Nothing happens. NOTHING HAPPENS. For dozens and dozens and dozens of pages. I think the entire book could’ve been shortened into a novella. Maybe LacNothing happens. NOTHING HAPPENS. For dozens and dozens and dozens of pages. I think the entire book could’ve been shortened into a novella. Maybe Lackey should’ve saved the page space she spent describing everything and preaching about the evils of industrialism and used it to, y’know, develop characters. Everyone is so one-dimensional. I kind of have the feeling that Lackey loves to live in her worlds. Everything is described so lovingly, especially the daily domestic routine. It is charming in its own way, but not anything I want right now and since I don’t want to know about the minutiae of being a country Elemental Master than it simply couldn't hold my interest. ...more
When I read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell I found the idea excellent and the story itself mostly enjoyable but not brilliant. I really loved the wWhen I read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell I found the idea excellent and the story itself mostly enjoyable but not brilliant. I really loved the world that Clarke created and I was hoping that these short stories would make it even richer.
Unfortunately, I found it all incredibly dull. Even when Jonathan Strange showed up in one of the stories - and I was a huge fan of Strange - I felt like it was a yawn.
I had no expectations for this book, which is the first of a series of 10. I thought for sure it would be terrible, but decided to stick it out nonethI had no expectations for this book, which is the first of a series of 10. I thought for sure it would be terrible, but decided to stick it out nonetheless. Was I ever wrong! It’s amazing.
Novak did an incredible job of making a very realistic alterna-19th century. Class and etiquette play very important roles, and this was more than just 21st century characters in 19th century costumes. It felt very true to the times. Except for the dragons. Because in this universe, there be dragons.
Captain Will Laurence captures a French ship with a dragon’s egg on it, and when the dragon (Temeraire) hatches it bonds to him. This transfers him from the Navy to the aerial corps, which is not something he ever wanted. But his love for Temeraire becomes a deep bond and he quickly realizes there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.
I loved the portrayal of the dragons (which read like hyper-intelligent dogs - loyal but strong-willed). And the whole imaginative world that Novak created. Plus, the fact that this historical fantasy felt more historically accurate than most historical fiction. AND the fact that it made me cry twice, although more often it heartened me. ...more
I can see this books flaws and you know what? I adored it anyway. It was basically Pride & Prejudice with illusionists. AND I LOVED IT SO.
Jane ElI can see this books flaws and you know what? I adored it anyway. It was basically Pride & Prejudice with illusionists. AND I LOVED IT SO.
Jane Ellsworth is a talented glamourist with a bratty, beautiful younger sister, a vain, flighty mother and a loving, calm father (basically, Lizzy with only Lydia as a sister). Then there is her love interest, Mr. Vincent. He is soooo Mr. Darcy – seemingly cold and arrogant at first, but with a rich interior life and sense of honour. Vincent/Jane = <3
I also really enjoyed the magical Regency world that Kowal created. I loved that there was magic but that it was pretty “small” magic – just illusions - no fireballs or explosions.
I thought that the end just spun out of control, though. Someone challenged someone else to a duel, someone went batshit and held Jane hostage and it was all a hot mess and felt less like Jane Austen-lite than As the World Turns: Regency Edition. This is Regency fiction! They could just talk things out wittily instead of drawing pistols.
The cute level of this book was chart-topping and as I said, plain but talented Jane and prickly and brusque but good-hearted Vincent are a winning couple. And I think Kowal did a pretty good job with the dry wit and polite repartee.
The comedy of manners/romance aspect is when this book is at its strongest. The action/adventure (duels! hostages! danger!) is the weakest bit. Hopefully the sequels lean towards the comedy/romance and away from the action....more
At first I was super excited that this book was set during the Troubles. It’s a fascinating and dreadful time of history and a good way to remember thAt first I was super excited that this book was set during the Troubles. It’s a fascinating and dreadful time of history and a good way to remember that not all terrorists are Islamic Arabs and that a Western country has been under terrorism and military siege in the recent past. But then. The tragedy never ended. And there was barely any fantasy.
