Only fourteen years old, Sophronia Temminnick is well established as the troublesome child in her family. She likes to take the mechanicals apart to s...moreOnly fourteen years old, Sophronia Temminnick is well established as the troublesome child in her family. She likes to take the mechanicals apart to see how they work, and her adventurous spirit and complete lack of interest in the latest fashions or appearances in general are a trial for her mother in particular. Desperate to get her daughter on the right track and "cure" her of her failings, her mother enrols Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
It all happens rather fast, and within an hour of learning about the school and her mother's plans, Sophronia finds herself in a carriage with Mademoiselle and two other children: Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott and her brother, Pillover. Their parents have great hopes of them being evil; Pillover is going to Bunson and Lacroix's Boys' Polytechnique, the sibling school, to learn how to be bad, but looking at Dimity's pretty face and fancy clothes, as well as her friendly, rather naive manner, it's hard to think of her as at all bad. Sophronia is starting to wonder just who these people were and what was going on, when their carriage is accosted by flywaymen and Mademoiselle Geraldine is revealed to be an older student in disguise, sent on a mission not only to collect the three new students but also a prototype, in order to graduate.
The prototype is not in the carriage and the girl masquerading as their headmistress, Monique, refuses to tell anyone where it is. She also takes the credit for their escape from the flywaymen. Once at the school - three huge, connected dirigibles perpetually floating through the mist - Sophronia quickly comes to realise that this is no simple school of etiquette: the girls here are being trained to spy and kill. She just as quickly comes to love it.
With the help of a nine year old inventor called Genevieve, a boy from the boiler room called Soap, and her friend Dimity, Sophronia is determined to figure out where Monique hid the prototype - something that the Picklemen are after and have already attacked the ship for - and who she's planning to sell it to. Little does she realise just how close to home the answers really are.
Set in 1851, approximately twenty or so years earlier than the Parasol Protectorate series, Carriger has set her new YA series in the same world as Alexia Tarabotti's. Werewolves and vampires are a part of society, as are mechanicals - coal-fired servant bots and handy gadgets. The link between the two series is Genevieve, the inventor, who is a youngish woman in the Parasol Protectorate. The key difference, though, is in the writing: while I struggle a bit with the slightly forced, "upper crust" style of speaking and describing used in the earlier series, this book is written for Young Adults, and is very smooth and fast-paced in comparison.
Carriger has all her much-loved trademarks out: a predilection for tea, good manners and parasols; a wry, often ironic sense of humour; and a flamboyant imagination. I'm not supposed to quote from an ARC but I just have to include this snippet (and I can't see it being changed or scrapped for any reason!):
"I'm sorry you're going to miss the theatricals." "In Swiffle-on-Exe? It could be worse." "It is worse: all the boys [from Bunson's] will be attending. [...] Some of the girls even keep score. They use what we learn to make as many boys as possible fall in love with them." [...] "Isn't Bunson's training evil geniuses?" "Yes, mostly." "Well, is that wise? Having a mess of seedling evil geniuses falling in love with you willy-nilly? What if they feel spurned?" "Ah, but in the interim, think of the lovely gifts they can make you. Monique bragged that one of her boys made her silver and wood hair sticks as anti-supernatural weapons. With amethyst inlay. And another made her an exploding wicker chicken." "Goodness, what's that for?" Dimity pursed her lips. "Who doesn't want an exploding wicker chicken?" [pp.162-3]
The plot is simple enough but the story keeps itself busy by introducing Sophronia to a whole new world - and the readers along with her. It's not necessary to have read the Parasol Protectorate in order to understand the world here, though if you have you'll pick up on little inter-connecting characters and details and understand what's going on a lot more than Sophronia does. Carriger keeps the tone light and even slightly frivolous throughout the story, lending it a cartoon-like quality that serves it well. This isn't a serious story, though it does touch on class snobbery and hints to the darker side of supernatural-human politics.
