Priest reimagines Lizzie Borden as an axe-wielding fighter of Lovecraftian horrors. The real story of Lizzie Borden practically begs for this interprePriest reimagines Lizzie Borden as an axe-wielding fighter of Lovecraftian horrors. The real story of Lizzie Borden practically begs for this interpretation. Lizzie Borden really lived in a place called Fall River (spooky name!). Lizzie and her sister really moved into an estate named Maplecroft (sounds like a gothic horror setting!). Lizzie really did famously take an axe to her parents. If Lizzie Borden actually killed her parents as a result of Lovecraftian horrors, I wouldn't even be surprised.
Priest works within other historical detailes as well - the Borden family was sick before the murders; Lizzie moved in with her sister Emma after the deaths; and Lizzie’s sister moved out of the home later.
Priest skillfully evokes the 1890s with a style reminiscent of Victorian horror – “first person” accounts/retellings of some dark time (i.e., At the Mountains of Madness, The Island of Doctor Moreau). It is an epistolary novel, told in journal entries and letters. Priest also creates a sense of creeping dread, perfect for a horror story.
The problem is that Priest forgets that most gothic horror is short. Maplecroft clocks in at a little over 400 pages, which is about 200 pages too long. FAR too much time is spent on the repetitive musings and meandering thoughts of the main narrators – Dr. Seabury, Lizzie and Emma. There was lots of rumination, little forward momentum of the plot. In the end, very little happened. ...more
This started out pretty slowly, but it’s worth the wait to let it build. Brennan does a pretty remarkable job creating a faux-Victorian heroine and “vThis started out pretty slowly, but it’s worth the wait to let it build. Brennan does a pretty remarkable job creating a faux-Victorian heroine and “voice.” Especially since her earlier works seem to be pretty standard paperback fantasy (although perhaps hidden gems – but hidden gems with really ugly covers).
I like that Isabella (the future Lady Trent) is a fierce and adventurous woman and still a proper lady (more or less). She’s a Harriet Westerman (Instruments of Darkness) type – pushing the boundaries of convention, but still acknowledging them and feeling the consequences for daring to challenge them.
I did originally think this was actually a Victorian-era fantasy memoir. I was expecting alterna-history and instead got straight-up fantasy (as in, it's not set in an alternate of our world, but in a newly developed fantasy world). Except it still would’ve been SO EASY to set this on a modified Earth instead of making up an entirely new place but having it fall so squarely into Victorian conventions. I mean, Scirland is obviously England. And Vystrana is somewhere in the Caucasuses.
This is a “quiet” fantasy like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. Despite the fact that it has dragons, smugglers, a conspiracy, and a possible demon, it didn’t feel very thrilling until the last 100 pages. Everything before that was just build-up and foundation. And yet I don’t know what I would’ve cut out. Isabella’s childhood is important to who she was, and her courtship/early married life with Jacob is also useful. Jacob is a solid love interest, if not a very exciting one. He is such a good, decent man, and he loves Isabella so much – and gives her more freedom than most men in his position.
None of the characters were very delved into. It’s not that they weren’t developed per se. I felt like each was distinct enough and did their jobs. But despite Isabella spending weeks with the other expeditioners and being married to one, very little is known about everyone else. Number of siblings? Childhood anecdotes? Hopes, dreams, fears? They are just lightly sketched. Jacob – good, solid, kind, brave, intellectual. Lord Hilford – scholarly and kindly old British gentleman. Mr. Wilker – determined and irritable, pulled himself up by his bootstraps to get to the position he has now (which I think is some kind of assistant to Lord Hilford). Dagmira – young village woman who has little time for nonsense, doesn’t try to hide her opinions very much. And…that’s about it. That’s about all that is known about the major characters. I can’t tell if Brennan just severely underdeveloped her characters, or if she’s consciously mimicking Victorian faux-scientific memoirs (At the Mountains of Madness, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Time Machine – none of which spent much time on character development).
