**spoiler alert** There's a fantastic story in here. Unfortunately, it's lost under a flood of awkward writing: Angelique's family dramas are only rou**spoiler alert** There's a fantastic story in here. Unfortunately, it's lost under a flood of awkward writing: Angelique's family dramas are only roughly sketched in, Drew's reasons for simultaneously despairing and going through the motions of curse-breaking are never explored, the magic that surrounds Drew's castle suffers from a near-complete lack of world-building, and, sadly, the contortions that the narrative voices go through to mostly avoid using pronouns for Drew are tremendously irritating and not at all mysterious, partly because the reader knows right from the beginning that Drew's "secret" is that she's a woman but mostly because it's so clumsily done that it makes nongendered language into a torturous ordeal of sentence fragments and epithets, which I certainly hope was not the intended message!
On Angelique's family, I feel as though her father could have been drawn in much subtler strokes, with more emphasis on how betrayed he feels by the "weak" people around him and less explicit emphasis on his own weaknesses and greed -- far less is needed, since the entire structure of the story rests on the weakness of the father and since the changes for this interpretation nicely highlight that weakness as greed. (When he dies and no one cares, there should be at least a little pathos!) Angelique's brothers are almost complete ciphers, and Angelique's mother's family gets throwaway lines that are very nearly the only characterization anyone in that family has.
The flashback scene that should have been the heart of Drew's story is barely two pages long, and it's only clear that it is a flashback and not a verbal recounting by the pronoun changes and the lack of quotation marks -- neither of which, I'm sad to say, the editing to that point primed me to read as deliberate rather than accidental -- and, for a searingly traumatic experience, it's almost completely lacking in tension or richness of description. ("Noooo!!! [sic]" is not, young padawan knights aside, dramatic.)
So, all right, we have young Drew, twenty-one years old and raised in glorious isolation by her father to believe that she'll grow up to be Count and marry a nice young girl; we have conniving witchy step-mother who preps Drew's father and then sets up Drew to be disinherited and cast out; we have, again, terribly naive young Drew all alone in this world, believing her family who says she's a monster. Drew spends around fifty years wallowing in a broken heart and severely bruised pride and then at least a hundred more theoretically trying to break the curse but actually setting herself up to be rejected over and over again, thereby proving that her family was right and she was wrong. Great backstory, right? And yet, no. It's astoundingly dull, multiple exclamation points aside.
The curse is never very well drawn, since it seems to consist mostly of saying that Drew will be twenty-one and stuck in a valley on the borders of fairyland until she gets married, but it only takes a little bit of clever wording for Drew to go charging off to Angelique's rescue after all. (Also, fairyland? Well-used to set the scene; completely irrelevant to all of the plot. There was practically an entire cutlery set on the mantelpiece in the first act in order to draw a knife in the third, if you'll allow a cliche. Why are the Old Ones serving Drew? What's the point of the snakes? What are the poachers looking for? Why is Angelique learning magic? We'll never know!) The corresponding curse on the wicked step-mother came completely out of left field; I'm not sure if there were hints of it that I just missed, but with a little more build-up and a little less what-the-heck-just-happened-there the whole setting up for the revenge killing could have been a great ending. As it is, of course you know that Drew's going to shrug and walk out -- the dramatic rescue has already been completed at this point -- but she stands there listening to the step-mother rant for two pages first, probably with the same what-the-heck-crazy-lady look on her face that I had reading it.
I really like what this story could have been, though. It's definitely a fairy-tale retelling with far more to the story than just a clever concept (lesbian Beauty and the Beast!). I'm almost tempted to give it three stars.
(Also? The illustrations in this edition are...well, okay, the little roses are cute and the silhouettes are incomprehensible but still somewhat cute. I think it might be the ridiculously typeset captions on the silhouette illustrations that crack me up: they use some retro-eighties pixelated font that is either a severe typesetting error or some artistic choice which I am completely incapable of understanding. This may be a metaphor for the entire book, actually.)...more
I really love retold fairy tales, but I also have what I think should not be a terribly picky rule: a clever concept is not a substitute for a story.I really love retold fairy tales, but I also have what I think should not be a terribly picky rule: a clever concept is not a substitute for a story. A disappointingly large number of so-called "fractured fairy tales" fail this simple test, and the cover art and blurb for this book were not very promising, to the point where I would not have picked it up at all if I hadn't been rather impressed with this author's book Goblin Quest, which had a clever concept and a very good story. This book does not have a story which is that good; it's decent, but nothing exciting, and frankly if I hadn't already had my expectations lowered by the cover I might not have finished it. On the other hand, there was a lot of heavy exposition coupled with many, many threads left dangling, which means that sequels would be starting from a much nicer place, story-wise. I'll keep an eye out, and in the meantime I don't disrecommend this book to fairy tale fans....more
I picked this book up based on the subtitle touting it as "The Definitive Steampunk Anthology", which will teach me to believe cover blurbs instead ofI picked this book up based on the subtitle touting it as "The Definitive Steampunk Anthology", which will teach me to believe cover blurbs instead of checking reviews! I am not terribly familiar with steampunk, but I think that this collection, while interesting, is highly unlikely to be definitive. Then again, I didn't even read all of it, so perhaps I missed a shining gem.
What I did read was a mixed bag. The good:
"Static" by Marly Youmans combined fantastic world-building with fairy-tale retelling and did it well. I really liked this story and intend to track down more of this author's work immediately.
"Machine Maid" by Margo Lanagan was very, very creepy, mostly in a good way, and the use of the Australian frontier caught my attention, accustomed as I am to American frontier stories.
"Speed, Speed the Cable" by Kage Baker suffered from an ending that lacked all punch, at least for someone like me not well-versed in Victorian historical personages. The body of the story was quite interesting, though.
"Hannah" by Keith Brooke packed a good punch into the end, but the story was only just barely interesting enough to carry me to it.
"Elementals" by Ian R. MacLeod was pointless, and I loathed the main character and his attitude toward all of the other characters. Also, this grammatical construction bothered me immensely: "As I've already said, I have no precise recollection of this first mention of his theory of elementals. Mostly likely, it would have swirled up with many other thoughts and suppositions. Equally likely, it would have been at our club, and probably at that time in the evening when things had started to become enjoyable blurred."
"Steampunch" by James Lovegrove was the opening story in this collection, and it begins like this: "Hoi! Hoi, you! Yes, you, kid. Over here. I want a word. No, don't look like that. I'm not some poncey mandrake, though there's a fair few of them around here, I warn you. I won't be trying to stick my Nebuchadnezzar up your jacksie. Strictly a Lady Laycock fellow, me, always have been." So...that would be a no, then.
There were six more stories left, but -- okay, I can't actually type "I ran out of steam" with a straight face. Sorry!...more