Mostly I enjoyed the concept of the espionage school disguised as a finishing school, a fact that the real Mademoiselle Geraldine is completely ignorant of. Sophronia is intelligent, adventurous, strong and courageous and makes for a great heroine and a solid role model. There's no real romance going on here - she is only fourteen after all - though there is the start of something with her friendship with Soap, a black boy whose real name is Phineas. I'm still curious about this whole other side to Victorian England that Carriger has created, the idea that there are people - upper class gentry, no less - who are part of a secret evil society and want their children to follow in their evil footsteps. Not sure where that's going or what that looks like; Dimity certainly didn't have an evil bone in her body, and it makes me wonder what her parents are like - and what they actually do.
This is such a fun read, though I struggled with the first couple of chapters which had some awkward turns-of-phrase that had me confused for a bit, but when in the mood for a light-hearted, silly and imaginative adventure story you can't go wrong with Etiquette & Espionage.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via the Ontario Blog Squad. (less)
Without a doubt, Westerfeld's Leviathan was one of my favourite books from last year, so when the second book came out I ordered it straight away - I...moreWithout a doubt, Westerfeld's Leviathan was one of my favourite books from last year, so when the second book came out I ordered it straight away - I just had to get it in my hands. I'm not going to give much of a plot summary if I can help it; I don't want to spoil it or provide too many details. Always hard to discuss successive books in a series!
Behemoth begins more-or-less straight after Leviathan ended, with the air ship and its heroes, Deryn (still disguised as a boy called Dylan) and Alek, on their way to Istanbul. It is the First World War, and Istanbul is supposedly neutral but extremely strategic, so both sides are trying to sway the Sultan and Ottoman Empire to their cause. The city is an exotic, multi-cultural, cosmopolitan place, with a mix of Darwinist creations and Clanker machines in the streets and homes of its people.
Once there, Alek manages to escape before his true identity is discovered, with the Germans hot on his trail; and Deryn accompanies the "lady boffin", Dr Barlow, to the Sultan's palace to gift him with one of the precious eggs the Leviathan has been carrying. The Empire's neutrality is slipping fast, though, and it soon becomes clear that the Clankers have the upper hand here. It is up to Deryn to make sure the Behemoth, a vast sea monster that is their only hope against the powerful Clanker ships and their lightning towers that can pull airships down, gets into the harbour, while Alek connects with an underground resistance group in the city and finds himself helping to strategise with them. War is coming fast to Istanbul.
There's so much to love in this series: the alternate world; the imaginative creations and steam-driven machines; the characters and the way they talk; the historical period (WWI isn't often used for YA fiction, or many other types); the grand scale. Then you have Thompson's stunning illustrations that I gushed over so much in the first book - they're no less gorgeous here, and really bring the world to life.
The setting is fabulous - Turkey (and Istanbul) is one of my top 3 countries to visit (along with Morocco and the Czech Republic), and while I have more Turkish books on my shelves, unread, than I've got around to, every time I get to read a book set there (like the recently-reviewed Theodora by Stella Duffy), I thirst for the details. The city of Istanbul was vividly alive here, and the embellishment of machine and Darwinist creations was perfectly suited to its eclectic, vibrant bustle.
Deryn is still my favourite character and one of the most heroic characters I've come across, but I found myself appreciating Alek more here - the glimpses of compassion and maturity we got in Leviathan have provided solid ground to build on, and the development of his character is satisfying and believable as he comes into his own element.
It's hard to know where the story is going to go from here, except perhaps the restoration of Alek to his rightful position - though if I remember correctly, and considering Alek's existence is fiction (Franz Ferdinand had no children), I'm actually hoping there's something more interesting in store for him. It will also be interesting to see what happens with Dylan - his true identity can't remain a secret forever, especially in light of her feelings for Alek - and Count Volger knows. Oh there's lots to look forward to in the third and final book, Goliath!