The setting is where Brennan shines. The detail and sense of place and substance given to the worlds and the dragons is immense. I feel like Brennan probably has spent a lot of time thinking about these things. This is similar to Patricia C. Wrede's Frontier Magic (Thirteenth Child) series. The human characters are fine and serviceable, but the main character is the setting. So imaginative and spectacularly fleshed-out.
I think this book really needs to be read in small chunks in the beginning. Whenever I tried to sit down to zip through it, I’d get restless. But it’s the perfect commuter book – it kept my attention for fifteen or twenty minute intervals. Until the end, when it became gripping, as all the threads got pulled together. ...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 would have loved this book when I was 10. Because that is the age this was written for.
This reads, straight-up, like an older elementary school/youI would have loved this book when I was 10. Because that is the age this was written for.
This reads, straight-up, like an older elementary school/younger middle school book. I do not even know how this book can be marketed as a YA book (as opposed to a middle grade or grade school one) with a straight face.
For kids this really is a great read -it's got a spunky heroine who has more sense and cleverness than all the adults in the story combined. She's a natural spy who in the opening scene crawls into a dumbwaiter to eavesdrop on her mother and a guest. She gets recruited to a finishing school that teaches young girls how to "finish" people in silly and over-the-top ways (learn arithmetic to calculate how to poison only half your guests, ladies! handkerchiefs should always be handy, to use as a weapon or to wipe the brow of a beau, girls!). Everyone else is from an "evil" family and there's a school for boys, where one of the character's younger brothers is going to perfect his evil scientist routine. The whole "bad" families is not really explored, nor are the real implications of training essentially child soldiers. This is children's TV-show villainry and morals here. There's also a not-very-exciting plot in which Sophronia and her friends have to figure out how a not-scarily-evil older student hid a McGuffin and get it back before it falls into the hands of the bad guys.
Sophoronia is supposedly fourteen but she also reads like a prepubescent child, as do her friends. Not only in her actions and words (and how the hell does a fourteen year old fit in a dumb waiter? is she unusually tiny?), but also in the fact that boys are seen as chums and partners-in-crime, with very little sexual/romantic interest (there's a few "crushes" but that's as far as it goes).
Everything about this book is simple and simplistic, from the characters to the plot to the writing. it also goes-over-the-top cutesy sometimes (trying too hard to be "charming"?), like the fact that one of the finishing school professors says "wot, wot?" all the time like some hokey British stereotype of a cheerful old gentleman.
So, yeah, this would've been great for a 5th grade me, back when I was in my Harriet the Spy phase. Now that I'm far too old for this book, it simply bored me out of my mind....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
**spoiler alert** I think I forgot what happened as soon as I finished it. There were zombies? And automatons? Piloting airships? And evil automaton c**spoiler alert** I think I forgot what happened as soon as I finished it. There were zombies? And automatons? Piloting airships? And evil automaton companies hiding mismanagement? And automatons with zombie brains inside of them (oh my gosh, it’s not a zombie or robot apocalypse – IT IS A ROBOT ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE). And there’s a gentleman investigator for the Crown (Newbury) and his plucky assistant (Hobbes) and their upcoming romance is so contrived that just ugh. ...more
Meh. Pretty much an inoffensively mediocre book. For my steampunk fix, it was a bit like having nonfat cookies when what I really want is a richly delMeh. Pretty much an inoffensively mediocre book. For my steampunk fix, it was a bit like having nonfat cookies when what I really want is a richly delicious cupcake. But it wasn't actually bad. It just wasn't very good.
The mystery was so obvious that my dog could’ve figured it out. As soon as I read, “the queen’s hairbrush was stolen” I thought, well hell, I know what's going on here. (view spoiler)[Of course The Machinist is making a robot version of the Queen. Guess what? HE WAS. (hide spoiler)]. But nobody figured that out for over 300 pages. If you want me to believe that the characters are geniuses, you’re going to have to give me a little more, Cross.
