Ann Aguirre came onto my radar somewhat belatedly only last year when I finally cracked open and fell in love with Enclave and Outpost. When I saw she...moreAnn Aguirre came onto my radar somewhat belatedly only last year when I finally cracked open and fell in love with Enclave and Outpost. When I saw she was going to co-author a steampunk novel with her husband I decided it was one of the books I simply had to get my hands on in 2013. So I slapped it on pre-order! It took me a while to get around to it after I’d received it, but it got to the point where I needed a handbag-sized book for my morning run to work and Bronze Gods is the one that called out to me from the shelves.
It took me a whole five days to read it, which is a long time for me, but I’m going to blame that on the sudden heat wave we’ve been submitted to. It’s the sort of heat where you become lethargic, don’t sleep, and just generally suffer. In this part of the world we do not have air-co in our houses either, so we have no choice but to get on with life as best we can while we slowly melt…
Despite the fact that it took me quite a while to read, the book garnered my interest as of the very beginning and held it right through to the end. For some reason I thought the story was going to be set in London (as with most steampunk novels, I guess) but it was actually set in “the land beyond the mists” where the Ferishers (fae) originally ruled but lost control of the lands when humans somehow made their way through the mists. As humans are wont to do, they started killing off all the Ferishers, until, in order to save their race, the Ferishers married and bred with the invaders – thus diluting their blood and magic. Now only those with strong links to their Ferisher ancestors show any affinity for magic – which comes in all sorts of shapes and forms – leaving the country of Hy Breasil that much more intriguing. I get the feeling that Bronze Gods has only just scraped the surface of everything that’s in store for us and I cannot wait to find out what else is to come!
The world building here is phenomenal. If you’re one of those readers who wants to know everything about how the world works in one fell swoop, this book isn’t for you. The world is fleshed out slowly with the authors feeding us new information in dribs and drabs as it becomes pertinent to the story. There are no info dumps here (minus the prologue, but I’ll forgive that as it worked to set the scene) and everything that is presented is done so in a classy manner that avoids making it sound like the narrating character is pressing pause on the story, explaining the whole situation to the reader, and then pressing play again. I much prefer this approach: I don’t need to know everything, just enough to make sure I can keep up with events taking place. The authors had no trouble finding that perfect balance – hooray!
Mikani and Ritsuko themselves really breathe life into the whole story. They’ve already been partners for a few years before we join them, and they already work together very well. They have their little habits to smooth their investigations – he drives there, she drives back; she asks the questions, he contemplates the answers – and there’s already a certain rapport between them. They are each fiercely devoted to the other, standing by each other through thick and thin going out of their way to help each other, loyal, the crutch the other needs to lean on when the going gets tough. Moreover, they’re on the cusp of being ready to move on from being just partners on the job to being something more. The romance doesn’t even take a back seat here – it’s relegated to the boot (or trunk if you’re American) of the car and allowed to see the light of day just enough to prove its existence. Neither character is really ready to take that next step yet. Hopefully book 2 will be the moment for them!
This slow building romance really fit the bill here: it allowed me as the reader to get to know and form a favourable opinion of both of the characters – Mikani with his messy ways and occasional dependency on substances; Ritsuko with her strong backbone and perfectionist tendencies – before I’m thrown in to the romance. So long as it doesn’t take them too long to take the next step, I’ll be happy (I say this as the reader of one particular series that has taken fifteen years to get the characters to the point where they can take that next step – and this is at one book a year!).
The side characters made for an interesting bunch as well. Every fourth chapter was in Aurelia Wright’s PoV, giving us a glimpse at another side of life in this world, though I have to admit that I missed Mikani and Ritsuko during these chapters. However, I do recognise why they were integral to the story. I’m wondering whether book 2 will also follow her in part as her storyline is left open, or whether we’ll be introduced to a new character who will take her place. I’d certainly like to learn more about her father, the architect, and his role in society.