I have to admit that I'm not bothered by this cover - mostly I love the colours, the graininess and the illustration of - is it Alek? I'm not actually sure! That would be a mite unfair since I think he was on the cover of the first book. But compared to the other editions I've seen, I much prefer this cover and don't find it atrocious like other reviewers do.(less)
I think the gloss is falling off this series for me. I had fun with the first one, and I do still enjoy the stories and the characters, but they are b...moreI think the gloss is falling off this series for me. I had fun with the first one, and I do still enjoy the stories and the characters, but they are becoming more annoying and I'm finding myself less and less patient with Carriger's style and tone here. It's so exuberant and so determined to be silly. She rather belabours the point, especially in her trying "Britishness".
This third outing follows on from the dramatic ending of book 2, Changeless - which I won't spoil, not to worry! But it does see Alexia on her own, back living with her odious mother and half-sisters, dismissed from her job on the Shadow Council, and with the cause of all her troubles unescapable. (That's vague, but if you read them you'll know what I mean.) With her friend, the inventor Madame Lefoux, and Floote, her butler (and everything else), she leaves the now unfriendly England for Italy and the Templars, who have a long history of association with Paranormals like Alexia. Hoping to find answers, she's also trying to escape threats on her life from the vampires, who seem determined to off her now that the unthinkable has happened.
It's rather impossible to give a decent summary without giving things away (I can't understand why I try except it's a habit), but considering this book took me a sporadic month to read - I just couldn't get into it for any length of time - it's a wonder that I can even give a summary. It was overall quite disappointing, one hurried flight after another, one attempt on Alexia's life after another, that I got quite tired of it all. Alexia is separated from her husband, Alpha werewolf and leader of BUR, Lord Conall Maccon, so there's no fun to be had there, and Alexia on her own can begin to get pretty tiring.
Still, knowing me I'll probably read the fourth one, Heartless, due out in July 2011. 'Cause there's some pretty cool stuff going on here and let's face it - they have great covers.(less)
Just look at this cover, isn't it GORGEOUS?! I absolutely love it. It's so rich, with such sumptuous detail, wonderful design and use of colour and al...moreJust look at this cover, isn't it GORGEOUS?! I absolutely love it. It's so rich, with such sumptuous detail, wonderful design and use of colour and all the elements of the story and its genres. It's simply RIPPING!! It feels nice too, with embossed bits, shiny bits, matte bits, texture in places so that if you run your fingers over it they get all excited and tingly! The one and only thing that bothers me is the cardstock used - the cover never lies flat but is constantly (even brand new and sitting on the bookshop display table) lifting up into the air almost vertically. Hey, it's a keen book, but covers get damaged this way.
This is one of those books where the gorgeous cover completely matches - and does credit to - the absolutely wonderful story inside. I'm loving this - two YA novels in a row that I can utterly GUSH over! (Count how many times I capitalise my words as a cheap way of conveying enthusiasm - actually don't count, it'll get embarrassing!) Not only is Westerfeld an utter GENIUS here, but Keith Thompson's sketches are simply STUNNING! I found myself gazing and gazing at them. They match the scenes perfectly, and really make the world come alive. Oh, and would you just look at the stunning map:
Here you can see Europe, at the time of the Great War, separated along ideological lines of a new kind: the "Darwinists" depicted with impressive beasts, and the "Clankers" bristling with steam-powered machinery and weapons. The Darwinist countries, like Great Britain, have embraced not just natural selection but gene splicing, cross-breeding animals and creating incredible beasts called "fabrications" - including the Leviathan itself, an immense hydrogen ship that's not just one living organism - mostly whale - but a whole colony of organisms and beasts that each have a role to play. It's absolutely fascinating.
The Clankers, on the other hand - the Germans and Hungarians etc. - have the kind of machines that are clearly inspired by Star Wars, like this giant war machine. They come in smaller two-legged varieties as well.
But I best stop long enough to give you a summary, eh:
Prince Aleksandar, son to Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, grandson to the emperor, is secretly bundled out of the palace on the night his parents are assassinated in Serbia. His fencing master, Count Volger, and his master of mechaniks, Otto Klopp, get fifteen year old Alek away in a Cyklop Stormwalker (a two-legged machine), but it takes Alek a while to understand the seriousness of his position. Even though his grandfather made it so Alek could never inherit the empire (because he disapproved of the woman Ferdinand decided to marry), his father and Count Volger understood that with the continent bristling for war, Alek could prove a very useful hostage, or pawn.
