I first found this novel through my mom's Reader's Digest. Then I bought the 'special offer' edition, and the second through fourth books in the serie...moreI first found this novel through my mom's Reader's Digest. Then I bought the 'special offer' edition, and the second through fourth books in the series. At some point I donated the first two, bought the last one and then returned it.
I didn't actually read the whole book last night, I started on chapter four, since I'd read up to that point when I bought the book (again).
Frankly, the Reader's Digest edition of this novel, if not better than the original, definitely plays to the strengths: the characters and the action. It's a little pulpy, but Thomas definitely takes on a different perspective of Victorian London, populated by outsiders. Barker, the primary detective having very strong ties to China, Llewelyn (obviously) Welsh, the Jewish butler (who's pretty fantastic), and French cook.
There's a lot to enjoy in Some Danger Involved, though if you're familiar with history, much of this won't surprise you. Much of the text of the novel covers habits and little quirks of London that still don't add much to the setting, and I think were probably what were condensed out of R.D. Still, it's a strong mystery and Thomas definitely knows his setting. (less)
When I picked it up in January, I got about half-way through Heart of Darkness and got nothing out of it. As I read, I could hardly tell what was goin...moreWhen I picked it up in January, I got about half-way through Heart of Darkness and got nothing out of it. As I read, I could hardly tell what was going on.
This may have been because I wasn't paying attention.
Actually, that is exactly the reason. I was treating it like an assignment. When I picked up the book again, the second half of Heart of Darkness was far more interesting, and then The Secret Sharer was pretty cool too. I mean, the stories are a little odd, about somewhat odd characters. But once I finished The Secret Sharer, I went back and reread Heart of Darkness from the beginning and all in one go. That helped a lot.
Interesting, mysterious, nice description. Worth reading, and at least I don't have to stare at it unread on my shelf, or regret owning it in the first place.
However, what is with the sky and sea welded together "without a joint"(paraphrased)? I liked it well enough in Heart of Darkness, but then it showed up again in The Secret Sharer and really stood out, for that reason alone.(less)
Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever.
These first words, both on the front flap and front page, are the reason I picked up The Somnam...more
Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever.
These first words, both on the front flap and front page, are the reason I picked up The Somnambulist and raised my hopes.
Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed.
What with such a promising voice and the subject matter--Victoriana, such possibilities!--I expected a lot more...exuberance, I think is the word. Instead, despite the promise of "no literary merit", it's written in a literary style. Which, quite frankly, isn't very Victorian or pulp.
The title is misleading too. Yes, there is "the Somnambulist" but he was more a Chekhov's gun than a character. He was introduced early, and brought back in the last few pages, but for the most part entirely forgotten in the middle.
Actually, the middle was just about a turning point. Barnes had a fairly interesting story set up in the beginning, and then the book just seemed to lose focus. Large casts can be interesting, but this book should have been Moon's story, and the Somnabulist should have had a reason for being there other than the Deus ex Machina. So character after character just kept being introduced, far too late for a reader to truly care, and only in time to confuse the plot and weaken the sense of suspense.
What's almost worse is that Barnes kept lampshading these weaknesses:
They were in a bubble there, the giant thought, far removed from the world outside, and on hearing Gillman speak, he felt as though someone's else's story, some other narrative, were impinging itself, suddenly and without warning, upon there own.
Well, I for one, couldn't keep track of which story was actually being told. I often enjoy metafictional devices, but here it felt they were only used to highlight the story's weaknesses, those I was trying to ignore.
The narrative structure also distracted from the story. Complicated narrative voices can work, but this has a first person narrator telling a story in third person; not, ostensibly, about Moon, the first character (who's not a corpse-in-waiting) we meet, or the Somnambulist, who only occasionally gets a POV, or even the narrator--though I think at the end we're supposed to think so. Given the early set up--the narrator, Moon, and the Somnambulist, suddenly around chapter 10 and to the end, another half dozen characters all get POV time.
And while I found the narrator occasionally amusing--after the first chapter, I did laugh once or twice, the big reveal of his identity left me cold. At that point, I knew it wasn't any POV character so far, nor any of the previous 'big three', so I knew it was going to be just another character.
And after the reveal, the story lost most of it's momentum and immediacy, which is a shame because that's when most of the action actually happened, not to mentioned the horror. (view spoiler)[A child is found beaten to death, and it was dull. (hide spoiler)] And the narrator was just obnoxious, rather than amusing.
