Alex Caine grew up in foster homes and was a wild kid until he started learning martial arts; since then, he's had focus, discipline and a means of eaAlex Caine grew up in foster homes and was a wild kid until he started learning martial arts; since then, he's had focus, discipline and a means of earning a living in illegal cage fights. He always wins, too, because he has a secret advantage: he can see people's shades, and knows what his opponents are about to do. It isn't until he meets Englishman Patrick Welby that Alex learns there's a name for what he is: mage. Once Welby unlocks the door to the hidden world of magesign and the Fey, Alex is reluctantly drawn in. Welby has his sights set on a powerful magical book that he hasn't been able to read, but he thinks Alex can. He wants Alex to go with him from Sydney to London to try and read the book, being held by a cranky and unlikeable bookseller called Peacock.
Welby's hunch was right: Alex can read it, only with unexpected consequences. The book is actually a vessel for a trapped piece of a Fey god, a being of chaos that was driven from this plane with only this one little bit remaining, a piece that latches onto a mortal soul and drives them to destruction. Alex is no less a victim, and with his training is driven to lethal acts. He'll do whatever it takes to get rid of the indestructible book, even braving the dens of flesh-eating Kin, before any more people die at his hands.
With the help of an unlikely but beautiful, inhuman ally called Silhouette, and pursued by a ruthless and ambitious magical-artefacts dealer called Mr Hood, Alex finds himself traversing the globe to hunt down shards of the powerful stone that first rid the world of the godling, Uthentia. Time is running out and the stakes are getting higher. Even if he succeeds in his quest to find the long-hidden pieces, he has only a hunch and conviction that he will be able to use what took three powerful mages to wield long ago. But there's only one way to find out.
I'm not a big reader of Urban Fantasy, mostly because the majority of books that fall under that sub-genre always use mysteries or detective work as their plot, and mysteries tend to bore me. Character development especially, and also world-building, are all-too-often overlooked in a mystery (or detective or thriller or CIA) novel. I'm not sure why Urban Fantasy must contain some kind of mystery-detective plotline, but I'm guessing it's a way to explore the familiar-unfamiliar world for the sake of the audience. When it's not a mystery, it's romance - paranormal romance. I find the latter more interesting and engaging because romance, by dint of its nature, relies on characters, so you get plenty of character development (or you should). Bound pleasantly straddles several tropes common to Urban Fantasy, combining Fey and Kin with human, magic and mystery with crime and violence, love and obsession with murder and mayhem. It has more of a classic Quest structure than a detective one, and uses the trope of introducing a new, hidden and complex world to an ignorant human as a means of providing exposition at a gradual pace. Overall, it works.
Bound is a gritty, dark urban fantasy, full of violence and gore and visceral imagery. There are hints of other works here - or rather, certain scenes reminded me of other works, which is not to say Baxter lacks originality but that stories create a community of ideas and imagination, which I love. The golems reminded me of Jonathan Stroud, the island of malnourished worshippers and the obese dictator reminded me of Iain Banks' Consider Phlebus (the first of his Culture science fiction series). Other elements of the novel reminded me of less tangible stories, books I couldn't quite remember or grasp. Overall it makes Bound feel like familiar territory, one that doesn't need much exposition to understand.
Alex Caine is a good protagonist and hero-figure, leading us into this new world unwillingly, but never baulking at what he knows he must do. For the most part, he asks good questions and uses his head. I can only hope that his character is more fully developed and explained over the following two books, as we don't learn a whole lot about him here. Silhouette, likewise, is a shadowy figure (no pun intended), but an excellent one. She's only half-human, and Baxter does a good job of developing her inhumanity while at the same time giving us plenty to like and relate to. The world of the Kin and the Fey is an interesting one, and while it might not be the most original of storylines or worlds, it is quite entertaining, in a dark and often violent way.
Where I struggled some was with the writing. Baxter's prose is solid, his details are nicely placed, and the dialogue flows quite naturally. But what I got really tired of was the constant use of the rhetorical question. Baxter uses it a great deal when Alex starts reflecting and thinking and in general, trying to figure things out. The occasional rhetorical question works fine, but sometimes there were several in the one paragraph and it does weaken the writing (not to mention makes Alex a tad annoying in those moments).