And the characters were kind of generic and flat. Jack Dandy was just ridiculously not as badass/dangerous as he was obviously meant to be, since from the beginning he went all mooshy over Finley for no apparent reason. And despite being a notorious crime lord, he was…really nice and understanding. And also used a Cockney accent despite being very well educated, which was…confusing. And unexplained. And the love triangle was horribly tepid. I liked Griffin alright (even though he wasn't as smart as he thought he was, being unable to figure out the Machinist's horribly obvious Master Plan). But Dandy obviously stood no chance and was just the token "bad boy"(without being bad or dangerous at all).
And Finley kept running around in sleeveless tops and short shorts and corsets on the outside of her clothing. Which is pretty much exactly what steampunk costumes look like, but has NOTHING to do with actual Victoriana. It’s like a steampunk convention crashed Victorian England. Confusing!
But I like the idea of X-Men meets steampunk and while the writing was not great, it was actually better than I was expecting. What I’m essentially saying is that my expectations were really, really low, and this exceeded them. Congratulations, Cross!
Oh, and can I just say that the climax was RIDICULOUS and therefore AMAZING. (view spoiler)[A robot Queen Victoria with machine gun arms that keeps fighting even when headless? AWESOME. It is SO ridiculous. Frickin' love it! (hide spoiler)]...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
The five different POVs are unnecessary and distracting and the there is no differentiating whatsoever between the differSooooo. Yeah. That happened.
The five different POVs are unnecessary and distracting and the there is no differentiating whatsoever between the different narrators' "voices." Nora (the main girl), Bram (her love interest), Pamela (her best friend), Victor (her father) & Wolf (the villain) all sounded the same. I couldn’t tell from reading the chapter who was who without other context clues. There is no way that a teenage girl and a bad guy should sound the same. Just keep it simple - Nora's POV is the only one that really needed to be used.
I’m also annoyed by Nora’s typical Arranged Marriage Is Terrible Wah Wah I’m a Tough Girl. You know who I respect more? A character like The Queen of Attolia who works within the bounds of society and KICKS ASS and doesn’t feel sorry for herself and STILL manages to marry for love without being a whiny little anachronism. Seriously, this is such a tired character type and I do not find it appealing at all. Why does hating an arranged marriage automatically translate into “strong” and “spunky” and “feisty”? Whatever, book.
I thought the romance was boring, the characters were boring, I didn’t care about anyone or anything and the potential excitement of society (Neo-Victorian!) was a letdown. It barely registered, anyway, because it went pretty quickly into Zombie Munch! I’m happy for Habel - who seems genuinely nice and ecstatic about her book deal - and wish her all the best, but I’m dropping this series like a rabid zombie. ...more
Writing a good short story is hard, and most people don’t seem to have the knack. Even authors whose books I liked don’t seem to be able to do it consWriting a good short story is hard, and most people don’t seem to have the knack. Even authors whose books I liked don’t seem to be able to do it consistently (on the other hand, sometimes they write short stories better than novels).
I didn’t really love any of the stories in this collection except for Kiersten White’s “Tick, Tick, Boom.” It was also the only one I thought was actually kinda romantic. It was a total Scarlet Pimpernel situation – girl thinks that boy is boring and useless when really he is the mysterious rebel she is in love with. Nicely done, White! I would read a full book about this. The others I wasn't nearly as impressed with. ...more
This is actually a really good conclusion of a series that I thought started out as imaginative and yet still uninspiring. I liked the series more andThis is actually a really good conclusion of a series that I thought started out as imaginative and yet still uninspiring. I liked the series more and more as it went on (even though I think Book #2 is my favorite).
Deryn/Alex's friendship was superb and the characters individually grew and matured as time went on. No matter what happened in the book, I always got more of a buddy vibe from them then a romantic one, but together romantically or platonically, I think they bring out the best in each other.
BUT I still think Bovril may be my very favorite character. Perspicacious loris for the win!
Oh, and Westerfield's use of the Hapsburg motto at the end was damned clever. Nicely played, Westerfield!...more