High 3ish territory, rounded up to a 4. I did a video review of this, which can be found here, but some things I mentioned (and some things I forgot t...moreHigh 3ish territory, rounded up to a 4. I did a video review of this, which can be found here, but some things I mentioned (and some things I forgot to mention): * This was a bit like an action movie with a lot if pithy one-liners, that manages to still be fun despite, or because of, how cheesy it is * Aileana is bloodthirsty, which make her atypical and interesting, but sometimes the choices are strange. I'm all for an anti-hero or simply dubious hero, but she calls her hunted "victims," and what she does "murder," which makes it harder to like her. Again, not because she's an anti-hero, but because of how she sees herself, and how much she likes it, makes her seem psychopathic. Strange writer choice. ... It's not that I dislike her gleeful bloodlust as a rule; I like anti-heroes, I like explorations of darkness. It's more that it didn't quite fit with the overall. It didn't quite ring true; it felt a little forced. But as the story goes on, the layers are peeled away and you get to know her better, and it starts to work. Becomes less cheesy and more realistic. * It could use less obviousness in the relationships, though I couldn't help but like them, and like the male lead, even if it was a little obvious and predictable. * It wears the trappings of steampunk more than feeling like a true representation of steampunk. Everything's a little too easy, and the steampunk aspects don't really permeate the world in the way I'd like them to. * I almost gave up in the beginning, BUT I'm glad I didn't, because I enjoyed it, and will definitely read the next book. (less)
Err, I didn't realize the third book was out. Scratch that, I didn't realize there was a third book; I still haven't read the 2nd. As much as I loved...moreErr, I didn't realize the third book was out. Scratch that, I didn't realize there was a third book; I still haven't read the 2nd. As much as I loved book one, I need to get on that.(less)
3.5ish. Stormdancer was one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of this year, between the excellent premise and the endless rave reviews I kept seeing...more3.5ish. Stormdancer was one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of this year, between the excellent premise and the endless rave reviews I kept seeing of it - but it almost didn't make it out of the gate. (less)
"[Is] that wise? Having a mess of seedling evil geniuses falling in love with you willy-nilly? What if they feel spurned?" "Ah, but in the interim, think of the lovely gifts they can make you. Monique bragged that one of her boys made her silver and wood hair sticks as anti-supernatural weapons. With amethyst inlay. And another made her an exploding wicker chicken." "Goodness, what's that for?" Dimity pursed her lips. "Who doesn't want an exploding wicker chicken?"
I have to say, I was equal parts excited and trepidatious* when my fave awesome person at Little, Brown asked me if I wanted to be part of the blog tour for this. I loved Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, but was concerned about how she would make the transition to YA, especially after my friend Elizabeth's reaction... That gave me pause. FORTUNATELY, I have to (politely, maybe) disagree with E. on this one. Yes, it was a little heavy handed at first, and was missing some of the magic that came with Alexia's narration and her fabulous personality - but it worked, and in the end I quite liked it.
I'm a pretty firm believer that you don't have to change your style/writing much (if at all) when you change age levels - there's no need to "write down" to kids (especially in this case, as the Parasol Protectorate series was a highly popular cross-over - Pretty much remove the steamy Victorian sexytimes and you're good to go). But the beginning of the book seemed like Carriger was going to write down to her audience and point things out in a really obtrusive way (as if they couldn't possibly put things together all on their own...), and that has got to be my number one I-will-throw-you-against-the-wall-you-just-see-if-I-don't pet peeve. Even as a kid, I found it highly insulting; you've got to have faith in your audience, and faith in yourself as a storyteller that you're doing fine - you don't have to handhold, and if you do feel the need to, you're not telling it right. But either the handholding was just a brief blip, or I got used to it, because the rest of the book slipped into the quirky, upper-crusty, hilariously Missish storytelling I'd grown to love in the Parasol Protectorate.
