loses.