There were plenty of well-placed elements of the grotesque that added to the atmosphere. Ms. Puggsley's, was a fantastic invention. Barnes did a good job with the female character, letting them be characters, and none of them were just what they should be as females. Unfortunately, none of them were particularly significant characters, though Charlotte should have been.
"Curious, is it not, how it is often the worst sceptics and bitterest cynics who become the most zealous of us all" And the transition of that character's story mostly works, though we don't see it.
(view spoiler)[Speight's sign though...if you don't see that coming...but his character was actually well done--like the canary in the coal mine. He's well done in that it's subtly done (hide spoiler)]
Now, The Somnambulist is well written, but somehow I felt that it held the work back. Earlier, I said it should have been exuberant. The Somnambulist can't be human! Moon is past his prime, but London is going to be destroyed! Why all the literary sophistication, when 1) the narrator is "without any ability to enthral the reader, to beguile with narrative tricks"; and 2) it's too slow for the subject. It's supposed to play with the ideas of Doyle (which is explicitly pointed out in the text), Poe, Wilke Collins and even Mary Shelley--at least according to one of the blurbs. By rights, it ought to be a little fun.
This is undoubtedly because it was a stylistic choice--fair warning, at the end the narrator tells the story behind the story:
I feel sure that my skill has grown with the tale's telling and I am concerned that the opening sections must seem amateurish and crude in comparison with later chapters. I have repeatedly asked if I might not be allowed the complete manuscript, if only for an hour or two, so that I might make some revisions and clarifications from which the work can only benefit. To date, they have denied my every request
But I can't enjoy literary posturing just for the sake of literary posturing. Metafiction can be fun, but only when there's enough of a story to rest on.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
When I was reading, this book didn't earn more than two stars, and barely that, but after I set it down, I felt I should give it three. Why?
I keep pu...moreWhen I was reading, this book didn't earn more than two stars, and barely that, but after I set it down, I felt I should give it three. Why?
I keep putting off my actual review, mostly because I'm lazy. But also because I'm a little conflicted as to what to say.
Well, first, this book is shelved under "Mystery" at the local library, and not YA. And I don't think it's meant to be young adult, despite the 11-year-old heroine. Yes, she's young, but the construction of the story follows adult mystery series tropes pretty much by rote, and it simply doesn't *feel* like a YA read. (Sorry, it's been a few days since I read it, so I don't know what I mean by that.)
That conceit convinced me to check it out. But the execution lost my suspension of disbelief. I wanted to believe: when Flavia's sisters tell her that she was adopted and claim their mother brought baby pictures to the orphanage for reference, it was a genuine sibling prank. We told my youngest brother he was dropped off by aliens, but the orphanage story is good. However, that's all we get in the sibling relationship department for more than 300 pages. While Flavia has exactly one instance of sisterly affection, it's over in just a few pages. For a first person novel, Flavia has remarkably limited reflection or concern.
Which brings me to the main problem I had with this novel. Flavia sounds less like a girl fascinated by chemistry, and more like a sociopath. See, when I read "eleven-year-old Flavia, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison," I thought she just liked the sciences. Instead, Bradley seems to have meant a child genius. Except, even for a genius, Flavia has few emotional reactions to anything. And as for a mystery-type story about a child sociopath? I Am Not A Serial Killer did it better.(view spoiler)[ And yes, I think she's a sociopath. She literally terrorizes her sister Daphne by shoving her around on the library ladder; when Daphne says "'Sometimes you scare me,'" Flavia considers replying that she sometimes scares herself, but "then [she] remembered that silence can sometimes do more damage than words." p 129. That she truly frightened her sister doesn't bother her at all, especially since she can use it to her advantage. If she'd had even a momentary regret, ever... (hide spoiler)]
Flavia does not read like a real child. Not because she's too cynical (that could be done well), but because Bradley finds it necessary to keep reminding the reader at least every other page. If, after Flavia blew off her sister near the end, she still felt some vestige of affection, I might not have been so bother. This is a a series; maybe Bradley just doesn't want to bother with actual character development.
It's not just Flavia. Overall, the characters are weak. The supporting characters:
Father: distant, likes stamps Harriet: dead mother (hopefully sequel bait, otherwise her presence in Flavia's narration is far too intrusive) Ophelia: oldest sister, attractive, plays piano Daphne: middle sister, reads melodrama (therefore wants to be a writer & melodramatic), irrelevant Various villagers: quirky and deliver plot points Inspector Hewitt: required skeptical detective Dogger: the faithful dog (only he's supposed to be a person; his character really bothered me by the end)
To switch it up, let's talk about the mystery. As I said, this fits perfectly well into the traditional model of the cozy mystery, or is at least a subset of that genre. I don't read a lot of any particular genres, and it's been a while since I read a lot of the mystery genre particularly. However, I'd say The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is fairly good mystery read. There isn't really a lot of suspense, and the guilty party was pretty obvious as soon as he popped up, but Flavia does lots of nosing and poking around, as befits any amateur detective.
