The Inventor's Secret is for fans of Twilight and Fallen who have gotten tired of the paranormal and want that same utter fluff and angsty love triangThe Inventor's Secret is for fans of Twilight and Fallen who have gotten tired of the paranormal and want that same utter fluff and angsty love triangle but with a steampunk setting.
Cremer apparently once taught history at Macalester College. That's a good college and I assume Cremer is a smart lady who knows her history. But this book takes history to a back alley to beat the living crap out of it and then kick it a couple extra times for good measure. I get alterna-history. I do. It's one of my favorite sub-genres. This book's premise of what if the British had won the American Revolutionary War? (something that very well could’ve happened!) is quite intriguing. And turning that into a teen steampunk novel is a fun way to play that idea out.
But The Inventor's Secret is not set in an alterna-1816. It's set in a whole new world that's masquerading as an alternate America. For example, this nonsense occurs: “Britannia is a Christian nation. But the Empire’s scholars and priests found inspiration in the Greek pantheon and revived its popularity. Athene and Hephaestus represent the most ideal aspects of the one Christian God.” Wait- WHAT? THAT MAKES NO SENSE. If this book is going to be set in a world of Greek gods, why even bother making Christianity the main religion? Why not just set in a world where the Christian church foundered during the Roman empire and Greek/Roman religions remained dominant in the Western world? How did the Church of England just decide to greenlight two pagan gods? What scholars ignored the part of Christianity that says “there shall be no other god but me”?!?? I cannot even.
That's not even the worst of it. It is 1816. Think Napoleon (defeated in 1815). Think Jane Austen. Think, if you want alterna-Regency fantasy – Shades of Milk and Honey and His Majesty's Dragon. Somehow, 1816 technology here is insanely advanced, even past what we have today. New York City is an actual flying city (it is called the Floating City). There are aircraft and an air corps (which wouldn’t exist for another century in real life). And yet I see no mention of trains or automobiles. How have you developed FLIGHT but not a train?
Besides being futuristically advanced, Britannia is a dystopian Empire. It rules the American colonies with brutality. If this were, say, an alterna-India, I would believe it. Britain had very racist policies when it came to its colonies. But I think very few people would say that Britain despotically ruled Canada. And yet here, Britannia makes everyone indentured servants after the failed revolution. So, essentially, in the terms of this book, they enslaved the American colonies. That just does not make sense to me.
To protect their kids, the American rebels hid all their children in a cave to be taken care of by teenagers. This cave is where protagonist Charlotte and her buddies live. I'm not sure why the rebels were so busy that not one adult could watch the children. I'm sure there were plenty of rebel wives available. I mean, this is supposedly 1815 - a sexist time where ladies were expected to stay home and take care of the house.
The characters are as absurdly unrealistic as the setting. Meg is an older girl that teaches the protagonist, Charlotte, how to be a lady. Meg is a font of wisdom when it comes to court etiquette. I assumed she was either a former lady herself or a former lady's maid. It turns out that Meg is the daughter of an ex-slave and was sent away at 6 years old. Where and how did she learn her vast amount of court etiquette, before she was 6 years old?
Charlotte was a most aggravating heroine. We know she’s beautiful and brave and spectacular because everyone keeps saying so, even though she mostly proved to be annoying and obtuse. Despite having literally grown up in a cave, she impresses everyone she meets in high society. She is so stunning that two brothers fall madly, jealously, in love with her – two brothers who are both secret rebels and are from a fabulously rich and influential family. This smells of wish fulfillment. There’s a whole plot about how Charlotte has to pretend to be a society lady making her debut – except that there is literally no point to this, as it doesn’t help the heroes in their mission (which is to find out the secrets behind a rescued kid's mysterious origins. (view spoiler)[HE IS A ROBOT CLEARLY. LIKE THIS IS NOT EVEN HARD TO GUESS PEOPLE (hide spoiler)]). The real purpose appears to be the equivalent of the "make the supposedly plain girl beautiful and desirable" plotpoint, best demonstrated in the great 90's film She's All That. It's an excuse to have a lot of people admire Charlotte. And to have her be present when she finds out (gasp!) that her supposedly beloved Jack Winters (view spoiler)[has a fiancée (hide spoiler)] (gasp!). ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I spent the beginning bewildered. The book jumps around chronologically and narratively. I was trying to think of a ciThis book caught me by surprise.