Meanwhile, in England, sixteen year old Deryn is ready to take her middy's test and join the Air Service like her older brother Jaspert - as long as she can convince them she's really a boy. The test consists of being strapped into the seat below one of the earliest types of air ship - a Huxley. In essence a giant jelly fish filled with hydrogen that panics at the slightest thing, the Huxley goes mostly up or down and can't really be steered. But as Deryn is aloft, a storm comes and the Huxley panics - to save being smashed against a wall in its descent, she's forced to cut the rope that tethers it.
Deryn keeps a calm head, and while she is drifting out to the Channel, is picked up by the Leviathan, one of the earliest and still the best air ship in the Service. Determined to be kept on board, she learns the way of the ship fast. When they make an unprecedented stop at Hyde Park in London to pick up a scientist and a very precious cargo, it is the first step in an adventure that will see Deryn and Alek meet in surprising circumstances - and form an even more unusual friendship.
So, how about some more gushing? Westerfeld has created a superb world, an alternate world of steampunk technology and inventive science, with a wealth of detail and imagination. But it would be a hollow world if the characters and the story weren't equally as entrancing. Oh, and Westerfeld gets extra points for including a THYLACINE!! (Well he is somewhat Australian, after all.) I love this animal, and it was great to see it in a story, finally.
Deryn is the kind of protagonist I instantly love - a tomboy in the best possible way, with a mouth full of slang and stable talk (often invented for the world), a quick mind and passion - in this case, a passion to be in the air service and serve on board the Leviathan. She has her flaws, but she's got so much spunk and bravery - and she doesn't fret or panic. True to her more humble upbringing, she provides the perfect counter-point to the palace-bred Alek, though he too rises to the occasion, learns from his mistakes and shows courage in a time of peril. He sometimes comes across as a tad sullen and spoilt, but he's also willing to admit his mistakes, apologise for them, or do what's right despite the dangers. And then when you get the two of them together, they're just great. Their personalities are vibrant but the details are subtle and come across in dialogue and action. There's not so much of that reflective instrospection (did I just make up a word there?) that's so prevalent in YA and which drives me nuts.
Aside from being a wonderful adventure novel in a highly creative world, Leviathan also presents some interesting themes on the nature of science, technology, ethics and attitudes and so on. The best stories for examining interesting themes like this are the ones that don't deal with them head-on. The ones that let them play out, that let the reader notice them, think about them, question their own thoughts and reactions. Books like, say, Fahrenheit 451 are great for what they do but are also deliberately obvious and in-your-face, which doesn't always leave much room for gaining perspective.
I could ramble on but I better not - I think you get how much I enjoyed this, yeah? I'm looking forward to the next book, Behemoth, with great anticipation! (less)
The sequel to Carriger’s debut, Soulless, Changeless picks up three months into Alexia Tarabotti’s marriage to Lord Conall Maccon. Alexia is “soulles...moreThe sequel to Carriger’s debut, Soulless, Changeless picks up three months into Alexia Tarabotti’s marriage to Lord Conall Maccon. Alexia is “soulless”, otherwise known as a preternatural – in an alternate Victorian England where vampires and werewolves are out in the open and more-or-less accepted into polite society, Alexia can revert a vampire or werewolf back to mortal human with just her touch. Since the cause of vampirism etc. is understood to be due to an excess of soul, the newly minted Lady Maccon is their direct opposite. Still, that didn’t stop her from marrying a werewolf - the Alpha of the London pack, no less.
Armed with her trusty parasol, Alexia is also Mujah to Queen Victoria – completing a triad council of vampire, werewolf and preternatural. When a large area of London is suddenly afflicted with a state of mortality, several eyes look to Alexia as the cause. But the afflicted area is on the move, heading north to Scotland – where her husband is headed to deal with his old pack’s alpha-less state.