I've been complaining a lot, but that's probably where this book earned the third star. If you are willing to accept Flavia's character, you'll probably find it an enjoyable read. I don't want to sound like your undiscerning reader if you accept her, I'm just even more cynical than she is. ;)
But Flavia does have it too easy. No one objects to Flavia, whether they ought to or not, even whether they have reason or not. Any difficulty she might have with a witness is resolved with in a few paragraphs. (view spoiler)[Mary Stoker works at the inn where the victim stayed, and Flavia needs her help. Apparently someone "crept up behind her" at the inn, and it reads like an assault of some kind, and at any rate, Mary is uncomfortable with it, and Flavia tries to use it against her. Mary also resents Flavia for class differences and her sister Ophelia. And there's this passage:
I detected instantly that she didn't like me. It's a fact of life that a girl can tell in a flash if another girl likes her. ...Between girls there is a silent and unending flow of invisible signals, like the high-frequency wireless messages between the shore and the ships at sea, and this secret flow of dots and dashes was signaling that Mary detested me (p 85).
But because Flavia is the main character, Mary just rolls over and offers the information she needs, risking her job to do so. Because Flavia is spunky.
(Also, because I am female, and Bradley is a middle-aged man, that block quote bothers me for other reasons.)
Back to Flavia's lack of opposition. She's allowed in the jail to see her father because she bullies Inspector Hewitt (who is by the way, otherwise the most convincing character, mostly because he tries to oppose Flavia). Her father gives in, and gives her a full account of his back story, because she can't find it any other way (which is to say, Bradley can't write around it, but I found the set up unconvincing). Dr. Kissing has that last piece of the puzzle Flavia needs to solve the mystery, but doesn't approve of woman. He's also in a nursing home. However, he knows all the circumstances (so Flavia doesn't have to recap for him) and forgives her for being female because she insults her sister? I'm not sure why Bradley felt it necessary to make getting information so easy for Flavia, but I would much rather have read about her struggle to be a detective in an adult world, while actually being a child, not getting an automatic pass. (hide spoiler)]
Also, Flavia is something of a brat. Should you know her in real life, she'd be terribly unlikable, perhaps why I never warmed up to her, since I probably would have been her victim.
Which reminds me: Flavia considers herself a chemist. She's such an awesome chemist that she never has any problems with her chemistry, such as blowing things up, or poisoning herself (at least, not by the time this novel takes place). But I thought I remembered something about how she didn't like general reading. And she wasn't supposed to know much about the village. Yet throughout the novel, Flavia constantly makes literary references of all sorts, and knows all kinds of village history, at least until she interacts with another character, and needs another clue for the scavenger hunt of a mystery.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie supposedly takes place 1950 at "Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia's family calls home." Despite that setting, Bradley included remarkably little atmosphere. His descriptions are sericeable, but failed to make me feel like I was there. Half the time, I forgot this wasn't supposed to take place today.
One last note. First person can be an artificial point-of-view choice, especially in the past tense. Because the reader is in the head of the narrator, but the narrator has obviously already been through the experiences they're narrating. So where's the suspense? Usually, I'm willing enough to accept the premise, though I tend not to like first person in general. This novel has something of an odd first person premise: at times Flavia seems to be reflecting as her older self, but it's also presented with immediacy (she doesn't have the benefit of future knowledge).
Was I jealous of Ophelia's memories? Did I resent them? I don't believe I did; it ran far deeper than that. In rather an odd way, I despised Ophelia's memories of our mother (p 4).
Ten o'clock had come and gone, and still I couldn't sleep. Mostly, when the light's out I'm a lump of lead, but tonight was different. I lay on my back, hands clasped behind my head, reviewing the day (p 22)
unless talking about her characterization. Bradley tends to use the discrepency to characterize Flavia's quirkiness, but it tends to stop the plot and it simply isn't very vivid.
Overall, despite the difference in age, Flavia really is a fairly typical heroine of the series mystery. The mystery is traditional, and I think works well enough for its genre. If you like series mysteries on the more "cozy" side, you might like this. And I confess, it does have a nice title.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Dan says it pretty much exactly how I wish I could.