I spent the beginning bewildered. The book jumps around chronologically and narratively. I was trying to think of a circus-appropriate analogy but it's late and I can't think of one, so insert your own here. This kind of jump-into-this-story-and-world-head-first approach is familiar to fans of China Miéville. Just accept that for the first fifty pages or so you'll be confused - it's like a foreign language, where you stop struggling to understand every word and just let it wash over you so you can catch the mood and overall idea. It's worth it, I assure you.
This book is mostly set in a post-apocalyptic circus. The Circus Tresaulti travels through a broken world, destroyed by war and run by petty tyrants. The world itself is never really explained - is this a future Earth? An alterna-Earth? A fantasy world? It could be any of those and Valentine doesn't deign to explain it. The circus is sharp and clear and the world outside is left fuzzy and incomprehensible.
The Circus Tresaulti contains fantastic performers - both regular humans and those have been altered by the circus master, "Boss." Boss has the ability to basically make people into Wolverine from X-Men. She can replace their bones with copper tubes to make them lighter and more durable or graft bone-and-metal wings to their backs. This procedure kills the performers but Boss also has the talent to bring them back to life. How exactly Boss got this skill and whether anyone else developed powers is also left unclear. There are a lot of unanswered questions in this book, which would drive me mad if I wasn't so wrapped up in the bigger story.
And the bigger story to me isn't Boss and the circus or the government man with his plans to turn the performers into super soldiers. No, for me, it's Elena and Bird and Stenos and the doomed Alec. These haunted, broken characters and their tangled lives is what made me fall in love with this book.
Alec is already dead before the book begins - he is the Winged Man, driven mad by the gift his lover (Boss) gave him. Stenos and Bird are competitors for these same wings - Stenos for the glory and Bird for the freedom. Elena is at the center of it all - she shared a deep, sibling-like bond with Alec, she is Stenos' lover and she purposefully dropped Bird during a performance. She is a complicated mess who Little George - a young "normal" who serves as the circus' barker and who is one of the main narrators - views as a cold-hearted bitch. I love her. She is ruthless, merciless, tough, fierce and, yes, cold and often cruel. She will hurt someone to save them. She is not a very likeable person - and I'm not sure if anyone outside of Alec actually has ever liked her - but in the end she will do what is necessary to save others. She is not truly as emotionless as she comes across. She is silently heartbroken over Alec's death and she honestly does seem to love Stenos - even if it's maybe not the healthiest relationship. Stenos and Bird are equally fascinating in their brokenness and the fact that, at least for Stenos, his stated desire (the wings) conflicts with his secret desire (Bird). Of course, he doesn't seem to admit even to himself that what he really loves in the end is his rival, but actions speak louder than words and Valentine is satisfied in not explicitly explaining things but instead letting the reader draw his own conclusions from the characters' actions.
This book is worth skimming through from beginning to end again after finishing - so much that was unclear becomes brilliant after having all the information.
And it helps a lot that Valentine is an absolutely gorgeous writer. Other reviewers have compared this to a long poem, and that's not far off. It's hard to find books where the writing itself is so beautiful that you just want to roll it around your tongue and taste it.
I think that the description on the back is way-off and makes this seem like a rip-off of The Night Circus (which came out the same year). This is really not about "two of Tresaulti's performers [who] are trapped in a secret stand-off that threatens to tear the circus apart." I assume that's referring to Bird and Stenos and, really, their stand-off is not secret at all and the book is not focused on the two of them. Their relationship is an important part, but Elena and Little George also play big roles in what happens.
This book isn't going to be for everyone, but the writing and the characters make this a memorable book for me....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