Whoever wrote the description for this book obviously never read it, because I kept waiting for the war between the Fey and the Fallen to become the main plot and for the supernatural element to take over. Nope, never happened.
Liam shapechanges into a black dog with increasing frequency and he is a wicked driver akin to taking someone on a “Wild Ride” and his father (the fey) shows up sometimes to talk to people (this book is 95% talking, 5% magic), and there’s an order of demon-hunting priests and there’s a Redcap (fey) who thinks he’s Liam’s half-brother (but is he?) and is out to destroy Liam. And that all sounds very interesting but this is MOSTLY about the brutality of the British and the Loyalists and how much it sucked to be Irish and Catholic.
Liam goes to prison camp twice (and the first time gets raped by an evil guard), Liam gets involved with the IRA, Liam’s wife gets brutally raped (view spoiler)[and murdered (hide spoiler)] by Protestants (encouraged by the Redcap), Liam is (rightfully) sad a lot. But practically no magic, no fey, and no fallen. Mostly just one horrendous thing that humans do to each other after another. What are the fairy courts like in this? What are the Fallen (besides being generally demons) and what do they want? What is the magic like? These are not questions explored in this book. Instead it is one grinding, grim reminder of the brutality of humanity after another.
I would categorize this as a "quiet" fantasy (like Among Others) except it's not quiet - it is restless and angry. This is about TRAGEDY, not magic. Magic is a weird hook into the emotional devastation of the Troubles. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I shouldn't have liked this book. I don't do copious description. I don't do slow-moving plot. And I don't do underwhelming romance.
But I liked this.I shouldn't have liked this book. I don't do copious description. I don't do slow-moving plot. And I don't do underwhelming romance.
But I liked this. I really, really did. I don't know what exactly made it so good, but it felt something akin to a dream, which I think was exactly what Morgenstern intended. In dreams, you don't think too hard about what is happening (plot), you just enjoy the wonder around you.
Morgenstern is a master of description. And I say this as someone who usually hates overly descriptive books with a passion. If an author takes two pages describing a chair than he took TWO PAGES TOO MANY. What I love about Morgenstern is that she doesn't do that. She's like an impressionist painter: a few strokes evokes the idea of what the image is, and the imagination fills in the rest. La Cirque des Reves is truly fantastic and magical. The entire place just conjures a feeling of elegance and wonder and haunting beauty.
So, the setting was truly marvelous and Morgenstern's prose brilliant. Her talent is evident. Her opening, too, was incredibly promising. Celia being delivered at five years old to a father she has never met with a suicide note from her mother pinned to her coat is one of the best openings I've read in a while. And then the mysteriousness of the contest and the Man in Grey, plus the casual cruelty of Celia's father hints at something sinister lurking in the shadows of the future.
Unfortunately, all of Morgenstern's worldbuilding and premise doesn't live up to the actual plot. It's a beautiful creation, but it's ultimately hollow.
Lucy has a very good review that (hilariously) points out all the flaws that I felt. I almost don't feel like I need to state them again, but I will go over them briefly:
(1) No sense of urgency or action - despite the fact that Celia and Marco were pawns in a deadly game played by their fathers, they spent most of their time designing breathtaking rooms in the Circus. No epic battles or strategy or time limits; just a never-ending procession of magical interior design.
(2) The romance was more stated than felt - Celia and Marco were surprisingly bland. Despite coming from incredibly traumatizing, harsh, isolated childhoods they seemed perfectly well-adjusted, albeit loners. It was evident they both loved the other's talent and were tied together from childhood. And there were some nice moments (the magic umbrella in the rain, the kiss that shattered glass). But the romance felt like it should've been epic and it just wasn't. There was no passion, just the same dreamlike feel of the rest of the book
(3) Plotholes - The magic is supposed to be obvious-but-hidden (people think it isn’t really magic, just tricks) when obviously there is no other explanation for the ENTIRE Cirque des Reves. No one is dumb enough to think a room of ice creations (in a tent) could be possible, or a cloud maze which goes impossibly high and you can escape from by jumping off and landing safely on the ground no matter how far up you are. This is clearly magic, but Morgenstern is trying to pretend people would believe otherwise.