There may be spoilers?
I think the best way to respond to this book is by naming as many ways that I thought it could have been improved while reading it.
Firstly, this book is, in essence, structured through a frame narrative: We are introduced to a innkeeper Kote and several local villagers. They aren't important (although two show up at the very, very end so you need to keep track anyway). Mysterious bad things show up that the incredulous locals do not believe in, but Kote goes out and slaughters the not-demons anyway, because he knows better. Unfortunately for Kote, a famed storyteller (or something) shows up and announces he knows of Kote's secret past as Kvothe, the Hero who is so Heroic most people don't believe he really existed, despite the fact that his heroics took place not even five years ago.
Don't ask me.
So Kvothe gives in to the storyteller and agrees to tell his story. For some reason this skinny guy with no particular prowess or even equivalent intellectual power still out-manuvers the hero. Well, the reason is otherwise we wouldn't have the story, short of it being written entirely in first person. Turns out Kvothe was born a genius--a proper genius, not just smart, but literally brillaint--into some kind of travelling entertainment troupe. His parents loved him and he ended up with a tutor in magic who is put on a bus and as yet not heard from again. He gets a lot of page time for such an abrupt dismissal, but there you are. Then the parents and the rest of the troupe are murdered by the Chandrian, which is ostensibly Kvothe's driving motive. Except the 11-year-old Kvothe instead runs away to the forest for a year, then to the city for three more.
At which point we reach a major theme of the novel which is, if you aren't poor like Kvothe, you can never have any idea what it means to be poor like Kvothe. Though since this is a fiction book, I rather expect it to teach me what it means to be that poor, rather than simply insisting I don't know what it's like. Especially since Kvothe doesn't particularly seem to suffer from being poor. Seriously, he's an urchin in an urban medieval-type city, that should be awful.
Anyway, Kvothe finally decides not be be desperately poor anymore and goes to the magic school, where he is just so brilliant they let him, even though they have absolutely no reason too: no money, no recommendation. He's just That Good. And he makes friends with a few other guys who are kinda at the bottom rung as well (maybe: they all get names and a bit of page-space, but not much and I kept forgetting who they were). And then he antagonizes the queen(king?) bee of the school, Ambrose, whose father is uber-rich and powerful and crushes anyone who doesn't like his son because he has nothing better to do? Kvothe is supposed to be astute and good with people and a super genius--I have no idea why he couldn't not be stupid about this or stand up to him in any other way: suffice to stay it's a stupid conflict that really doesn't match anything else and comes up too fast and lasts too long.
At this point the novel goes on: Kvothe is an incredible, transformative musician, great at magic of both types (I'm not sure what the difference is), builds perfect devices that even when illegal or ill-advised are still allowed, meets girls whole love him for no good reason and goes places and does things none of which made much impression. Go read Dan's article again, he does a much better job overall. I'm just bored remembering it.
So how could this have worked?
1) It would have been awesome if Kote the badass innkeeper was 50-60 years old rather than his mid-twenties. For one thing, it would have been a lot more impressive, and make his world-weary ennui far more understandable and even heartbreaking. (Rothfuss handles his prose skillfully, if not his subject matter).
2) What if young Kvothe hadn't been born a genius? A good third of his problematic characterization would have been solved right there!
2.5) Young Kvothe's storyline would be far more effective it had taken place over, say, a minimum of twenty years. Again, because he's not a genius, his school takes longer and he has to undergo actual struggle to learn proper magic--he could have still had a unusual flair for creative spellcasting or something that makes his work Better Than Yours, but he wouldn't be infuriatingly precocious and get away with all that he does. He might have actually learned and grown while on the streets of the city, rather than unaccountably simply deciding he doesn't want to be a street rat anymore. His school years (because it would have taken years) would mean he'd have to actually figure out how the system worked and how the master's related to each other and what the back stories of the school and characters are before he could a) figure out how to manipulate it all to his advantage and b) without simply being told just because. Also, again: he'd have to expend actual effort.
3) There wouldn't be the slightly scuzzy romantic relationships. Kvothe isn't supposed to know how to deal with women (although after living such a distrustful life on the streets during such a crucial point in his development, how does he know how to deal with people at all?), and yet, he's got at least three who 'admire' him. There's Denna, who's his One True Love, which we know because he meets her first, at which point there's nothing at all to indicate that they have chemistry, and they never do, but he finds her sexually exciting: very Nice Guy syndrome, no one else could treat her as well, they have conversations! etc. There's the blonde (?) girl who's a money lender, who breaks her own lending rules for him just 'cause. And then there's the psychologically damaged girl who lives under the school and for some reason will only trust Kvothe, because he plays the best music. But I can't forget the one Ambrose is lusting after, but who has to look to Kvothe for protection because, despite being presented as perfectly competent (other than later setting herself on fire) won't stand up to Ambrose's father. She's the damsel in distress. It's exceedingly depressing.