Alexia decides to travel – by dirigible – to Scotland herself and discover what’s causing the problem. Intending to travel alone, she is finds herself suddenly burdened with not just her insufferable younger sister Felicity, but her best friend Miss Ivy Hisslepenny as well – not to mention Ivy’s hideous hat collection. Her entourage grows even larger when she finds that a cross-dressing Frenchwoman and inventor, Madame Lefoux, is on the dirigible, where it becomes clear something is going on between her and Alexia’s maid. Mystery abounds.
The Kingair pack in Scotland is hostile to their presence, to say the least, but Alexia is sure they’ve brought something with them back from Africa that is causing the vampires’ and werewolves’ reversion to mortality. But someone is trying to kill her, maybe more than one person, and the vampires are up to something that Alexia is determined to foil. Thank God she has a new, reinforced parasol with some deadly secrets hidden in it!
There’s lots to enjoy with this series – it has a wonderful flippant sense of humour, lively characters and some neatly paced action. It also makes for a nice blend of steampunk and the supernatural, in an alternate-history Victorian England. As a result, it has some very funky inventions! It’s marketed as Fantasy/Horror, but it’s very light on horror. It’s more like … Historical Fantasy.
As fun as the dialogue and narration is, it does tend to belabour the quaint Englishness a bit. Carriger is, as far as I can make out, English by default (one parent being an ex-Pom), but it sometimes reads as trying too hard to sound English, and overdoing the expressions. She also uses “bollix” as alternate spelling for “bollocks” – I hadn’t seen that spelling before so I looked it up, and found that the change was “to make it appear less vulgar”. Spelling it that way also alters the meaning, to refer to something being messed up. In the book, “bollix” was used as “bollocks”, as in, “damn!” I know, I get hung up on these details – mostly I just find it interesting, but I do find that historical romance authors don’t research very well and even though this isn’t technically historical romance, I do find myself looking out for mistakes. (Dialogue is always a toughie, since so many expressions – the way we say things, our word choices and speech patterns – are fairly modern, including, don't get me started, the word “gotten”.)
I did love the ending though. I have to question the intelligence of most of the characters in their reaction to the news, since they all know that Alexia’s touch turns a supernatural being mortal - with that comes hair growth, slow healing and bodily fluids. Sorry, am trying not to spoil the ending for you but I still wanted to say that. It made the titles of books 2 and 3 suddenly make sense – well, 2 should have been obvious from early on except I wasn’t thinking about it, but 3 - Blameless - became clear. I’m quite looking forward to it, even if it is a bit of a cliché!
Ivy Hisslepenny provides quite the foil, being completely blind to what's going on around her, but Felicity was a largely forgotten character altogether - which wasn't a bad thing, as she was drawn to be as snide and selfish as could be. There wasn't much of Conall Maccon in this one, and when he did appear he alternated between single-minded forgot-I-was-married to very sweet and attentive. If you don't mind your characters a bit cardboard from time to time, you shouldn't have any problems here. I guess it goes hand-in-hand with the tone of the novel, which conjures up the word "buffoon". It made it hard to start, but if you can sit down with it for any length of time you can get back into the swing of things. A bit less re-capping would have been fine by me though. And a bit less pointing-out-the-obvious-irony too.
I'm still enjoying these, complaints aside. Alexia is a loud, strong-minded, decisive heroine who doesn't beat about the bush, which is refreshing, and I do find her sympathetic. Especially now. Looking forward to Blameless, perhaps because of the personal angle that's been set up for it. (less)
Seattle, 1879. Fifteen years ago a clever and talented inventor created a machine dubbed the Boneshaker, designed to mine for gold in the Yukon. Inste...moreSeattle, 1879. Fifteen years ago a clever and talented inventor created a machine dubbed the Boneshaker, designed to mine for gold in the Yukon. Instead, he tunnelled under the city right into the banking district, causing whole sections of the city to cave in. After looting the banks he drove the machine back through the tunnels and into the basement of his fancy home, and was never seen again, leaving his pregnant wife with the stigma of Leviticus Blue's escapade.