I enjoyed Bound, both for its dark, twisted other-worldly creatures and, at times, downright terrifying scenes of violence and gristly murder (the scene with the children was particularly hard to read), as well as for the simple but layered world-building. Alex Caine starts off the series as an ordinary man with a couple of extraordinary talents; by the end, he's something more than human and forever changed by his experiences. It can only get more interesting from here on.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book....more
The thirteenth and final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series (originally called the Southern Vampire series) is rThis review contains minor spoilers.
The thirteenth and final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series (originally called the Southern Vampire series) is really about tying up loose ends and finalising Sookie's love life. For the last several books, she's been in a mostly-intense relationship with Eric, a very old vampire and sheriff of Area 5, a designation among the powerful vampire political structure in which the United States, along with the rest of the world, is divided into small kingdoms ruled by vampire kings and queens. The vampires aren't the only paranormal beings in this alternate world: there are also weres, shapeshifters, demons and various kinds of Fae (including fairies), as well as human witches. Over the course of the series, Sookie has discovered them all, not least the fact that she has a bit of fairy blood in her, that the ruler of the fae is her great-grandfather, and that here telepathic ability was actually a gift from her half-demon godfather (also a lawyer - oh the irony!).
The first half of the series was really very good, each book a sort-of standalone mystery that adds to a bigger kaleidoscopic picture in which Sookie is a sometimes key piece. Sookie went through quite a spread of supernatural lovers, but never seemed to settle on any one man until Eric. Yet the last few books, Harris has very clearly been driving a wedge between them, and making it clear that their relationship just can't work. The romance died in the 12th book, so it was no surprise that their relationship finally, clearly ended here. I'm more surprised that so many fans (who come across as a bit obsessive, frankly) declared feelings of disappointment and betrayal (Harris even received death threats). I always thought Sam would be the one she ended up with in the end - there was just something quietly solid and human-enough about him, waiting in the background. Plus, perhaps because he's essentially as human as Sookie is, he's of her 'kind', doesn't come with a host of archaic rules or (to Sookie) bizarre cultural expectations, like all her other lovers did. He's very much the 'boy next door' type, steadfast, loyal and clearly in love with Sookie. It just took Sookie a long time to work through the dazzle and excitement of vampires to realise that love doesn't need danger to be real. Works for me.
I've always enjoyed the steady pacing, quiet, almost matter-of-fact tone and Sookie's practical approach. The stories are well grounded in a fictional reality because of the time Harris spends creating Sookie's days - the uneventful ones, where she cleans and gardens and goes shopping. Such details help balance the supernatural stuff, and make Sookie a relateable narrator. Harris has maintained that tone and pacing throughout, though some books are more exciting and plot-driven than others. Perhaps Dead Ever After lacked a central plot to anchor it, perhaps it was a bit scattered - and forgettable. I initially rated this 4/5, but coming to write this review, I've realised I can't remember very much at all of what happens, only a few details here and there. There is, of course, a plot against Sookie's life - much more personal than before, and coming from two fronts. The revelation of who is behind it is both a surprise and a bit of a disappointment. But it makes enough sense that it works.
Dead Ever After is a merry-go-round of previous characters: almost everyone from past books makes an appearance here, if they're still alive. Her brother gets married. She renews her friendship with Tara. Quinn, the weretiger, comes onto the scene, as does Alcide. Good guys and the less-good. It's like a "This is Your Life" episode. By the end, we're left feeling good that Sookie's life will be much less chaotic or scary (or exciting) from now on, that she's financially stable and has a boyfriend who won't (or can't) change her very nature. All's good in Sookie-land. Isn't that what you want at the end of a series?