Conclusion: If Kvothe wasn't a genius the story would have had to take much longer and time-wise wouldn't be so compressed. Old Kote would be old and a lot more impressive. And he wouldn't be such a Stu that while reading I wouldn't be twitching right out of my chair, which is so terribly undignified.
I have NO IDEA why I liked this book. None. But the prose was pretty. So the pacing must have been pretty good too, since never got so much of Kvothe that I couldn't finish, which by any normal laws of the univers3, shouldn't have happened.(less)
When I don't have a strong reaction to a book, I have little to say about it. And Cold Sassy Tree is one of those books.
Now, the setting was well-draw...moreWhen I don't have a strong reaction to a book, I have little to say about it. And Cold Sassy Tree is one of those books.
Now, the setting was well-drawn: Burns seemed to capture the time and culture, or at least convinced me, so uneducated on the era, that she did. Will Tweedy read as a reasonable facsimile of a teenage boy, though never having been one myself, I'll never be able to tell for sure. I found the various depictions of various griefs genuine and moving and insightful.
However, while most characters had at least one sympathetic moment and were for the most part rounded, I didn't particularly *like* them, though I'll be the first to admit that's hardly necessary. I just got tired of it. There were a few too many moments of melodrama for the sake of it and author tract-ing for my tastes. Sometimes I just skimmed.
At any rate, it's off my list, and I don't regret having read it.I just don't know that I'll think about it all that often. (less)
Tria is as judgmental as Zoey and as stupid as Clary.
She causes the problems, relies on everyone else to provide the impet...moreJust my thoughts as reading:
Tria is as judgmental as Zoey and as stupid as Clary.
She causes the problems, relies on everyone else to provide the impetus for the solution--though Tria herself has to actually take action at least, since she's the only one with any power.
Tria does not suffer enough for the consequences of what she does.
The characterization is overwhelmingly shallow.
The worldbuilding fails
All of this is primarily tied to the fact it's mostly telling vs. showing.
I'll try to come up with a more coherent review later, but sometimes it just made me angry.
On the other hand, the concept is okay, and the actual execution of the jumping through mirrors, etc, actually worked pretty well. It just hadn't been set up in the story. The tone is uneven and the plot isn't built.(less)
I don’t hate Esko, but I do find him distasteful. I don’t like his relationship with Katerina, because she’s just not there — as a character, she simp...moreI don’t hate Esko, but I do find him distasteful. I don’t like his relationship with Katerina, because she’s just not there — as a character, she simply can’t support Esko’s obsession. Esko’s story is told in close, close third person, but all Rayner can do is repeat endlessly how fascinated by Katerina Esko is. But she has no particular quality of any kind that really seems interesting enough. And given the backstory Rayner offers? It seems somewhat obscene. I should care about her, for that very reason. I hope that isn’t why she has such a back story, all for the plot point.
Is it because Rayner wants to show the horror of war? Just how bad things got? It feels unreal, though, it feels like a device. Katerina doesn’t really show any signs of being effected, or at least Esko can’t see them. Perhaps that’s what the story is about. Creepy-stalker Esko’s obsesson whith a woman who is ultimately shallow. Or whatever her true story, Esko can’t isn’t seeing her, he’s seeing this fantasy of wealth that he built as a poor abandoned child. Still, I’the text hasn’t really given me any reason to truly belive that, and I can’t quite figure out why.
It’s a ‘telling’ sort of book though, because Esko is a thoughtful, analytic guy, or I assume he must be, because that’s all he does: think at the audience and analyses every little thing unless he comes to an actual insight that might actually move the plot, such as it is, too soon. Esko's narration also feels terribly passive, and yet he is a driving force in his own life. As reactive as his thoughts are, it reads like things simply happen to him instead.
Needless to say, I find this a very disappointing novel.
And I’m not sure architecture works in-text. On paper, in two dimensions, all that’s left is the visual, and at least Rayner doesn’t start giving dimensions. But there’s only so many ways to talk about buildings, and none of them are particularly visual, unless you are already familiar with the architecture. It might be easier for these digressions to be from the perspective of a character who doesn’t know architecture, because he or she could offer concrete detail, not knowing the jargon. But Esko only talks in jargon, and reminds the audience again and again about how awesome modern architecture is, but I don’t see it and I don’t care.
