If I could, I would rate the descriptions of East Africa at least 3 stars, all the rest a grudging 2 stars. I wanted so much to like both this book an...moreIf I could, I would rate the descriptions of East Africa at least 3 stars, all the rest a grudging 2 stars. I wanted so much to like both this book and this heroine, both of which should have been right up my alley, but they were steadfast in their refusal to give me the slightest hook of appreciation. The mystery was patently obvious and hamhandedly presented; the text tells us the heroine is smart and clever and then has her utterly oblivious to the easily-obtained answers to the mystery.
And, really, the heroine is at the root of most of the problems with this book. I can handle sketchy stock characters to flesh out a scene, but when your heroine seems to be mostly a compilation of Designated Personality Quirks (she hates tea and loves coffee, because it's less stuffy har har, we're going to tell you this at least twice in every scene where she might possibly consume a beverage!; she's anachronistically modern and egalitarian and independent, and god help us all, spunky) and a lot of telling entirely mismatched with the showing, it's hard to hang a novel on the strength ("strength") of that. This was also hurt by the imprecision of the POV, which was alternately deep in Jade's head then making descriptive, flattering commentary about her lithe figure, effortless style, and entrancing green eyes.
I just. I wanted to like her so much. Former ambulance driver in World War I! An adventuress striking off as a reporter on her own to fulfill a dying request! And instead she was this slapdash amalgamation of Cool Girl (she's too practical to be interested in all that lesser girly stuff; she has no truck with fashion and her own appearance but is effortlessly beautiful and attracts all the boys while being admired by all the other girls; did we mention she likes coffee and thinks tea is silly? also she's the best shot, the best mechanic, and the bravest hunter ever) with genuinely moving, well-written moments of PTSD flashback.
And let's not even get started with some of the race issues. Our independent (she's American, you see), anachronistic heroine thinks the way most of the Happy Valley set treat the local populace is kind of despicable (and she's right!), but the narrative hardly backs her up with her "and I will treat them better and no different from anyone else" prospect. The one character of color with any sort of significant onscreen presence and a personality beyond "mysterious, possibly wise, possibly crazy mystical person," is a little boy who just, like, stops showing up halfway through with scarcely a handwave, and the glaringly obvious MacGuffin has hardly any dialogue at all. (I can't really penalize them for being poorly sketched stock characters, because that's true across the board.) It's hard to believe in the heroine's protestations of equality when the author doesn't even come close.
All that, though, and I may still seek out the next book in hopes that the author gets better at writing people, because gosh her writing about landscape and animals was enjoyable. (less)
A book so exquisitely tailored to my own tastes, with the added bonus of writing that's just violently good.
I mean. The seedy side of New York punk (...moreA book so exquisitely tailored to my own tastes, with the added bonus of writing that's just violently good.
I mean. The seedy side of New York punk (which, you know, is actually saying something). Photography as a metaphor and a plot point and descriptions of which make my eyes ache to see these photos that don't exist. Creepy small town Maine. Almost noir-y mystery, with Adderall and crystal meth in addition to the hard-drinking whiskey. A mystery that sneaks up on you, that hits so many of the genre notes but only in retrospect, because you're too wrapped up in the messy sprawl of a heroine. Sex and sexuality as a matter of course. Creepy, horrific violence that is not about the fetishization of dead women. The merest whiff of fantasy/supernatural which adds to the story but is not necessary to explain the plot. Women, many women, being deeply, profoundly fucked up, without moralizing about their fucked uppedness.
And that's just the story. There's also what the author does with words, the way she slides them between your ribs like a knife, leaving you bleeding and delighted at the same time. (less)
I'm giving this four stars because of how much I like the idea of this book, how all the parts of it are things that I adore and have sought so much i...moreI'm giving this four stars because of how much I like the idea of this book, how all the parts of it are things that I adore and have sought so much in other books like this. I just wish I'd, I don't know, enjoyed the book more? It was three stars' worth of enjoyment, not four. For as much as I really like the heroine, I wasn't particularly engaged by her.
I mean, so much is right. This is a slight AU of Regency England (the king goes mad a bit earlier, the queen is made regent, etc etc fallout etc etc), and it's about a woman of gentle birth who runs away with a swordmaster, lives In Sin with him for many years, and when he dies, she returns to live with her equally fallen aunt, who is a classy madame. Our Heroine, though, establishes herself instead as, well. A consulting detective. Private eye. What have you.
And, oh, there is detecting and politics and lots and lots of thoughts and feelings about women in this society (I don't think there's a single Respectable Woman onscreen for the entire book, a remarkable change), and nothing ever feels guaranteed, and so many of the practical little details that are often skimmed over in novels like this are taken care of, not necessarily made a big deal of, but there. And all the little things that will often make me pause or feel uncomfortable or have to be brushed aside to enjoy the fluffy mystery aren't here, and the mystery is pleasingly involved, and the heroine does not twist herself around and suddenly become someone else just for the sake of romance, and there are so many things I can point to and go, "yes! that thing! I love that thing!"
And it's just. I'm left cold, a little bit. There's very little levity here, and I'm beginning to realize how very much I value laughing, or at least snickering a little bit, or being amused at some point during the course of a story. There are a couple of lighter characters, but their lightness doesn't seem to touch the heart of the story, especially when one of them ends up dead. I just. For as much as this book gave me, I wanted more.
Still, I'm more than willing to pick up the next one. What it did give me was very, very good. Just a little dour. (less)
Always enjoyable, always walking the line between "more complex than expected" and "not complex enough." A bit disappointed that the two really intere...moreAlways enjoyable, always walking the line between "more complex than expected" and "not complex enough." A bit disappointed that the two really interesting non-A-plot threads from the last two books - Emily's thoughts and feelings about childbearing and motherhood, as well as the back-and-forth between Emily and Colin about her independence and what his role as a husband is with regards to her safety - are completely dropped in this book. Sure, those were sticky and uncomfortable, but they were what drove me to keep reading as much as the A plot mystery. (less)
Decent mystery, lots of intriguing things going on with the heroine's relationship with her new husband, independence, pregnancy, societal expectation...moreDecent mystery, lots of intriguing things going on with the heroine's relationship with her new husband, independence, pregnancy, societal expectations, and desire (or lack thereof) for children, and some of the Turkish women were interesting. However. There's not enough chops here to tackle "rescuing a Christian woman from a Muslim harem" without running into all sorts of weirdness and uncomfortableness. If we were supposed to look askance at the heroine's motives and assumptions in staging the sort-of-ish rescue (which we've been asked to do in other situations, to varying degrees of effectiveness), we were not asked hard enough or clearly enough. Better than some, still way not good enough. (less)