Etiquette & Espionage - much like the PP series, or Sorcery & Cecelia, and others of its kind - thrusts readers into a strange** world, very like ours and yet decidedly not, and then relies on an irrepressible but pragmatic narrator to guide the ship*** and draw readers along on a whisper of curiosity and charm. After Elizabeth's unfavorable reaction, I did something I generally don't do, which is look into reviews of a book right before I'm set to read it. (I don't want to be biased, so I typically avoid them - but I had to know if it was going to be a dud! I needed to brace myself if that was the case...) One of the complaints I saw most about this book was about the characters, actually - a lack of connection to them, a dislike for them, etc. And though I can see a tendency toward stockness about them, I didn't ever find myself disliking them - especially Sophronia and some of her more unlikely companions. I loved her fearlessness-bordering-on-recklessness quite a bit, and her intelligence and composure, and I think she'd keep me entertained over the course of a series by dint of that alone. But beyond that, I found that the characters manage to be both well-suited to their AU Victorian England and to a modern audience looking for characters a little less demure and a little more spirited, and that's really all I could ask of them. I was curious, and I was charmed.
Etiquette & Espionage turned out to be a very fun, very YA-appropriate expansion of Carriger's world. Set earlier than PP, there are all sorts of little easter eggs for readers already familiar with the world (traditions, characters at a younger age, or before big events, etc.), which made it fun on a level that works without being obtrusive - readers who aren't familiar with the world won't feel confused or like they're missing anything, but will have bits of handy background should they choose to move on to the other series. The world of Carriger's steampunky England is expanded in some ways by this spin-off, though I think for the most part, as it largely takes place in such a very insular location (a boarding school on a dirigible, for realsies), some readers may feel the lack of variation and be disappointed. Personally, I liked being able to explore a more confined world in depth, and on the few instances when they went offship, plenty of hijinks ensued to balance it out. Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality was a good starting point, not overwhelming the reader with the alternate universe, but providing a good foundation for it. And while I'm not panting for the next books, as I was with the first few of the Protectorate, I look forward to seeing where the world expands from Mlle. Geraldine's over the course of the series.
* Spellcheck needs to stop telling me "trepidatious" isn't a word. If the OED says it is, then it is. **Both from a historical and a contemporary point of view ***I'mma just go ahead and mix all the metaphors I can, mmmkay? [Please note: the opening quote is from the ARC of Etiquette & Espionage, and as such may be different in the finished version - or not there at all. Though I hope that isn't the case, as it tickled me immensely.](less)
Oh, The Iron Duke. Where do I even begin? I guess first I should thank Velvet for being so amazeballs and sending th...moreThis is a long damn review. Sorry.
Oh, The Iron Duke. Where do I even begin? I guess first I should thank Velvet for being so amazeballs and sending this to me (thanks, V!). I overcame my loathing of "chestical" covers to read this due to its inclusion of steampunk zombies, and for all that it is flawed, I have to say I enjoyed (nearly) every minute of it.
Forgive me, then, for starting with the things I not-so-much liked. The titular character, the Iron Duke, is...rapey. If you don't read a lot of romance in this vein, you may not get the distinction of what I am about to say, or why it bothered me: Romance (historical, paranormal, urban, doesn't matter) is very densely populated with "alpha male" characters. Sometimes they work and you love them for being flawed and domineering, but ultimately protective and cuddle-able. These aren't men you'd date in real life, but they are good for warming up a cold night. (A cold night curled up with a book, people.) Sometimes they don't work, and you see them for the d-bags they are. They're too cocky, too domineering, and too handsy - in a number of ways, not all of them good - to ever really feel comfortable with. They've had one too many slices of testosteroni and they come off more skeevy than smexy.
And then there's the Duke. The simple fact is, he takes d-baggery to a different level. But really only where sex is concerned. In most respects he's an interesting character - he's a former/would-be-again pirate, and sort of one of the more terrifying guys around, so you'd expect a little roughness. But where all that is concerned, he's kind of likeable. Despite his unhealthy and turn-offish penchant for looking at everything and everyone he values as his "possession", he actually seems to have a fair few things going for him. He's smart, he's strong, he's good looking in a threatening, scowlish way. He sees through bullshit, fights for what he loves or believes in, and doesn't seem to comprehend, let alone care about, deal-breaker flaws like racism, etc. There are things about him to like.