Rayner has also failed at giving me any particlualy strong impression of early 1900s Finland, or 1920s New York. Sure there are props as he talks about the atmosphere, I can’t feel it, or sense it. Because when the character is just telling the reader how he feels, as apposed to what’s there giving him those feelings, it’s hard for a reader to get the same impression.
Still, I hope there's something to tie all this together at the end. I'm okay with protagonists I don't like, though usually because there is at least a side character who's interesting: Esko has several, though Rayner keeps killing them off. But I love the idea behind this novel, Finnish history, architecture, even a character growing beyond obsessions. But it seems to be a story about fate, and a narrator too genre-savvy to even make the journey interesting.
Part 3, Chapter 13, we've suddenly jumped into Katerina's perspective. This is page 277 and shouldn't be here. The only reason it is here, is because Rayner wants Katerina to prove how awesome Esko is, I presume. It doesn't add anything, although now at least I feel a little more sorry for her. But I'm unhappy with the way Rayner writes about her rape, it's just for the traumatic backstory, to give her a reason to not fall into Esko's arms. This is her description:
...at night her dreams were still sometimes hellishly peopled by the men who'd burst into the house that night in Petersburg. At night she experienced all over again the rape, their foul breath on her face, their ramming inside her, the murder of her mother, her grandmother, and her father.
It's just a summary of what she told the crowd back in Finland. And she does so with even more inappropriate distance. There's no pain there, it's too clinical, and not in a coping mechanism kind of way. Despite Rayner's intention though, it does make me feel more sorry for Katerina, not because it's a plot device, but because of what Esko's pursuit ought to be doing to her. He won't take no for an answer; he's as willing to take control from her as her rapists did. She literally has to run away from him.
According to the back cover, Esko is going to be accused of murdering Katerina's husband, and I can't wait to see him destroy himself, I only wish he'd do it faster. Because I've finally found a theme to this book, and it's that Esko ruins everyone's lives. The book is structured by the various groups Esko joins: the village, the Finnish architects, the New York riveters, etc. And he leaves a group after someone dies, and that's the only time he joins another. He abandons people--he hasn't even thought about his father figure in Finland, nor his former wife even though she saved him.
This book has no soul. There's no greater disappointment to me than having to force myself to finish a book like this. I don't mind abandoning books as much. The only reason I'm even trying is the investment of pages, and like Sepulchre, the reason it's taking longer than it should is because it manages to offend me at least once a paragraph. This isn't quite as shallow, and it is better written, so it gets one more star.
I still have 100 pages.
Finished. The last 100 pages could best be described as sensational. As in tabloid. Shocking for the sake of shock, or perhaps I was just so numbed to Esko and the story that I just didn't care. That's why the book failed for me, because Esko as a character never convinced me to care. And the end was just a little too pat.(less)
For some reason, not at all what I expected. Even though I had some issues with it, I enjoyed it very much, likely more than if I'd read it when I was...moreFor some reason, not at all what I expected. Even though I had some issues with it, I enjoyed it very much, likely more than if I'd read it when I was younger.(less)
Soulless is about Alexia the half-Italian spinster and her trials and tribulations as a soulless member of a paranormally-inclined Victorian London. N...moreSoulless is about Alexia the half-Italian spinster and her trials and tribulations as a soulless member of a paranormally-inclined Victorian London. Not that the Victorians aren't known for there attraction to the paranormal in our world, but in this one the vampires and werewolves are real and officially 'out'.
It's all marvelously civilized, especially if you use the Victorian's definition of the term.
At any rate, our main character Alexia Strangename (I've forgotten her real surname) is, well, soulless (not a spoiler). Being soulless means she is a preternatural, which is the opposite of vampires and werewolves, and also means she has no intuitive fashion-sense, or do creative things. Fortunately, being a preternatural does not inconvenience Alexia in any other way, except to function as the plot.
Now, Alexia starts off by killing a new vampire who doesn't know the proper rules and etiquette of Victorian London. If you have read anything, ever set in Victorian London, you know that this is a shocking *bad sign*. However, Alexia bravely fights him off and kills him with a parasol in some fashion I don't remember. But fortunately society does not catch her in such an unladylike pursuit because Lord Maccon or whatshisname covers for her. He's a werewolf, and an Alpha, and in charge of the BUR, which is basically a spy organization officially organized through the government. I think. Anyway, he and Alexia bicker and it's pretty clear he's the Hero to our Heroine.