Not only did the boneshaker destroy parts of the city, but from the underground tunnel came a gas, a gas that killed people or turned them into the walking dead, driven to attack and consume the living. In an effort to stop the gas from spreading further inland, the city built a giant wall around the contamination site, while the survivors stayed on in the outlying suburbs.
Now fifteen, the son of Leviticus and Briar Blue (now using her maiden name, Wilkes), Zeke, wants to turn his father into a hero instead of a widely-hated mad scientist. Zeke makes his way into the walled city, determined to find his parents' old house on the hill and discover something that will redeem Levi Blue in the eyes and minds of the population of Seattle. When she learns what he has done, Briar - a hardened, taciturn woman who slaves away at the water mains and endures endless "blue" taunts - follows him in, determined to rescue him. But finding Zeke in a city of zombies and other perils isn't easy, and when she encounters the folks who live in sealed tunnels under the city she learns of the mysterious inventor, Dr Minnericht, whose clever inventions have helped the people survive, even though they all think he's really Levi Blue, returned to the city he helped destroy.
This book came highly recommended by friends, and I want to say that I hope my review doesn't put you off reading it if you were so inclined before, but the sad truth is that I didn't really enjoy this book. I can't recommend it, but neither will I not recommend it. If that makes sense.
I love the premise. Colonial city beset by noxious gas, zombies and zeppelins. Sort of. Priest apparently took liberties with the city and with American history - I wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't pointed it out, somewhat defensively, in her Note at the back, and I don't care that she did - and added to the historical period a more inventive mechanical technology and nifty airships. The steampunk aspect is grimy, dirty, sooty, fiddly, weird and wonderful - all the things you would want from steampunk.
Then there's the horror blend - the zombies. They make the old city into a danger zone, a place of risk and death that the gas alone can't manage so spectacularly. The zombies are more visible, and definitely more audible. The trouble is, zombies have always bored me. I don't even find them very scary. They're mindless, and have only one goal; therefore they are predictable, and it's unpredictability that makes a character truly terrifying. Sure, one scratch and you lose your mind and become a walking corpse bent on eating human flesh, but that just somehow doesn't give me chills. I'm not saying I wouldn't be terrified if chased down a street by zombies, but I used to get scared in any game that involved being chased. Zombies just aren't clever. They might be hard to kill, but they're not hard to outsmart.
That's not what I had trouble with in this book, though. The trouble - or part of it - is Priest's writing style. There's nothing wrong with it, per se, she doesn't have bad grammar or use awkward sentences. It's more that it's the kind of style I expect - and get - when I read paranormal romance and even some fantasy - a simplistic style that wears on me and makes my eyes glaze over. It's not what I want when reading science fiction or speculative fiction. It was disappointing. Simplistic. The characters fell flat for me, their dialogue bored me (and there's lots of dialogue). Zeke was a realistically annoying and petulant fifteen year old who did mature somewhat by the end of the book; it still made me tired of hearing him whine and always try to have the last word - and really, how stupid is he to go off into the blighted walled city in the first place? Briar should have been the ideal protagonist, being a tough woman in a hard world who's come a long way from the pretty, young trophy wife of Leviticus Blue. But she has no personality.
The bond between mother and son was a brittle, thin thing, but it was realistic for the characters and their history and the adventure of the novel definitely made them closer. Briar thawed too, but I still found her empty. Both Briar and Zeke take turns offering perspective in their individual chapters, and both have the kind of inner introspective, wondering voices that bugs me in pulp fiction. The characters of Briar and Zeke are just so self-indulgent and into analysing every little thing, that I struggled to keep reading.
First of all, [Zeke] had little patience for being told what to do by anyone, much less a stranger who appeared to be inebriated and looking to become further inebriated at the nearest opportunity. Second, he had deep-seated doubts as to why this man who'd initially greeted him with threats of bodily harm might be moved to help. Zeke didn't trust Rudy, and he didn't believe much of what Rudy had told him.