But then Mina comes into the picture and his possessive tendencies go into overdrive. Apparently the man cannot be gentle for more than 2 seconds; any longer and he must push Mina against a wall or threaten to shag her brains out. And I do mean threaten; sometimes throaty growls of this nature can be sexy, but the Duke's all seem to imply "whether you like it or not" - Mina doesn't really seem to have a say in the matter; for the Duke it is a foregone conclusion. [Also, PSA: "shag" is about the un-sexiest sex-related word ever. And it was used SO MANY TIMES. And then again in the next book I read. Can we all just agree that, unless you are talking about carpet or you are this man, shag should be excised from your vocabulary.]
Ok, so lest you think I'm just being sensitive to this issue, let me make things a little clearer: Mina has been raped before, and lives her life in fear of beatings and rapes because of who she is. She is justifiably terrified of sex. Like, full-blown panic attacks, terrified. And the Duke knows this. And still with the rape-iness. And I was even willing to kind of go with this thinking that it was going to be a bit of a redemptive story, with the Duke opening up and learning how to be a little more gentle and understanding as he learns to love. And he does learn to love, I have no doubt of his affection for Mina. But his sexuality takes ardent and intimidating over the line into downright scary, all the way to the end of the book. He never really changes, and that was a letdown.
On the minor issues side, there were a lot of copy-editing mistakes for a finished book, and I couldn't help but let it annoy me near the end. Things would be going along fine and then BAM, glaring mistake. There were things that were really forced as well, like the fact that every one calls the Iron Duke 'the Iron Duke' to his face. Seemed a little weird for the Victorian-ish society, which is so particular about address, since it's really a nickname, and not always one said with love. The Duke's treatment of Mina and their doubt of each other, their constant misunderstandings, etc, seemed forced too, and were very obviously plot devices.
But despite all this, I ate this book up. I know, I know, you're saying how can you write so much negative crap and then say "I liked it, you should read it"? Like this:
I liked it, you should read it.
What can I say? Like the Duke, it was flawed, but the fact of the matter is, it's still a good damn book! Meljean Brook can write, and in a genre that's often very fluffy, this one has some definite substance to it. The world building was just fantastic - I read the synopsis and thought "Zombies? Steampunk? Victoriana? Piracy? Politics? Smut? Racism and women's lib? Kraken and megalodons? Adventures and inspectings? Nano-technology? There's no way this is all going to work together." BUT IT DID. I can't really call this book any one of those many, many things - it's each of them in nearly equal measure, and it's kind of incredible for it. All of these potentially extreme parts worked together harmoniously to build a world that was fascinating and wholly different from ours, and yet still believable. Each thing seemed like it belonged. Brook understands that no matter how far-fetched your world, you still have to have rules, you still have to have stakes, and actions have to have consequences. You have to set your limits and, though you may push them, you can never break them if you want the reader to buy your world or care at all. I bought it and I cared.
And despite the rapiness of the Duke at times, there are other times where it's just plain good and smexy. Brook doesn't hold back, and there is a shockingly large usage of the word 'cock' for a Victorian-ish society. And what's even more shocking is that it didn't seem all that out of place. Brook's Victorian-like London is changed enough that there is good reason to believe people a bit more uninhibited and accepting of things like this. But most of all, Mina is kick ass. I love her and I rooted for her and I want to read more of her adventures. A book like this basically hinges on the male and female leads, and where the Duke was a bit of a bother for me, Mina made up for it in spades. She's dynamic and she grows throughout the story, opening up and confronting things and learning to embrace who she is. It's lovely. And it's worth it to read this book just for the scene where Mina slides down a rope from an airship and takes on a giant effing Kraken. I'm sorry if that was a built spoilery, but come on! That would have made it into the teaser trailer if this were a movie, so I feel no shame in sharing.
So yeah. There you have it. It's not without its flaws, and some big ones at that, but for all that it may really bother some people, a lot more are going to find things to love in it. I normally pick up a book and say "Ugh, another series?" even when it sounds interesting, but this one I'm actually glad is the first of a series - I'm eager to see more of Mina's world. (less)
Olivia is Damned; a vampiric fallen angel of desire, she feeds off the living seeing herself only as they see her in their lust, longing to know what...moreOlivia is Damned; a vampiric fallen angel of desire, she feeds off the living seeing herself only as they see her in their lust, longing to know what she really looks like and who she really is. Dominic is Cursed, a brilliant neuroscientist working to discover a way to erase memories so that he can rid himself of his deep, dark secret: memories of centuries of past lives and loves that he shouldn't have, shouldn't be able to remember. When both find themselves drawn to Ireland, to the underground L'Otel Matthilide, the Hotel of the Damned, their worlds collide. Will these two desperately lonely, searching beings complete each others worlds, or tear them apart?