It's been a fun ride, with its ups-and-downs, its exciting books and its filler books, machinations, big plots and small, home-grown ones. Sookie's come a long way but she's still, at heart, the same woman she was at the beginning, just more confident, more knowledgeable, more at peace with who she is. They're good, fun reads that dabble with big themes of family, love, trust, racism, belonging etc., giving them plenty of meat to chew on. I'll miss Sookie, but I know I can always start again and enjoy the stories all over again. That, surely, is the sign of a good, long-lasting fantasy series....more
Stephen Swinton has always been invisible. He was born that way, and while his father couldn't handle it and left, his mother loved him and kept him aStephen Swinton has always been invisible. He was born that way, and while his father couldn't handle it and left, his mother loved him and kept him and taught him how to give himself weight and presence. It doesn't matter if Stephen puts on clothes - no one can see him. No one has ever seen him. It's a family curse but his mother died of an aneurysm several years ago without ever telling him the truth of his invisibility. His father, who lives in California, pays for the apartment in New York where Stephen lives, the food and clothes he orders online and has left at his door, and rarely calls to check on him. Stephen doesn't mind. He's used to it. He watches people, but they can't see him. Until one day when, to his utter shock, a girl does see him.
Elizabeth has just moved in to the apartment down the hall with her mother and her brother Laurie after he was severely beaten by some homophobic kids at school. While Laurie is in summer school, catching up for the months he spent in hospital, and their mother works extra shifts at the hospital where she's an administrator, Elizabeth has been relegated the task of unpacking, buying supplies and getting to know their new home. Her first impression of Stephen isn't a very good one, as he just stands there staring at her, but he soon proves to be someone fun to hang out with, as he shows her his favourite places in Central Park.
For several weeks Stephen is able to pretend he's normal with Elizabeth, that he's visible - because to her, he is. Until finally, one day, the spell is ruined and Elizabeth finds out no one else can see her new boyfriend. With the upbeat help of Laurie, Stephen and Elizabeth confront his father and demand the truth: why is he invisible, and what can they do about it?
The truth is far worse than they could have imagined, and seemingly an impossible thing to solve. But with unexpected help they learn more about the family curse Stephen's grandfather laid on him and his mother, and Elizabeth discovers that she has a big role to play, not just in helping Stephen but many other people as well. But to do so means going up against someone far stronger and more powerful than they, a man who lives to curse people and who has no qualms about killing others for the sake of his own twisted logic.
I find myself drawn to these stories about people who are made invisible or turned into insects etc., though I also find that the stories never quite excite me the way I'd hoped. In a way, that's what happened with Invisibility as well, as it went in a very specific direction that I hadn't really expected (though I should have), which made it a more conventional story in the end. When I started reading this, Andrew Clements' Things Not Seen came naturally to mind: another YA story, this one about a boy who wakes up one day to find himself invisible, though when he puts clothes on you can see the shape of his body and where he is. The two novels don't have much in come other than an invisible teenaged boy, and they take the premise in very different directions. I should add that I haven't read anything by Andrea Cremer before, though I have read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist which David Levithan co-wrote with Rachel Cohn - considering the way the characters talk in that book, I kept confusing Cremer and Levithan and thinking she wrote Nick and Norah. Perhaps, instead, she wrote Stephen's chapters and Levithan wrote Elizabeth's, as she was really more in his style. Or perhaps they wrote both characters together. I'm always curious about how these collaborations work, which seems to be a different process each time. I mention this because for many other readers, it was having these two authors collaborate that got them excited about reading this book: for me, it was the premise only.
Invisibility leaves the dazzling possibilities of Speculative and Magical Realism and instead goes straight down Urban Fantasy lane and turns left at "Magic & Mystery". Or "Magic & Mayhem" - or "Magic & Murder". We meet spellcasters, spellseekers and cursemakers, and there's nothing safe and cute and Disney about any of it. I did like that it became - not dark, but serious. People die, and are severely hurt. There are moments when it reads almost like horror. And here I was thinking it was just going to be a (possibly lame) cutesy romance like the cover implies. It might not have been the story I wanted to read, but at least it was much more than that. It just wasn't the thought-provoking or insightful book I had hoped to read.
Each chapter is told in turns by Stephen and Elizabeth, in first person present tense. It's one of the few times this actually works, and one of the few times when you could actually include their names as chapter headings - I really don't like it when books told in the third person from more than one perspective include names as chapter headings, like it isn't perfectly obvious as you read - Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series does it, as does Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky which I just reviewed. When using the first person, though, that's when it makes sense to include a name for the chapter, because you're just getting the personal pronoun ("I"). Still, not doing it isn't a big problem, and the great thing about Invisibility - no doubt thanks to having two authors of different genders collaborating - is how distinct the characters' voices are.