I don’t want to say too much about the mystery itself as it’s very easy to give away enough to make sure any future readers have enough information to avoid some of the pitfalls. But it’s good!
All in all, this is a very well written book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m looking forward to book 2!(less)
I feel that it is very important to point out that this novel is a true work of art. Of course, as with all works of art...moreFull review can be found here.
I feel that it is very important to point out that this novel is a true work of art. Of course, as with all works of art there will be those who are fascinated by it and others who are dissatisfied with what they find before them. As for me, I’m caught up somewhere in the middle.
I could appreciate the novel for the craftsmanship that went into it but at the same time the very original construction didn’t really appeal to me. The narrative jumps around both in point of view and chronologically. I assume that these jumps are marked by chapter breaks in the physical copy of the book but in my PDF-to-mobi copy only a handful of these breaks were marked. Sometimes a paragraph would start in the third person, present tense and suddenly switch to first person, past tense and be following a different plot point. This got to be very confusing at times; I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it affected my enjoyment of the story.
The opening scene is about “you” visiting the circus and admiring the marvels that are to be found there. It was so uncannily similar to the opening of The Night Circus that I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. It turns out that both books are copyrighted to 2011 – in fact, Mechanique was published some 6 months before The Night Circus – so it’s just two different authors who came up with very similar ideas (albeit following completely different plot veins) at around the same time.
It took me a while to really get used to the narrator jumps. Sometimes it would be in the second person, sometimes third person omniscient and others in the first person. It took me a fair while to get used to the flow of this. It didn’t help that the plot took a long time in getting anywhere at all: it wasn’t until the 10-15% mark that the threads of a plot started to weave together beyond the confusion of seemingly random, unconnected scenes that had come before then, and it wasn’t until the 50% mark that the plot itself took precedence over anecdotes from various characters’ pasts.
That was what I didn’t really like about the book – how things seemed to yo-yo a lot between relevant scenes and what were really just scenes to flesh out the history behind the story. When things focused on the plot, though, I found it to be 100% original and absorbing. I loved the steampunk idea it all of a woman somehow endowed with the ability to sustain a person’s life indefinitely through metal contraptions. I liked the idea of a travelling circus moving through the wasteland of a country brought to its knees by constant wars, unable to pull itself back together. This was a fascinating setting, especially as we have no real idea of when it could possibly be as the chronology even within the story is very vague, or even where, though I pictured it being in North America.
I didn’t really buy the hatred behind Stenos and Bird, which was the main motivation for tension within the circus itself. I enjoyed the descriptions of their encounters but to me it always seemed that they were balanced very precariously on that fine line between love and hate, especially Stenos. They were certainly obsessed with each other either way.
They and Boss made a good foundation to build the circus up from but, with the exception of Elena, none of the other characters were quite as dazzling. Still, it presents a very interesting position to pick things up from in the second book.
All in all, I can appreciate that this author is a master weaver of the craft who has great vision but this particular structure didn’t work very well for me personally, which detracted from my enjoyment of the book.(less)
The book opens with quite the bang! As of the first chapter I knew that agents Books and Braun were going to take me on a rip-roaring adventure and th...moreThe book opens with quite the bang! As of the first chapter I knew that agents Books and Braun were going to take me on a rip-roaring adventure and they didn’t disappoint. As the book opens, Wellington Books has been kidnapped for his knowledge as he archivist at Her Majesty’s Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. He soon finds himself being rescued by the brash Agent Eliza Braun who, when given the choice of back up and more dynamite chose the one she could rely on – the dynamite. Little does he know that by saving him she’s actually gone against her orders, which were to take him out in order to preserve the ministry’s secrets. As punishment for her actions, she finds herself taken from active field duty and partnered with the man whose life she chose to spare, down in the ministry’s archives. It just so happens that this is the last place she ever wanted to be.
Soon, though, she discovers the masses of unsolved “dead end” cases, and one of them just so happens to be the case her previous partner was working on before he was admitted to Bedlam. Of course, like a hound that’s caught a scent, she’s determined to get to the bottom of this even if it means dragging her new partner along for the ride.
