I have so many feels towards this book I don’t know where to start.
I didn’t like Atkinson’s Case Histories. I don’t quite remember why, but it felt lI have so many feels towards this book I don’t know where to start.
I didn’t like Atkinson’s Case Histories. I don’t quite remember why, but it felt like it was too dull and miserable to be a proper mystery. But she does speculative and historical fiction so much better!
This book follows a large brood of English children growing up in an idyllic English country estate that are battered by the wars that befell the world during the early 20th century. And one little girl whose life plays out in a series of alternate realities throughout the book. It's like Groundhog Day, if instead of repeating the same day over and over, Billy Murray was forced to repeat every major event in his lifetime until he got it "right."
Ursula’s lives could get confusing at times. They were fairly easy-to-follow repeats up until her young adulthood. She was a baby, who was stillborn. She was a baby, who died at birth. She was a baby that survived until she was about three when she drowned. She didn’t drown, she was rescued but then fell out of a window at five. She didn’t fall out of the window – someone called her to dinner in time – but she was struck down by the flu. The Spanish flu killed Ursula several, several times.
Ursula doesn’t quite remember her alternative lives, but echoes remain and she gets a sense of imminent dread when she is at a turning point that could save her or kill her (or another person she’s close to). She also, later, gets severe headaches. I can’t tell if these headaches are to tell her that she is living the wrong life or that she needs to re-route, but I think they are.
Her little brother Teddy, the darling of the family, appears to be an anchor in her life and I kind of suspect that one of Ursula's "missions" in repeating her life is to protect Teddy. In some versions of the Spanish flu event, Teddy dies, and Urusla doesn't stop reliving those events until she saves both herself AND Teddy. Another one of Ursula's missions seems to be to save Nancy – the love of Teddy’s life – from a child rapist/killer. It is really frustrating that although Ursula often manages to save Nancy, she never catches the rapist.
There’s also a lot of terrible things that happen in Ursula’s lives. One of her older brother Maurice’s friends is also a rapist and attacks Ursula – in one life, successfully raping her, putting her down a path of a brutal abortion (the first time she ever has sex? she has no luck) and an abusive, murderous husband. Another time she gets married to a handsome German who also appears emotionally abusive (he hides her passport so she can’t flee Germany), but she does get a daughter she loves (the only lifetime she has kids). She usually has an affair with a married military man who she doesn’t particularly love (in one lifetime, he leaves his family to be with her, but he usually doesn’t). She also occasionally sees an architect named Ralph, but she is never deeply bonded to him, either. In no lifetime does Ursula get to be happily married down the traditional path, or even be in a long-term healthy relationship (I mean, she does have a girlhood romance with a neighbor-boy, once, but that doesn’t particularly count for me). In some lifetimes she goes to university to study modern languages, in most lifetimes she goes to typing school and works for the British civil service. And in one (two?) lifetimes she kills Hitler in 1930! That’s pretty rad. It doesn’t seem to stick, though.
It’s very confusing whether the point (if there is a point) of her reliving her life so often is to kill Hitler. If that’s where the book ended, maybe I would think that. The ending suggests that my pet theory - that Urusla's mission is really to protect Teddy and Nancy - is what is actually the driving force behind the Many Lives of Ursula Todd. Maybe the point is that small victories, and protecting the ones we love, is enough.
This is a fascinating, thought provoking book that felt brilliant and unique. It did end up going a little long (by the really, really long Blitz chapter I was like “well, get to the last life. We have already been through enough of these long depressing ones.”). But it went by quickly and kept me intrigued. ...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
What happens to a supervillain after he conquers the world? He gets bored.
Emperor Mollusk is much like Artemis Fowl before he's reached his redemptionWhat happens to a supervillain after he conquers the world? He gets bored.
Emperor Mollusk is much like Artemis Fowl before he's reached his redemption arc. He’s a brilliant, arrogant, intellectual, curious, egotistical, condescending genius, though he has developed a fondness for Earthlings and isn’t pro-violence (though he will use it as one of his many tools). His counterpoint is Kala, who is to him what Holly Short is to Artemis Fowl. She’s an honor-bound, law-abiding, fierce warrior who views Mollusk with a mixture of grudging respect, exasperation and annoyance.