Elizabeth is smart and a bit moody and has an entertaining internal monologue going. She's close to her brother - though I couldn't work out how old Laurie is, or whether he was her twin or just a little younger? Stephen is quieter, introspective, and very alone and isolated. He is deeply caring in a sad, yearning kind of way. You have to feel sorry for Stephen: his own parents don't even know what he looks like, and with his mother gone, he hasn't felt human affection - like a hug - in years. Finding Elizabeth is an incredible experience for him. Their relationship progresses fairly slowly - no instant love here - but I never quite felt any real chemistry between them. They seemed like really close friends to me, not boyfriend and girlfriend. In fact, considering that the ending sets up a sequel (or several), I would have found this to be a much more engrossing story with a higher dose of anticipation if they had just been friends for the whole book, with some tension between them but that's it. It would have made me want to keep reading - as it is, I didn't quite connect with the characters enough to care about what happens next. I mean, there's only so long you can read about an invisible person, as their life really doesn't change. The forward momentum for the overall plot rests with Elizabeth; in contrast, Stephen is rendered passive and almost useless, and after everything he's been through already (just by existing), I felt he really was getting shafted in all this.
The pacing is great, the writing is strong, the characters are nicely developed and feel real and believable; I would have loved this I'm sure but for two sticking points that really merge into one: the direction this story takes. It's often the case that once the mystery behind something strange is revealed, a feeling of anti-climax sets in and everything feels a bit blah afterwards. Considering that we learn the truth of Stephen's invisibility about halfway through the book, there's still plenty of story and plot in which to either lose the reader or reinvest the reader. I dithered between the two. I think the way the story goes would have worked a lot better for me - been a lot stronger - had the ending been different. I would have loved to see things change for Stephen so that in the next book we could watch him grow more, develop into himself and experience the world in a way he never has before, and in turn see his relationship with Elizabeth change, develop, mature.
Sadly, the way the book ends almost renders everything that happened irrelevant and useless. I see no point in reading on if the authors are just going to keep Stephen invisible - his condition being a very useful obstacle in the romance (Romance stories always require an obstacle to keep the hero and heroine apart for as long as possible). For while we learned a lot about this world and its rules and Elizabeth's place in it, plot-wise the ending may as well have been the beginning for all anything really changed for Stephen. And that's where the story lost me, right there on the rooftop for the big finale. (Also, I wished one of the characters had suggested my idea: that Stephen take the deal - and the power - and throw it back, thus gaining visibility and preventing the person who caused it from ever using their power again. Quite possibly there are more rules as to why that wouldn't have worked, but it seemed like such an obvious solution, I would have liked to know why it couldn't have worked, at least.)
Invisibility gets big points for the main characters and their voices, which I really enjoyed. It gets points for the premise and set-up, though I'm not sure that an invisible baby is at all realistic, when you think about it. And I did enjoy the magic side of the story, I was just disappointed by how it didn't go anywhere, and neither did the characters, not really. Maybe if it had been even darker and grittier, the ending would have worked better. As it is, this was an entertaining story and a successful collaboration that maybe suffered from the prospect of too many plot possibilities and so went with the path of least resistance. ...more
It's been six weeks since I read this and I'm struggling a bit to remember what it was about, so I'm just going to start writing and see what resurfacIt's been six weeks since I read this and I'm struggling a bit to remember what it was about, so I'm just going to start writing and see what resurfaces. Deadlocked begins with a dodgy party at Eric Northman's house where he's entertaining the vampire king of the region, Felipe de Castro, and his entourage. Considering Eric, Sookie and their cohort were directly responsible for murdering Victor, Felipe's regent, in the previous book, Dead Reckoning. Things get messy at the party: Sookie is delayed by Mustapha, Eric's shifter guard, and when she does arrive she finds Eric drinking blood from a drugged girl - and it looks like sex isn't far behind. After Sookie's evicted the girl from the house, she turns up dead of a broken neck on Eric's front lawn, and the police are called.