There’s a scene where Eliza visits her former partner in Bedlam that is particularly poignant. My heart broke a little bit for her, for opportunities lost, and the pain of seeing someone she cared for deeply reduced to such a state.
The first hundred pages or so are for the most part a case of setting the scene and introducing the reader to the machinations of the world. After that things pick up speed as they bounce from action-filled scene to action-filled scene. There’s nary a dull moment, even when things are going slow, with so much information – either about the characters or the plot – is being imported that it’s imperative that the reader pay attention.
In recent times, steampunk has gone from being a fairly low-key part of the fantasy market to one where there is now an abundance of books coming out of the woodwork. I’ve been a fan of steampunk for over a decade now, and while not all steampunk is worth the money spent on it, this one certainly is with a well-crafted universe where those steam-powered innovations are treated as the norm rather than too much time being spent on examining each and every little detail.
Written in a light, humorous tone, I encountered a few laugh out loud moments while reading Phoenix Rising. Now to carve out the time to get around to read book 2!(less)
For a short story, Beauty in the Beast dabbles in a bit of everything! It’s historical, it’s romance, it’s paranormal, i...moreFull review can be found here.
For a short story, Beauty in the Beast dabbles in a bit of everything! It’s historical, it’s romance, it’s paranormal, it’s steampunk. I really liked the opening where a company of four storytellers are battling their way through a snowstorm. The descriptions are poignant, all the more so because of the recent freezing weather and snow falls that we’ve had here. I could feel the cold seeping into my bones as much as it was into the characters’ bones!
There are essentially two halves to the story: in the first, the troop arrive at the cabin, beg for shelter and then take turns to each tell a story. The stories they tell are short but fun. I especially liked the story of the old man who replaced all his servants with automatons only to discover to his horror that these machines are far from the perfect servants that he had envisioned. A good moral for us all to keep in mind in this day and age!
The second half focuses on building the actual story between this particular Beauty (Tara) and the Beast (Rolph). There’s evident mutual attraction between the two of them but Rolph seems unwilling to act upon it for mysterious reasons. Tara, of course, won’t back down that easily. She knows what she wants and she’s willing to push to get it. There are some very sweet scenes when both of them are still finding their footing around the other as well as one particularly intense scene that I was rather hoping would lead to something more! It didn’t, but in this case I found that I wasn’t too disappointed because events didn’t give me time to be disappointed.
I’m a bit torn about the ending. On the one hand, I would have liked to have seen more – to get to know the characters and maybe get a glimpse into what was to come: would Tara leave the group or Rolph join in? How would they deal with Rolph’s particular “problem”? On the other hand, I recognise that it was probably the best place for the author to leave off as another ending point probably wouldn’t have been as powerful.
As for the paranormal side of things, well, the author asks the reader to take a lot on faith. She doesn’t really spend time worrying about how these things work or why they’re there. They just do and are. This worked for me but I’d understand if it didn’t work for everyone.
For a short story, the characters are very well developed, the story really caught my interest and I found it was all over far too soon. The mark of a good book is when you reach the end and wish there were still more pages to turn. I had that here.(less)
*Note that I read the second book in this series before I read this one.*
At first it was a little weird coming into this...moreFull review can be found here.
*Note that I read the second book in this series before I read this one.*
At first it was a little weird coming into this first book with prior knowledge of the world building. This soon passed, however, and I found myself fully immersed in the story. The setting, the wilds of the Transylvanian mountains (or the Carpathians to call them by their real name), is one that I am particularly fond of (just personal taste) and the author did the remote mountain area justice in her narration. I got a sense of remoteness from the story.