Speaking of which, why, in these sorts of books, is the heroine always quasi-incapacitated for the first kiss?
Given the situation in *this* book, it doesn't bother me so much, because it is Victorian-set and it's pretty much up to the man to make the first move. Alexia, after said first kiss though, finally realizes Maccon (or whatshisname) is supposed to be her love interest, and so for the next 100 pages or whatever, they must go through their romantic-comedy hijinks before they can get together for good. (view spoiler)[Clearly they'll get together. What's a spoiler (sort of) is that Alexia has to participate in the Bitch Dance (or whatsitcalled) because Maccon is an Alpha werewolf - and possibly because he's Scottish, and Alexia is an alpha. But not a werewolf. (hide spoiler)]
Also B Plot! Or maybe A plot, they get approximately equal text time.
So there are werewolves and vampires, but this is Victorian London, and the Victorians did so love their kinky science. Now science is good, because the English are Enlightened, and also our Heroine is well-educated - possibly because she's Italian, or because she's a spinster, but it might be because they told her she was soulless when she was six. Yeah, her six-year-old self may have seemed to be cool with it, but I have my doubts.
Back to the kinky science. Wait not yet! First B plot: besides crazy vampires showing up in fancy balls, so-called 'drones' (wannabe vampires) are going missing. And so are werewolves from the surrounding areas. And the crazy vampires showing up ignorant of society rules and outside control of the vampire hive queens, who don't like these kind of things.
Possibly just because they're Victorian, but also because they are immortal and haven't experienced it before. Being immortal is awesome by the way, and Christianity is evil. Because. The vampires and werewolves know they're protocol, so there's absolutely no reason to object. Americans simply don't know any better.
(view spoiler)[Sorry about that. The bashing came out of nowhere and came strong for all of a paragraph, and promptly disappeared for most of the novel. Don't want to get worked up about it, because it's not really relevant, but it was obnoxious. And could have been handled much, much better. (hide spoiler)]
Anyway, Alexia and Lord Maccon, when they aren't playing UST games in all kinds of inappropriate areas - are trying to find out why all the crazy vampires aren't following the rules, or where they even come from. The fool moon is coming up, too, which makes it hard for all the werewolves to focus - much like this review (although I don't know when the next full moon is). Maccon relies on his second-in-command Lyall (who has a title I can't remember) to do the hard work, even though he is all kinds of awesome.
This was a lot of fun...although given how dark it got in the end, I want to know why it's so horrifying to be just a little bit concerned about all the supernatural creatures living right next door and working with the queen. But any objection is evil (this is where the kinky science comes in).
It did take me the first couple chapters to get into this book, because the writing is a little clunky. For the most part Carriger sticks to a distant third person, except when focusing on Alexia who has a quirky, unique voice. That didn't stop the prose from jumping characters though, sometimes for just one paragraph in a scene. This wasn't as disruptive as it could have been, but it was awkwardly handled. Also, especially in the beginning, exposition clunks in the middle of the conversation, which can make the initial topic hard to remember by the time you get back to it. Quite simply, the text feels very raw...not messy, but not particularly polished, either.
Final notes: a fun romp.
The queen was pretty awesome. What? It may have vampires, but it's still set in Victorian London. Of course the queen shows up. That's practically the point. Did no one watch The Great Mouse Detective?
Lastly: was it really necessary to bash every single other female character? Alexia especially shouldn't be quite so contemptuous over the one person who will be her friend, even as she makes fun of her hats that she shouldn't *feel* so strongly about, knowing the rules of fashion or not. Thought there might be a good moment when Maccon thinks for a moment that Alexia got her fire from her mother, but really it's just a mommy dearest moment, to show how truly awful she is. And yet Alexia managed to at least educate herself...her mother could have done a lot more to stop her. Oh wells, she's not really a major character.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This book left me flattened. I honestly don't know what I can say about it, though it's clearly a great book. More time isn't enough, I'll have to rea...moreThis book left me flattened. I honestly don't know what I can say about it, though it's clearly a great book. More time isn't enough, I'll have to read it again—preferably with a character sheet, and a map, and at least a general knowledge of Icelandic history, of which I know so little—although, in some ways I think I've picked up a bit. Independent People is epic and brutal and funny and starkly beautiful. I don't know what to make of this book, but it's probably one of the strongest works I've ever read. (less)
It's rather difficult to talk about. Because I found Part 1 rather distancing, and unconvincing as to Susan Trinder's...moreI wish I liked Fingersmith more.