Things are messy for Sookie at home, as well. Her great uncle Dermot, a fairy, and her cousin Claude are still living with her, having been left behind when Sookie's grandfather, a patriarch of the fae, closed the doorways between the two worlds. When her grandfather, Niall, turns up unexpectedly and Sookie confronts him about his treatment of his son, Dermot, certain things come to light and Niall begins his own investigation into his family, taking Claude with him back to faery.
Without Claude managing the other strange fae in the area, they begin to get restless and Sookie isn't sure how long it'll be before they make a mistake and eat something - or someone - they shouldn't. The police are watching Sookie; her best friend Tara is about to have twins; her friend Sam's new girlfriend, a werewolf called Jannalynn, has taken exception to Sookie's existence; there's a robbery at the antique store selling some of her grandparents' old furniture; and it dawns on Sookie that others might be aware that she has a cluviel dor in her possession: a powerful magical artefact that her grandmother's faery lover Fintan had given her, which had been stowed away in a secret compartment in her grandmother's desk, which Sookie found.
I can't remember all the thoughts I had while reading this and directly afterward, but here are the lingering impressions (which are perhaps the ones that really count).
Like many Sookie Stackhouse novels, Deadlocked is busy and full of small details - which is just how I like my Sookie books (I've adjusted to the lots-of-little-plots over one-big-cohesive-plot that you get in this series, so now I just go with it and try to keep up). So far this is the only Urban Fantasy series I really enjoy, and the only one I've actually stuck with. Sookie is no detective, she just happens to have the tools - her telepathy and all the people she knows - to be in the right place at the right time and the smarts to figure things out. She's a waitress with only year 12 education, and no ambition, but she's comfortable with that and she's such a well-developed, enjoyable character that she carries the story well. There's just something about Sookie that I have always liked, even though if she were a real person and I met her, we wouldn't have anything in common and wouldn't be friends. I enjoy reading about her life, the mundane details as much as the exciting ones. The only trouble I have with her is that, lately, she seems a bit unemotional.
Perhaps there's just so much going on in her world, and she's had to face the loss of loved ones, a load of violence, torture and betrayal, that she's a bit numb now. It's just that, she says she loves Eric (and he says he loves her) but I just don't believe it. The book where Eric was bewitched and forgot who he was and charmed Sookie by being a sweetheart was probably my favourite in the whole series, but the chemistry between the two of them has vanished in the last couple of books. It's also been dulled by the clear fact that there's no future for these two. Sookie has no interest in becoming a vampire. And she seems to be sacrificing a great deal of her own morals, or principals, merely to remain in the vampires' social circles, and that does seem to be affecting her, even if she hasn't realised it. So the way this one ended was both a pleasant surprise and a bit of an "a-ha!" moment, though I rather hope that things aren't going to be that obvious.
There are a couple of different strands to the plot of Deadlocked, and they both come to fruition at the end - only they didn't quite make sense to me. I had a great many interruptions while reading this, having started it in Canada while surrounded by movers, and finishing it here in Australia days later. I did enjoy it, it was much stronger than the previous book or two which were rather boring, but my increasing sense of despair for Sookie's personal life spoiled it somewhat.
Still, things have been put into place to make the next book (the last one I think?) a solid finale. I hope. I'm looking forward to reading it, because having got to know Sookie as a fictional character, I so want to see her happy - and safe - because I don't know that I really understand her anymore. She's not the person she was in the beginning, which is understandable, and I don't think she likes herself as much anymore. You can actually feel the mild depression coming off the narration (I have to wonder how much of that is Harris being tired of Sookie and her story, too). She was often grumpy, upsettingly small-minded, begrudging, angry, and so on. She doesn't seem to have anyone to really talk to, and Eric has become a pretty useless boyfriend. The last book has a lot of work to do, is all I can say....more
The Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night HuntThe Bite Before Christmas contains two novellas, "The Gift" by Lynsay Sands (Argeneau #15.5) and "Home for the Holidays" by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress #6.5).
In "The Gift", Port Henry's middle aged bachelor police chief, Teddy Brunswick, gladly accepts Margeurite Argeneau's offer of her cottage in Muskoka to avoid being alone and pitied on Christmas. But the morning after he arrives, he wakes up to find that a storm has taken out the power, his truck is completely snowed in (even the door handle is frozen), and a fallen tree has blocked the road. He has no food and his mobile phone needs recharging - all he has is a fireplace and some heat.