I also liked how she made the Hungarian Inquisition (a society that hunts down illegal practitioners of magic – especially women) so set in their ways that they are willing to chase this female magician – a sorceress no less! – across the whole of Europe. The presentation made it feel authentic, something that is always important to me. This contrasted with Western Europe where the reader sees that women - in particular Elinor, an aspiring wizard – are starting to demand their rightful place in the magicians’ ranks. Of course, there are two camps of men: the ‘traditionalists’ (who want to keep the practise of magic a male-only domain) and the ‘progressives’ (who are the ones who actually want to go back to traditional traditions from some 200 years ago before the witch hunts killed off all female practitioners, and to readmit women among their ranks.) Some of the characters went too far for me, Nigel Cranshaw in particular (I remember not liking him in the second book either), though I suspect that he’s probably more of an archetype, representative of a mainstream opinion, rather than a character in his own rights.
Sorcery and the machinations behind blood magic were interesting. In fact, the whole magic system was very well thought out: it’s one of my favourites from the paranormal genre and it seems to me that a lot of time and effort must have gone into setting up the system and all its various rules. This is expended on more in the second book, if I remember correctly, but it’s a good introduction. There were some things that Amanusa seemed to just know instinctively about the intricacies of her magic; I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, especially when she often has to have the basics explained to her. Despite this, I still liked the rides that these vents took me on as a reader.
The main threat in this novel is the fact that women have been excluded from the magical community for so long that some men are willing to go to any lengths necessary to prevent a woman from practising any of the magical fields. On top of this, there are hundreds of years’ worth of bad rumours about just how sorcery works – the most popular of these being that the blood used to channel the spells is stolen from innocent victims – making this lost form of magic the most feared. This presents Amanusa with many hurdles to overcome - with both supporters who want to welcome the return of sorcery and others who would rather see her killed, so reviled is her school of magic. The reader knows that all blood used to channel magic must be given freely and that it is only with this, blood of the innocents that has been shed by another, or with her own blood (this one’s a secret, though, so shush!) that a sorceress can work. But prejudices prevail and it was amusing to read about Amanusa’s frustrations with these people.
The relationship was of my favourite kinds: one allowed to evolve slowly from resigned acceptance, to like, to trust, to love. Jax, despite his sordid past, made for the type of hero a girl will root for and both of the characters had to face their own demons and overcome their fears before anything could come of it all.
As for the secondary characters, Elinor’s dogged determinations and Harry’s desire to set the world back to rights both appealed to me. Grey I wasn’t so sure about as the character presented here contradicted with the hero that I remember from Heart’s Blood. Crow made for a good non-human character, though I wish his role had been explained and that he’d been used more.
I now find myself wanted to dig through my boxes of read books to unearth Heart’s Blood. I’m sure that I missed things the first time around and that would lend the story another dimension now that I’ve read New Blood. In fact, I think I’ll do just that and make Heart’s Blood a December read!(less)
As of the very first lines, this book strikes you. It is probably largely due to the fact that the style is so very form...moreFull review can be found here.
As of the very first lines, this book strikes you. It is probably largely due to the fact that the style is so very formal but at the same time… I can only think to call it in-your-face and cheeky. The main character is always referred to as Lady Beatrice because that is the name that she took for her prostitute persona. The reader never knows what her name was before this, though they do (briefly) follow her through the early years of her life and the events that led up to her decision to sell her body to earn her way.
The author introduces the reader to a steampunk early Victorian society where the underground Gentlemen’s Speculative Society has invented any number of interesting and quirky devices, such as mechanical lenses that allow the blind to see, but do not share their inventions with society at large. At least, not for now. But they do use these inventions to influence society with the help of the secrets that the women of Nell Gwynne’s extract from their high-ranking clientele. Some of the devices are great fun!
But the characters themselves are even more fun. There’s just something about writing about whores that allows the author to present the tight-laced society that they live in and characters that completely contradict everything about that society. Books about whores also always seem to have an undercurrent of dry, sarcastic humour and Nell Gwynne’s is no exception! I’m a big fan of dry humour when it is handled correctly, as it is here. Lady Beatrice always goes with whatever the flow but tries to subtly influence it to meet her means, sometimes with funny or unexpected consequences.