(4) Random Circus Acts - I've already said how much I loved Morgenstern's hauntingly beautiful descriptions and the loveliness of the circus, yes? But the random one-page descriptions of circus acts scattered in between chapters is taking it a bit too far. I kept thinking that they would be somehow important to the plot--hell, I thought the circus rooms themselves would be important to the plot--but they weren't. It was like Morgenstern really just wanted to describe the circus and when there wasn't space in the main story, she just crammed in as much as she could between chapters.
Anyway, the point is: don't come into this book looking for action or adventure or romance. Come in eyes open, able to enjoy it for what it is: a book that is sometimes nothing but atmosphere. This is an epic story, told in quiet tones. It reminds me of Stardust, which is more fairy tale than adventure (the book, not the movie. The movie is very exciting). It also reminds me of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, not because of the easy comparison of dueling magicians in a magically historical England, but because it is the same eerie atmosphere and emphasis on place, not plot.
P.S. Stop comparing this to Harry Potter, publisher and media. It is not even, and the comparison does both books an injustice. I know why it's being done, it's the whole Die Hard on An X phenomenon: something is popular, and to promote your own (unknown) piece, you compare it to the popular one, hoping to draw in that audience. BUT this is not Harry Potter, this is not even LIKE Harry Potter in characters or feel and making that comparison WILL disappoint those coming to this book hoping for a Harry Potter....more
I like the concept and there’s some interesting world building going on here, but I spent most of the book terribly, terribly confused. Which always fI like the concept and there’s some interesting world building going on here, but I spent most of the book terribly, terribly confused. Which always frustrates me, because I’m not a dumb person and I’ve read very complicated, very fantastical books and have done just fine. If I’m confused, I’m blaming the author.
Part of the problem is that Saintcrow drops you into the world in media res. She doesn’t deign to explain what the fuck is going on. It’s an alternative Victorian England with magic. But there’s rules and aspects of the world which are hinted at or used without any explanation. The magic system itself is barely explained – it involves incantation and gestures and some kind of inherent ability but…that’s about it. There’s sigils on things but what are they there for? There are words of power but what the heck are they and why do they work? I don’t know if Saintcrow is being clever and dropping you into this world without long blocks of explanation to make it more realistic/avoid the annoying Exposition Fairy or if she herself doesn’t know exactly how it works so waves her hands a lot and puts in explosions and fights to distract the reader from the fact that no one, not even the author, knows how the fuck this world works.
The same “is this clever or stupid?” debate comes up in the naming. This is notquite the world as we know it, and so there are parallels to our own Victorian England but with little twists. Queen Victoria is now Queen Victrix. St. James Palace is now St. Jemes Palace. The Stone of Scone is now the Stone of Scorn. Eton is Yton. Ireland is Eirean. India is Indus. King George is King Georgus The East End is the Eastron End. The Thames is the Themis. Britain is Britannia. Some of these make sense – Eirean and Britannia are old names for those countries. But the others are random. Why Yton? Why St. Jemes? Why in this world are they trying so damn hard to spell things just a tad different? They aren’t even using the same spelling conventions every time. At first I was thinking that these were Roman leftovers (because the Roman Empire lasted longer, which accounts for some of the differences between our worlds?), but that doesn’t fit because in Latin the Thames was Tamesis. Then I thought there was a Celtic thing going on (because the Celts hung on longer in this world?), but, no, Celtic for Thames is Tamesas. These are things that can be found on Wikipedia, so if Saintcrow had wanted to do some kind of internally consistent alternate-naming she could have. Instead it seems like she just made shit up governed solely by the Rule of Cool. And that is incredibly distracting and annoying and makes the world feel fake. It’s as if you are reading a book set in Ancient Rome and one of the characters is called “Tiffany.” It just doesn’t fit.
I really loved the book's concept itself. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for detective duos of a clever, passionate woman and a stoic, intellectual man (see, e.g., Westerman and Crowther in Instruments of Darkness).