When he treks out to the road to survey the damage, he encounters a lovely young woman called Katricia, who is also alone and borrowing the neighbouring cottage which belongs to friends of hers (Mortimer and Sam, from The Rogue Hunter). She has loads of food but no heat, so they decide to pool resources. Tricia brings over the food, something she didn't think she'd need since she hasn't been interested in eating for centuries - but now that she's met her life mate, Teddy, it's one of the things that's returned to her.
Like all her kind, she'd despaired of ever meeting her life mate, and now here he is - and they're confined to a cottage on a lake for a few days. It seems the perfect situation to Tricia, but Teddy is fifty and thinks he's way too old for her, and that his attraction to her is a little creepy. But he knows about her kind, coming from Port Henry where immortals are a kind of half-open secret, so Katricia has every hope that he'll welcome the idea. She just has to find the right moment to tell him.
"Home for the Holidays" begins with a surprise birthday celebration for Bones, organised by his loving wife Cat, to which all the old crowd is invited (their main paranormal crew is there except for Vlad - Ian, Spade, Fabian, Elisabeth, Denise, Mencheres, Kira and Annette). Annette is late to the party, though, and when Ian goes to her hotel to fetch her, he finds her being assailed by an unknown man, the room covered in blood. The assailant flees out the window and Annette is strangely reticent in giving Bones any information.
That night, a stranger breaches their property, a vampire in a frilly shirt who calls himself Wraith and claims to be Bone's half-brother, and a loner whose Sire is dead. Bones is sceptical, but hopeful, for he's never known where he came from. But soon after Wraith is welcomed into the house, Cat notices something strange. Everyone except her, Denise and Ian are entranced by the vampire as he tells long-winded story after long-winded story. When Bones completely loses interest in Cat and doesn't show any of his usual reactions towards her, she becomes as worried as Ian. The two of them have to work together to figure out what's going on and how to fix it, before Bones is lost to her forever.
I enjoyed both of these stories a great deal, though "Home for the Holidays" was the stronger one - and glad I was of it too, since the last Cat and Bones book I read was pretty disappointing for me.
"The Gift" was a fun read, returning to the lighter early books in the series in tone, with no dark sub-plots, just a scenario that brings together two people and gives them time to explore things. Interestingly, after Teddy is turned (not a spoiler, since of course he's turned) and becomes young again - about twenty-five - I found myself missing the Teddy I'd come to know, the older man facing retirement. Of course it changes things, getting your youth back, and if this were a longer story, or a work of speculative fiction rather than romance, it could have become a very dark story, if Teddy wasn't as lovely as he is. But I really liked him, so it was easy to be happy for him and to smile at his sudden youthful enthusiasm. Still, when you fall in love with a person, having them suddenly lose decades would make me feel like I was now stuck with someone I didn't know. Interesting thought, anyway.
Overall, it was great getting back to Canada and a quieter, more light-hearted story in the Argeneau series.
With "Home for the Holidays", Frost struck gold, creating a neat, tight story, plenty of action, a situation that seemed unsolvable (Kresley Cole has turned me into a fan of these kinds of twisted plots!), and Cat gets to seriously kick arse, again. Plus, you will actually like Ian in this story, since he gets to act hero without losing his crude and irreverent sense of humour.
More than that, though, we learn more about Bones' lineage and past, and that glimpse of repressed hope that Cat sees in his eyes when Wraith dangles the long-lost-brother card makes your heart break a bit. The ghosts get some good air time too, action-wise, which I always love, since the vampires always ignore and underestimate them. And on the romance front, there are some lovely intense scenes between Cat and Bones - not the sex, interestingly enough, but before that.
Overall, a winning novella in the Night Huntress world that reinvigorates my previously waning love for the series....more
Only fourteen years old, Sophronia Temminnick is well established as the troublesome child in her family. She likes to take the mechanicals apart to sOnly 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. ...more
It's no coincidence that Sookie always seems to be around when trouble strikes - these days, it's coming after her, specifically, even when she doesn'It's no coincidence that Sookie always seems to be around when trouble strikes - these days, it's coming after her, specifically, even when she doesn't realise it at the time. First a fire bomb is hurled through the window at Merlotte's during her shift, then a gang of men turn up hyped up on vampire blood. Turns out Debbie Pelt's insane younger sister Sandra is out of jail and gunning for Sookie with everything she's got, and there's no one around anymore to hold her in check.