And furthermore, he didn't like him. (p.94)
(Ah, the ubiquitous, standalone climactic sentence. When overused, as the trend is in genre fiction these days, it quickly becomes aggravating and one of my big pet peeves.)
Someone behind Briar gave her back a friendly pat. It startled her, but there was nothing salacious about the gesture so she didn't flinch away from it. Besides, this was more friendly human contact than she'd had in years, and the pleasantness of it smoothed the keen, guilty edge of her sorrow. (p.190)
See what I mean? There's nothing actually wrong with the writing (except for the too-free use of climactic standalone sentences); it just is too much like the mindless, formulaic writing that pervades genre fiction and makes me more and more jaded. I've become quite snobby about this because of some truly terrible books that I've read, and any similarity just makes my lip curl.
Then there's the plot, and the narrative. It's slow, and painstaking. A single scene can take pages while the protagonist overthinks everything, and everyone's every arm movement and eyebrow twitch are noted. I love detail in books and generally prefer it to books with not enough detail (though the writing style plays a big part - sometimes less is definitely more) - but somehow the detail here was not the kind that engages me. I can't tell if it's the details themselves or the way they're shared. Many of the descriptions I had a hard time following, and picturing: the words used or the way things were described, I'm not sure but either way I was often confused. There were some details that weren't explained - or they were but I didn't notice. Like, where does the inner city get the coal that they need to keep the furnaces going constantly? As far as the rest of the city goes, no one knows that anyone still lives inside the wall. And why? Why are the "Chinamen" there, and why do they take the responsibility of keeping the bellows going? Why did Rudy kill one of them? Did anyone else notice that Briar and Zeke go for what amounts to two or three days without eating or drinking anything beyond a bit of water and a fig (or was it a date?)? Or sleeping? Or toilet breaks for that matter? These questions are some of the ones that bothered me, and the map didn't actually helped because it seemed like the characters were going all over the place for no real reason.
On the other, more positive hand, the Seattle of Boneshaker is pretty fleshed out, solid and tangible (the walled-off part, anyway). The writing is clear, clean, and the plot is headed is a firm direction, even if it does take forever to get there. The truth of Leviticus Blue is a tad predictable, but Minnericht was the scariest thing about the story. The typeface is a lovely dirty brown colour on off-white paper that ties in perfectly, and there are some really nice details. I liked some of the minor characters better than the two main protagonists. And it was refreshing reading a steampunk novel not set in Victorian London.
By the end, though, I was just relieved to have finished it. The sequels are already out, Clementine and Dreadnought, but I'm not planning on reading it. The characters, the city, the problem of the gas and the zombies, just didn't engage me enough to care about them and want to hear how the larger story is resolved. I'm probably the only person who didn't love this book, and no doubt my complaints don't make sense or seem ludicrous; the truth is, I haven't been looking forward to writing this review and it's been weeks since I finished it, but this is what stands out for me. It might be more enjoyable for people who haven't read a lot of pulp fiction, or those who love that style. (less)
Miss Alexia Tarabotti has many things against her. First, she is half-Italian and has the nose and skin to prove it. Second, she is a twenty-six year...moreMiss Alexia Tarabotti has many things against her. First, she is half-Italian and has the nose and skin to prove it. Second, she is a twenty-six year old spinster who must chaperone her silly younger half-sisters to balls where she would like to dance but where no one asks her to. Third, she is assertive, has an independent streak, and talks too much. Fouth, she is soulless.
Her soulless state is a secret from everyone but the paranormals - she is, after all, on the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) register. The vampires know of her, as do the werewolves and ghosts, but humans don't even know the soulless, or "preternatural", even exist.
So imagine her shock when a vampire in a very cheap shirt tries to bite her neck. Her soulless state neutralises him, but he keeps trying, so she is forced to use her trusty custom-made parasol to fend him off. When she accidentally kills him, the head of BUR, Lord Conall Maccon, is soon on the scene. Lord Maccon is also alpha of the Woolsey pack and he and Alexia have constantly butted heads ever since the hedgehog incident when they first met a few years ago.