I liked Emma Bannon a lot – I think for the most part she walked the line between her naturally fiery & brave personality and the role forced upon her by society – cutting words masked with a veneer of politeness, forced to take the sexism of males who are less smart and powerful than she is. The whole Victorian banter aspect was actually pretty well done. Archibald Clare is also entertaining, although he is trying too hard to be Sherlock Holmes (goes crazy if not sufficiently intellectually challenged, constantly making deductions, overly logical etc.).
The mystery I think just kind of stopped making sense half way through, but I do love the concept of Magical Steampunk Mystery as a genre. ...more
Sequels in romance are hard. This is technically a historical fantasy, but really the first one was a romance – it was Pride & Prejudice with glamSequels in romance are hard. This is technically a historical fantasy, but really the first one was a romance – it was Pride & Prejudice with glamour magic. The tension in the first book was all will-they-or-won’t-they-of-course-they-will. Now Jane and Vincent are married and happy and what is the book supposed to be about now?
Umm, not much. I mean, there’s spies and Napoleon and a rescue and Jane gets pregnant and a new magic technique gets discovered. And yet….it felt like nothing was happening. There was no tension, no drama! Even when Vincent was kidnapped by Napoleon’s troops so that they could steal his technique for turning things invisible I felt like ho-hum, nothing much is happening. I mean…Kowal is quite good at romance. She’s also quite good at trying to get the history right (the Author’s Afterward kind of made me love her…she created a word list from Jane Austen to see if she was using anachronistic words! That is awesome dedication and I salute her for it!). But the action/suspense…not so much. And it is making me nervous that this series is inevitably forced into that direction. I actually would’ve been happier if this had taken a cue from other romance-centric series and used succeeding books to focus on other characters (sister, cousin, whatever).
Oh, and I find it grating that Vincent used “Muse” so much. I don’t know why. I think because the occasional use of a nickname is endearing and sweet and shows that the characters are close. It’s the rarity that makes it special. Using it every time you speak kinda makes it sound like you forgot someone’s name. Or you’re Gatsby, ending every sentence with “old sport” as an affectation. Tone it down, Vincent! ...more
I love it when genres blend. Love it. I mean, it’s great and creative and adds spice to something that can have gotten old hat. This is not only a hisI love it when genres blend. Love it. I mean, it’s great and creative and adds spice to something that can have gotten old hat. This is not only a historical fiction mystery – it’s a historical fiction mystery with magic. YES. MORE FANTASY HISTORICAL MYSTERIES PLEASE (steampunk doesn’t count…).
Jackson has the magic system down – they’re called conjurers although everyone thinks of them as witches (and it’s a hanging offense if you’re caught using any magic) and they use blood or grass or flowers – or another creature’s life – to power their spells (seems to be mostly blood; Ethan is cutting himself like every chapter in this book).
Jackson also has the history down – 1765 Boston felt appropriately alive. This time period and this place is actually very rich for novelists – it’s got tension and intrigue and the gunpowder smell of revolution in the air. My one quibble is with Mistress Thieftaker Sephira Pryce’s insistence on wearing modified men’s clothing. This might work if it wasn’t said so often that she moved in high society circles and socialized with the upper crust; people used to think women in pants was downright unnatural and no way would she be able to get away with it and still be accepted by Society. It's not like she actually does anything physical anyways! Her goons do all the beating. She could wear a dress without being slowed down or hampered.
What Jackson does not have down is the mystery.
Look, Ethan's a solid protagonist. He's got the tragic backstory (happy young sailor gets involved in a mutiny, he might have used magic - the details are left vague - he ends up in a Caribbean labor camp and then finally returns [did he escape? was his time up? I don’t remember…] to Boston only to find out that his lady love has married another). He's a nice mix of weary and dogged. BUT he is also one dumb puppy.