Meanwhile her vampire boyfriend Eric, the Sheriff of Area 5 in which Sookie lives, continues to have his own problems with Victor, the vampire who manages the whole state and more, a regent for their king. Victor's doing everything he can to squeeze Eric and make life difficult for him - to provoke him, ideally, into an attack so Victor can get rid of him altogether. Now Victor is refusing to let Pam change over her lover, Miriam, who's dying of cancer and has little time left.
And Sookie's newest housemates, her fairy relatives Claude and Dermot, seem to have an ulterior motive in moving in with her, and Sookie's not entirely sure whether she should trust them or not. With Eric and Pam now seriously plotting a way to kill Victor for good, and Sandra sending people to kill her, Sookie's got her hands full. Worse, Eric's keeping a secret from her which could change everything for Sookie, as she learns about a new queen and an old promise. With all these new complications, Sookie still manages to find time to clear out her attic, discover an old letter addressed to her from her grandmother, and host a baby shower.
Wow are we really up to book eleven in this series already?! I would never have guessed there were so many - perhaps because some stand out a lot more than others. This wasn't quite a stand-out novel but it was much more exciting and interesting than the previous book. I always enjoy them regardless, because I love Harris' style - Sookie's voice - and the combination of daily routine, paranormal politics, danger, mystery and romance. I find it very easy to settle into Sookie's storytelling, her narration, and there's so much going on in the details that they're much more satisfying books than a lot of other Urban Fantasy.
While this had more plot than the previous book, Dead in the Family - which was one of the "filler" books - it still lacked one of the high-octane plots of some of the earlier books. I actually kept forgetting about Sandra - in fact I couldn't remember her at all, from previous books! - but I mean I kept forgetting about the danger she posed. I just couldn't quite take her seriously, even though I should have.
I was more tense about the situation with Victor, who's a real bastard and definitely a serious threat. But as far as plots go, it wasn't really central to the story. In fact, nothing was central, it is a story made up of smaller plots, side issues, more character development, and a progression of on-going plot lines. This isn't a negative, just an observation. It doesn't mean it lacked cohesion, tension or excitement - Harris is good at keeping things tight and on track. She doesn't seem to forget details or contradict herself. Yet there was also a lack of energy in this instalment which isn't typical of the series. Could Harris be winding down?
In particular, I found the romance between Sookie and Eric to be, well, not really there. Where was the passion of previous books? The tug-of-war that was always so entertaining between them. Sookie says she loves him - and does something rather serious to find out the truth of those feelings - and yet I didn't feel it. She came across as almost indifferent, and her tendency to treat Eric as an irritating young relative wasn't funny anymore, just ... off. Likewise, what with all the problems in Eric's life, I didn't buy into his feelings either. Sure he's a kind of alien and I don't expect him to behave like a "regular" romantic hero, but the chemistry that's usually between them just wasn't there. It was hugely disappointing, and rather sad.
As a story that continues to flesh out this interesting world that Harris has constructed, it's a good one, and there is some excitement and one very tense, danger-riddled scene at Fangtasia; it opens some new doors and closes others. But in terms of characters and the "human" side of the story, it wasn't Harris' best. I still really enjoy the books, and this was no exception, but it didn't really go anywhere - except, maybe, in the Victor storyline - and the "Bill spectre" loomed large again. I just would have thought that by now, eleven books in, I would know Sookie better than this, and have an idea of what her future goals and plans are - does she want a full-time relationship? Marriage even? Kids? Her life seems stalled at the moment, especially dating vampires and other supernatural creatures, and it starting to feel a bit depressing. I'd like to see her progress in her life, in some way - rather than see her constantly be a kind of plaything for vampires or a useful tool for the "supes", I'd love to see her do something for herself, something that shows how she's grown and what direction she wants to take her life. Because loving a vampire, that's a life that really isn't going to go anywhere. ...more
Sarah and David's marriage is on the rocks. Pretty much everything they do annoys the other, and resentment is building, especially on Sarah's side. SSarah and David's marriage is on the rocks. Pretty much everything they do annoys the other, and resentment is building, especially on Sarah's side. She's also shelling out hundreds of dollars so they can see a marriage counsellor, Dr Kelly. As they make their way to her office one fateful Wednesday - 10th August 2010, to be exact - Sarah does notice that there's not much traffic on the road, and she does think it unusual that the security guard at the parking garage, Mack, is absent from his usual spot. But even when they find that Candy, Dr Kelly's receptionist, has also left her desk, naturally they don't jump to any outrageous conclusions - like, say, they've all been turned into zombies. Instead, they open the door to Dr Kelly's office and find the skinny blonde woman in stilettos, busily munching away on the couple she sees before them.