It's soon apparent that something's not right with this dead vampire, aside from his embarrassing fang lisp. He didn't belong to any of the London hives, even though he smells - according to Lord Maccon - of the Westminster hive. The cases of disappearing vampires and werewolves, and the appearance of new rogue vampires, increases, and Alexia herself seems to always be in the thick of things. A wax-faced man keeps trying to kidnap her, and Lord Maccon has set BUR paranormals to guard her. It might not be enough to save her life, but as long as she can get a cup of tea and some decent cake Alexia is up to the challenge of discovering what is really going on.
One of the fun things about genre fiction is how fluid the boundaries are. Soulless is such a rich mix of genres and sub-genres that trying to pinpoint them all makes you dizzy, and yet it works wonderfully. Marketed as Fantasy/Horror, I can tell the publisher was also a bit confused as to how to sell this one, because it could just as easily have ended up in the Romance section. The romance isn't the main point of the novel, though, which is why it fits better in Fantasy - it does have a happy ending, romance-wise, though. The steampunk elements are slight and generally subtle, but important to the plot, and there's definitely a touch of the gothic.
Set in a more mechanised London - roughly 1870s, going by the clues - with a history of vampires and werewolves incorporated into society dating back to Henry VIII (the real reason behind the schism with the Pope), it seamlessly integrates new and fictional history into Victorian society without losing any of the prim and proper-ness of the period (more on that in a bit).
The story is fun in more ways than its mish-mash of generic tropes. Possessed of an ironic humour with a slight tongue-in-cheek touch - aimed at the social mores of the day - Soulless has witty banter and intelligent observations. Alexia can be at turns annoying and loveable, but always sympathetic. Lord Maccon the werewolf has his moments of also being a bit of a twit, but there's balance between wanting to laugh at him and respecting him that saves his character from being a buffoon. Besides, he's a romantic hero.
Theories about the soul are integral to the story, including the idea that vampires and werewolves exist because of too much soul, rather than none at all. Alexia, having no soul, can revert a vampire to human just from a touch. Aside from Alexia's own calmly reasoned opinions on the subject, the "truth" of the matter is very much open and quite fascinating to think about.
Soulless also breathes fresh life into the paranormal genre, blending more traditional vampires etc. with a few new twists. These aren't ridiculously handsome, all-powerful specimens: if a man was bald in life, he'll be bald as a vampire. The addition of the ultra-gay Lord Akeldama, who left his hive over disagreements about waistcoats, pokes irreverent fun at the hyper-heterosexuality of contemporary vampires.
There are a few slow points to the plot, but I often found the book hard to put down. The "bad guys" you can spot from the beginning, so it's not much of a mystery; the attempts to abduct Alexia add danger and threat to the tone of the story, and it's nicely dark and even macabre at points. It bothers me that, despite it's very English setting, it's littered with American spelling - absolutely jarring and completely weird, when they do that. Removes some of the authenticity of the setting and period, too.
The Victorian time period - which is lengthy (1837 - 1901) - has already produced great works in literature, such as that of Dickens, H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Contemporary genre fiction though has been slow to utilise it, especially Romance which possibly gets side-tracked by the illusion of gloom and prudish hide-the-ankles-of-the-table sexual repression (whereas they were just as horny and sexually active as any other period - and sex also took on what we would now see as gothic overtones, such as in the treatment of female hysteria by giving orgasms - the vibrator was invented around 1870 for doctors to give their upper class female patients orgasms).
It's fantastic to see writers like Laura Lee Guhrke (in Romance) and now Gail Carriger, bring new life to what is arguably one of the most fascinating time periods in British history - fascinating for all the changes that occurred, for being the "beginning" of the modern period, for being a time of flux and inventions and new ideas and Freud and vivid contradictions and even the beginnings, late Victorian-era, of feminism. There is some Fantasy of the steampunk variety already set in this period, but not a lot. I certainly hope to see more genre fiction set in this period, but it will need some thorough research.(less)