I love that Martinez has managed to make a gigantic centipede endearing and adorable (Emperor Mollusk's pet, Snarg). Oh, Snarg! I would cuddle with you! (which I don’t think I could say for any other insect of any size)
The story was appealing, the writing was clever and the humor stuck its landing nearly every the time. Success for Martinez!
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
This is the conclusion of the Frontier Magic trilogy and it is just as quiet and lovely as the first two.
This series is surprisingly formulaic in howThis is the conclusion of the Frontier Magic trilogy and it is just as quiet and lovely as the first two.
This series is surprisingly formulaic in how each book plots. Eff spends time in the beginning in Mill City. Then there’s some magical crisis or concern or expedition out west. Eff goes on the expedition. There's lots of interesting wildlife and a great sense of place (Wrede makes this world come alive). Maybe some minor encounters along the way. And then the BIG MAGICAL CREATURE/EVENT occurs and Eff is pivotal in saving the day.
This time, there’s a joint Cathayan/Columbian (Asian/American) expedition to go further West then anyone has ever gone (and come back from) before. Eff goes, along with most of the other major characters – Wash, Miss Ochiba, Lan, William, Roger, etc. – and most of the time is spent mapping/exploring the West. Then at the end, there’s a big fight with a new magical species (rock dragons) which is a fake out because the REAL big magical bad this time around is the magical river that has been backing up with magic since The Great Barrier was put up. This magical damming is, I guess, what brought the magical bugs (book 1) and the medusa lizards (book 2) further East.
Eff really comes into her own in this one – she speaks up more, and is more confident of her choices. She is still fairly quiet and reserved and is in no way a firebrand. Although Eff really wants to go on the expedition to the Far West, she never advocates for herself that she should go. And when her professor continue to get stronger and more confident as she grows older, but picks her to be his assistant, she is surprised. I think Eff will she’s still young and not used to speaking up.
Eff and William’s romance is as quiet as the rest of the story. Wrede can write romance – Magician's Ward made me swoon so hard. But Eff and William barely interact! Although they’re on the same damn expedition for a year and a half! It’s clear that they both quietly adore and respect each other, but there’s very few, if any, “cute” scenes. They’re more like two friends who hang out when they can. I don’t know if this is just Wrede not putting much focus on the romance because her primary passion in this book is the world/setting, or if Eff is just kind of childish/immature when it comes to human interaction. Eff still reads like a fourteen year old, instead of a girl of around I think 19 or 20. The romance really wasn’t a thing in any of these books, and that is a tad disappointing.
Wrede really has created an amazing setting/world in this series and I do love exploring it. I honestly don’t mind that most of the time there’s little forward momentum in plot. I would actually like another trilogy (with maybe a child of (view spoiler)[Eff/William? (hide spoiler)]) that explores the Pacific. I want to know what monsters and critters live in this world’s Oregon!...more
I'm not quite sure how to classify this book. Is it contemporary? Is it speculative? Is it chick lit? Is it dystopian? Is it YA?
I decided definitelyI'm not quite sure how to classify this book. Is it contemporary? Is it speculative? Is it chick lit? Is it dystopian? Is it YA?
I decided definitely no on the YA (not quite sure why I labelled it that originally). And no on dystopian.
But probably yes on speculative and chick lit.
This book is set in modern day America. The same America that you and I now live in. The only difference is that all those secret fears and dire warnings have come to pass and suicide bombers sporadically but frequently target night clubs, buses and airports across America. It doesn’t go into the who and the why – though given the climate these days the underlying assumption is Islamic terrorists. In this America, bombs explode at about the same frequency shooting rampages occur today (which is every few weeks). And the same attitude is taken – fear and disbelief, but very little change in day-to-day lives.
Jessica Z is a young, pretty professional in this new reality America. She has a job in advertising that she likes and is successful at, a weird friends-with-past-benefits-and-remaining-romantic-longing with the guy upstairs and an intense relationship with a charismatic, controlling kinda-boyfriend artist.
The bombings are a backdrop to Jess’ life which revolves around her job and romantic entanglements (mostly her romantic entanglements). But, like Chekov’s gun, I kept waiting for one to be set off in the main storyline. Along with all this, a kinda-mystery revolves around the suggestion that Jess’ artist boyfriend might be a potential terrorist. Jess never thinks this outright, but she picks up that something may be not-quite-right with Josh – there are mysterious phone calls conducted in Spanish, two silent guys in suits showing up around Josh and Josh’s general passionate and secretive nature.