After such a sudden, shocking introduction to the new state of the world - or the Seattle CBD, at least - David and Sarah have to fight for their lives, several times, in their desperate quest to flee the city. The plague - believed to have started in a science lab at the university - is moving faster than they can fathom, and with the transition to zombie occurring in ten to twenty minutes, it only takes about 24 hours for Seattle to be overrun with zombies. Sarah and David have a vague plan to make for David's sister's place in the country, but first they have to get out of Seattle with their lives (and bodies) intact - and maybe their marriage, too.
I am honestly not a fan of zombies or zombie stories, I'll say that right here. I've seen just a few movies (Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, that one with Sarah Polley, can't remember what else...) and only read about five or so books - the movies make me scared in a not-fun way, and the books tend to bore me (the zombie parts of them, anyway). Because zombies are boring. They have no brains, no minds. No feelings or intellect. You can't talk to them. They're possessed with a drive to consume living human flesh. They're rotting. You can't have a zombie protagonist, not the horror kind of zombie anyway (Dearly, Departed did an interesting thing with that dilemma, and I'm looking forward to reading Warm Bodies which has a zombie protagonist). They're scary in the sense that it doesn't take long before there are no people left, and there's nowhere to go. There's also that sense that you can't win, and futility is just depressing.
And then we have Married With Zombies, which is a formulaic zombie story made entertaining by the humour, and exciting by all the near-misses the couple have. The chapter headings - combining marriage counselling advice with living in a zombie-apocalypse - are very funny and give you a good idea of what's coming up in that chapter: "Never go to bed angry. Terrified is okay." "Make requests, not demands. 'Please' kill that zombie, honey, I'm out of bullets." "Address one issue at a time. You can't load gasoline, pick up food, AND kill fifteen zombies all at once." "Find creative ways to have fun together. Looting is really underrated."
Interestingly, I don't always do well with "funny" books, either - the humour can sound too forced or like it's trying too hard, in some books. Thankfully, Petersen actually made me laugh several times, and that made me enjoy this particular zombie book. Even without an extensive background in zombie stories, I could recognise all the tropes and feel myself on very familiar ground. But Sarah's voice was refreshing and gave me a giggle more than once:
Dave continued to stare at the mangled body on the bathroom floor, which was pooling with blood and mung now. "So you killed him with what now?" "I tried that Dr. Phil book at first," I sighed as I looked at the offending tome, lying next to Jack's lifeless body, its pages caked with fluids and unidentifiable mush. "And I finished off with the toilet seat. Just so you know, you left it up again. That drives me crazy." [p.33]
With so much emphasis on survival, the couple did slide into the background at times - as people, that is. What I mean is, while they mention the problems with their marriage throughout the book, I never felt like I really got to know them, personally. We learn that David had been doing another degree and then dropped out to rethink his life, leaving Sarah to work longer hours to earn the money for all their bills. But mentioning it is about as far as it goes. Sarah seems able to move on from all the things that were making their marriage unbearable, relatively easily - sure, zombie crisis and all, and it wasn't unrealistic per se, just a bit too simplified for me.
The story does touch upon the different ways people react in a crisis, and how we each have our own sense of logic which can put us at odds with one another. This was a very fun read, and while I'm still not a fan of zombie stories, I'm glad I had a positive experience for once!...more