It's rather difficult to talk about. Because I found Part 1 rather distancing, and unconvincing as to Susan Trinder's view of the world, but it turns out to all make sense around page 350. Which was very cleverly done. But I wish that as a reader I might have been given some clue even if the character had none (difficult to do, but I've seen it done).
So the plotting: intricate, clever, dramatic. Solid, and overall, convincing.
The characters: Our two protagonists never run into any decent people, except for the general populace of London and country, who aren't characters per se, but there is a reason for it in the novel. It's a little more difficult that almost no one in the book—including the protagonists—are particularly likable. Except that they are, or come to be.
Oh, I'm so helpful.
Why I couldn't connect to this novel: The plot really seemed to lurid for Sue's and Maud's relationship. I enjoyed reading about how they came to know each other at first (view spoiler)[(without knowing each other at all) (hide spoiler)] and come together again at the end so quietly and honestly.
But the plot itself almost gets in the way, because really, the two women spend very page time together. I didn't mind them being apart (and thinking about each other, because this is a romance) and the time spent in the asylum is very well done, but the end is almost entirely about shedding all the fallout from the rest of the plot aside from the romance. Which, after all the grieving, was a little disconcerting.
In sum, I fell for Sue and Maud and did want them to be happy together. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
So, this was a pretty engaging read, for a time-travelling romance first-book-in-a-trilogy. I enjoyed reading it well enough.
What can I say? This was...moreSo, this was a pretty engaging read, for a time-travelling romance first-book-in-a-trilogy. I enjoyed reading it well enough.
What can I say? This was one of the few e-books available to rent, so because it's not something I typically enjoy, I'm probably not really being fair.
Because it's a romance, the attitudes of all the characters—from the 18th century or 20th—are fairly palatable to a 21st century readership (or late 20th—at any rate, modern sensibilities). That's not a bad thing, and all the characters are well-handled, and clearly Gabaldon had done her research. This isn't really a complete story in itself, though, just the first part in a trilogy, so there are plenty of questions without answers. Having read some 700 pages though, I don't know that I need to read anymore, none of those questions really had(have) me in suspense.(less)
Unfortunately, it's entirely inappropriate for the tone and style of the novel. I should have paid more attention to an...moreDoesn't it have a lovely cover?
Unfortunately, it's entirely inappropriate for the tone and style of the novel. I should have paid more attention to another edition's comparision to Ocean's Eleven, which is not my genre, and the comparison to Robin Hood at all is pushing it.
They should have stuck with this one:
Problem was, I hated Locke. Didn't find him the least bit charming, and yet I don't think I was supposed to see him as a sociopath, though I'm fairly sure he was. Surely Locke's genius should have provided some consolation? Only it felt like an informed attribute: everyone's always just so impressed by Locke, and we spend so much time going on about his various gambits ('cause he's a genius), I just got bored.
You might ask: if you see so much of his planning, how can his intelligence be an informed attribute? Because I don't remember any scenes of Locke working to figure it out. Have you ever watched Sherlock? Even the consulting detective himself has to stop and put all the clues together, but as I recall, most of Locke's brilliance was recounted after the fact.
That could be unfair. Still, what with Locke-as-protagonist, and this terrible, terrible world, the novel felt too self satisfied. It reveled in all the ugliness and gore.
But I didn't care about anyone! All the side characters were one-dimensional, especially the significant ones—which is just as well, considering they amounted to nothing more than motivation fodder for Locke. Yes, there was a lot of graphic violence, but it didn't serve the story. Now, I'm not opposed to violence or gore in books, but it was so over the top, I occasionally snorted in amusement before I could stop myself (which makes me feel like a terrible person).
I suppose I liked Doña Vorchenza and Sophia(?). Unfortunately, I can't remember much about them.
There's my real trouble right there. Because I didn't like Locke, I kept putting the book down; every time I put the book down, I forgot what was going on, who was who, and why I should care. Also, related to that, the pacing felt choppy. I read this on my nook, and the segments were all really short, and—this can't be faulted to the author—after every section break, the first paragraph was formatted in a larger font. It very much seemed to drag anything out.
I can see why others like this book: if you don't despise Locke, you won't be as distracted from the plot like I was, and there is a lot of it. I honestly can't think of how to put the positives, but if this is your thing, please go and read it.
But if, like me, you saw the cover, but not Ocean's Eleven, just know what you're getting into, and be prepared for a long, digressing set-up and conventional plot.(less)