I don’t think Ethan solves a single thing for himself without someone having to EXPLAIN IT TO HIM (usually it was the villain. Thanks villain!). Even ideas that were so obvious I was surprised when Ethan finally considers them ¾ of the book later. Like, this girl ends up dead on the street with no markings on her, her death obviously (to Ethan) caused by a conjurer. Great. She happens to be the daughter of a rich merchant and her brooch was stolen. Ethan has already discounted all the typical reasons someone would be killed – it’s not robbery (you don’t use a death spell to steal a brooch), it’s not a jealous fiancé, it’s not her parents, it doesn’t seem to be any business rival of the father’s. In fact, it doesn’t seem to really be about her at all. AND Ethan knows that the conjurer used her death to power some kind of enormous spell. AND he knows that this kind of huge spell can be used to control other people. AND he knows she was killed right near a huge revolutionary mob that destroyed the houses of three prominent Boston citizens. I WONDER WHY SHE WAS KILLED. Ethan takes forever to get to the first place I thought of and then he is all wow, what a twist! No, Ethan. I know you have way less experience with detective shows than me – and you’re not a detective at all, you’re a thieftaker and this is your first time investigating a murder – but good God man, please at least be clever.
Another example of this didn’t really make any difference to the case, but I was just blown away by how he couldn’t figure this out. He knows this uber-powerful conjurer has killed several times in the past to fuel his spells. He knows one of these times was on the day of a double hanging. He knows that there were no reported dead-with-no-causes corpses lying around that day. He knows that one of the prisoners who hung was oddly limp and lifeless during the hanging. PLEASE GUESS WHO THE CONJURER USED TO FUEL HIS SPELL I BET YOU WILL FIGURE IT OUT BEFORE ETHAN.
The villain’s biggest mistake (besides laying out his entire evil plot to Ethan for no reason before Ethan was to die, WTF DID YOU GO TO THE JAMES BOND SCHOOL OF VILLAINRY?) was actually bothering to threaten Ethan at all. If he had just left Ethan well enough alone from the beginning, no way would the guy be able to stumble his way to the resolution. In fact, the only reason that he knew the identity of the murderous conjurer was because he was kind enough to kidnap Ethan and show him his face. I am pretty sure Ethan had no goddamn clue who the murderer was up until that moment (in fact, when he was kidnapped he was spying on other people he considered suspicious). OR the murderer could’ve just killed Ethan at any old time. Why continue to threaten him to drop the investigation? You kill Ethan and the case would be dropped - Ethan is the reason that the investigation kept going and he doesn’t have powerful friends to avenge him. OR you use some of your evil controlling magic to magically convince him to drop the case. Or set up an appropriate patsy to take the fall instead of being all, “Oh, Ethan, blame this guy who you know his innocent, kay?”
And Sephira Price was no better. It just got annoying how often she came around to beat up Ethan. I wanted to just roll my eyes and go, again? Really? Because it was so effective last time? Anytime she didn’t get her way, she’d either have Ethan beaten down or threaten a beatdown. Stay classy, Price. A real crimeboss has more style. Or at least more creativity. Kill the guy or don’t, Sephira. Make up your goddamn mind already. It also makes absolutely no sense that Sephira referred the case to Ethan in the first place. If you wanted to make sure this case didn’t get investigated too deeply, why not just do it yourself – get the brooch, give it back, let the murderer get away, keep it quiet. DO NOT give the case to a guy who has no problem flouting the rules and who always sees things through to the bitter end. And then you will save yourself the trouble of beating the guy up every 15 minutes thinking that it will convince him to stop investigating (HINT: IT WON’T).
The middle of the book got bogged down in repetition. Sephira Price has Ethan beaten! The old reverend tells Ethan to repent from witchcraft and seek God’s forgiveness! The conjurer uses his creepy ghost girl image to threaten Ethan! Ethan continues to be handed every clue and theory! BREAK FOR STEW THEN REPEAT.
BUT I’m still probably going to read the sequel. The history is good, I love the concept, and Jackson could get better on his mysteries (here's to hopin').
P.S. I hate when they hide the ball on who the author really is. There is a thing called the internet. You might have heard it. So when you say that D.B. Jackson is the pen name of a fantasy author, I can figure out that he is David B. Coe. I have more investigative skills than Ethan, guys. Stop treating me like an idiot. ...more