I know what you're thinking: there is a glut of vampire books out there, and fallen angels are closing in fast. And you're right. There certainly are. But and Falling, Fly is a different take; it really is its own thing. With a touch of the eroticism that marks the adult vamp books, a basis in mythology and religion, a whiff of steampunk, and a heavy smattering of literary allusions, AFF stands apart as a bit of a thinking-persons vampire book. But let's be honest: you'd still read it even if it weren't. We as a culture are obsessed with the vampire mythos. And with the angel mythos, for that matter (and we especially like our angels fallen). So let's just get to it, shall we?
There were things I loved and things I didn't, but the good outweighed the bad. Characters: Dominic and Olivia are fascinating, completely able to carry the story. They both live on the fringes of their worlds. Unlike her sisters, Olivia is tired of being what she is. She wants more from life* and she's taking steps to get it. But it's one of those situations where you can't force it, but you can't help but force it, and that is interesting and relatable to read. She's so strong, but so desperately lonely, and even though she feeds off people and is sort of dark, you can't help but feel for her. It is lovely watching her come awake to the world and begin shedding her hard shell. All she wants is a new beginning. Dominic is brilliant and haunted, and capable of such amazing love, but he's terrified to let it in because he has memories of lifetimes worth of love dying and dying and dying. His position is heartbreaking, and all he wants is an end. When these two come together, it's lovely to see, and Skyler White wisely doesn't make it easy. I don't want to give anything away, but she uses cosmic irony to great effect in this story, of which I am a fan.
The side characters are interesting, too, and flesh out the story nicely. As a reader, you can see things that the characters don't, and you can watch the pieces fall into place, for good or ill, while the characters blithely play their parts. It adds a nice layer of tension, and the characters don't seem obtuse to not see what's coming.**
World: Another thing I really liked was the world building. White did extensive research, and it shows. The world is believable even when unbelievable, if that makes sense. Even within L'Otel Matthilide, where all the things that shouldn't exist but do come for a holiday, everything is grounded in reality enough that it rings true. The hotel itself is a fascinating mix of old-world Europe and new-world punkishness, trimmed in steampunk and steeped in all Ireland has to offer. I could visualize it just enough that it was present and fascinating but still enough of a mystery that I wanted to see it for myself.
Romance: It's there. Olivia is a fallen angel of desire, after all, and Dominic is a brainy beefcake. There's a good balance of chemistry and passion, and reluctance and leeriness. The two are combustible in a very nice way. There's a nice edgy eroticism to the story, too, that adds a nice element.
Language: White's writing is often very lyrical and poetic, and sprinkled with allusions, as I said. Here is where the bad(ish) comes in. Though I did like this for the most part, there is some trouble in having a very poetical style in a prose piece. Some things just don't work outside of stanzas, and that was occasionally the case here. Sometimes the poetic style was lovely and visual and striking. But there were times, too, when the poetic phrasing just felt off or confusing or clunky. Sometimes, when trying to turn a beautiful phrase, the meaning was lost and I had to read a few passages over a few times before I got the heart of it. I think some of this might just be the result of this being White's debut. But for the most part, this wasn't much of an issue, and it became less so as the story went on, but I anticipate some readers have trouble with it, especially as some struggle with poetry and poetic phrasing in general. Same goes with the allusions. Though I caught a ton of them and didn't have much trouble, I am sure there are going to be people (those who hate with a fiery passion the game Trivial Pursuit) who just don't get the references and perhaps get a little lost. This isn't necessarily an issue; if you're not the type to like poetry and/or allusions, you probably wouldn't read this one. I just thought it bore mentioning, as people want to know these things going in. (<-- and I suppose while I'm on the topic of advanced warning, if you don't like sexually charged stories***, you may want to skip this one.)
* I use the term loosely, of course. ** Not that all readers will, either. White does make you work for some things, and I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. *** Quick test: how do you feel about the word 'cock'? If you just cringed, skip this. If you sat up straighter and said 'where?' go out and grab a copy.(less)