I enjoyed the book and was extremely impressed by Klomparens’ ability to write a believable female lead. On the other hand, I got annoyed by Jess and her romantic ditherings. It wasn’t even the fact that two smart, attractive men were interested in her or the fact she still was all “oh, no, I’m not pretty!” despite the fact she was skinny and large-breasted and gorgeous enough to be given a modelling job. It was the fact of her explicit refusal to actually talk like a mature adult to these guys and say what she actually wanted out of the relationship. With her neighbour she was all, “Oh, he’s just a friend – that I’m completely co-dependent with – who I try to sleep with when I’m drunk.” And with the artist she was all “Oh, is he my boyfriend? I don’t know, because we’ve never talked about it.” Jessica’s problem is that she just lets things happen to her instead of taking actual action. She’s passive, which is annoying in a heroine. Also, it’s never good to feel like one of the male love interests is too good for the heroine. Patrick (the neighbour) deserves better than the hot mess that is Jessica – even at the end where at least Jess has made a decision for once (although I guess circumstances make her decision moot). You know who I liked better? Gretchen. Gretchen was a romantic rival for Patrick (the neighbour) who became Jess’ friend and was spunky and active and assertive. Sadly, Gretchen was quickly regulated to the background.
Also, regarding Josh and his maybe-terrorist state: (view spoiler)[ I really feel like Josh was the suicide bomber. I know it’s conclusive in-text that he isn’t, but that’s like setting up a character as the killer in a murder mystery and then being all “Sorry! Red herring! The killer was actually this other person who wasn’t a character at all! It was all smoke and mirrors!” Some of Josh’s actions actually make less sense if he wasn’t actually a terrorist. He gave his Spanish friends Jess’ phone number to call and never told her – because they couldn’t use the land line because why? If he wasn’t afraid of the feds tracking him? He took Jess’ key and made a copy and never told her (he left her a note in the atlas) because why did he need access to her apartment/her atlas at any time? Those two guys in suits were his friends who never bothered to introduce themselves to their good friend’s girlfriend nor did he feel the need to ever introduce them to her or hang out with them? That was the weirdest part. I guess he was just controlling and selfish and self-centered and not actually a terrorist. But he still makes more sense as a terrorist. (view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)](hide spoiler)]...more
Oh, Cassel Sharpe. You break my heart every goddamn time.
Sharpe never seems to catch a break - there is pressure coming at him from all sides, always.Oh, Cassel Sharpe. You break my heart every goddamn time.
Sharpe never seems to catch a break - there is pressure coming at him from all sides, always. There's his family (flaky mother, possibly sociopathic brother, badass grandfather - con artists to the man), there's the mob (including love-of-his-life Lila), there's the feds (who may be trying to help him, but are more likely trying to use him), then there's his schoolmates who are having drama of their own (heartbreaks and friendship woes, plus blackmail).
And poor Cassel - it's like every time he tries to do the right thing he screws himself or someone he loves over. The boy just cannot win.
This series is amazing for its elegantly done alterna-Earth (where "curseworkers" are a suspected class in America), its sharp wit, its complex characters and its sardonic, clever, troubled hero.
The ending of this book is at least hopeful, but Cassel Sharpe never has things easy and it feels like it's just a temporary reprieve. All the dangers are still out there, ready to do him in. There's rumors of a fourth book and on the one hand I can't wait and on the other I just want the poor boy to be at peace. May he find a permanent happiness instead of a temporary one in the possible fourth book.
P.S. Sometimes books get tied to the music I'm listening to which seems to fit just right. For this series it's mostly Bon Iver - "Skinny Love" and "Blood Bank" and "Holocene." But one song that kept repeating for this book in particular was The Break and Repair Method's "This City (Is Bound To Do Us In)" because of the lyrics: "Because I don’t want to be alone/and I don’t want to be left out/I don’t care if I’m the one you love/Just let me be the one you need right now...This city is crashing in/In the space between what we could have said/This city is bound/This city is bound to do us in"...more