I believe that it was the author's original intention to continue this series of novellas but that life unfortunately did not allow for such. This is a great shame as it could have heralded the start of an excellent series about Lady Beatrice's adventures.
A quick note on The Bohemian Astrobleme: this short story delves more into the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society and the work that they do. It’s about a specific type of meteorite only found in Bohemia that gives a powerful electric shock to anyone who touches it after it comes in contact with a specific type of acid. It is soon ascertained that this red glass would make excellent battery fuel cells. Ludbridge, whom we met in The Women on Nell Gwynne’s is sent to Bohemia with two companions to track the origin of the glass. Lady Beatrice soon joins him and again the reader is treated to a delightful romp through this society with characters who are quiet and others who are too cocky for their own good.(less)
The plot in this one was a sight better than that of Changeless and Blameless. Unfortunately it still wasn’t that great...moreFull review can be found here.
The plot in this one was a sight better than that of Changeless and Blameless. Unfortunately it still wasn’t that great and some of the more defining moments were based on Alexia uncharacteristically overlooking important things, which was somewhat of a disappointment. I enjoyed her pregnancy and some of the humorous situations that came from it. The best part of the story may have been when Alexia initiated Ivy Tunstell into the Parasol Protectorate. On the down side, she then sent Ivy off to Scotland and she didn’t make another appearance in the book; a shame as Ivy is a fun character. In fact, a lot of the previously important characters took a bit of a backseat for this book: Madame Lefoux only had a limited role as well as Ivy and Felicity was kind of there but ignored most of the time.
The humour remains the same in each book and it is becoming tired rather than really remaining amusing. With this book I noticed that it is often very dependent on similes and usually the images conjured up are more cringe-worthy than actually being funny. The book did, however, contain what is possibly the best quote of the last three books: “By the end, Rafe wore the long-suffering look of an eagle being ordered about by a flock of excited pigeons.” The only laugh out loud moments were towards the start of the book and there were only two or three of them.
I would have liked to have seen an actual resolution to Felicity’s subplot, but, as always, she is just cast to one side and conveniently forgotten about.
Ok, diving into the humour debate here. This is not British humour. It irks me to see it classed as British humour. I am British, I think I know what my humour is like. I am a firm believer that, though it is possible to come to appreciate another culture’s humour, it is not possible to adopt that humour as your own. Your humour will inevitably be that of the culture that you were brought up in. This is dry American wit. That I didn’t find this particularly funny coupled with the fact that a lot of the reviews I scanned where people claim to have giggled their way through the book came from American reviewers and not British ones, seems to back up my point. I actually found the dark humour in Darkly Dreaming Dexter to be far funnier than the dry wit presented in The Parasol Protectorate.
It has come to my attention that the language in the book is strictly American English because the publishers require it to be so. Why?! Would the poor American audience really be that stumped if they come across “travelled” instead of “traveled”? Because obviously it cannot possibly mean the same thing if the word has an extra ‘l’ in it! What about “the top step” instead of “stoop”? Stoop is actually a word that a lot of British people do not know because it comes from the Dutch word ‘stoep’ (meaning pavement or sidewalk depending on which side of the pond you come from) and entered American English from the Dutch settlers there. Dutch hasn’t had much of an influence on British English so this word is not part of our vocabulary. Frankly, it is annoying to be faced with British aristocracy who speak a mix of present day American and period English. It should be one or the other, not a mix of both.
Mediocre. Better than books 2 and 3, probably about on par with book 1. I cannot say I really enjoyed it but I didn’t feel like it was a mental slog to get through it either. 3 stars.
Book five is currently planned as being the final book in the series. It’s got to the point where it needs to wrap up so this is probably for the best.(less)
The book is not meant to be taken seriously, and it is intended to be humour. I think it’s intended to be British humour...moreFull review can be found here.
The book is not meant to be taken seriously, and it is intended to be humour. I think it’s intended to be British humour, but it’s not. There are very few laugh out loud moments (I think I only laughed out loud once during the whole of Changeless) and the humour often feels forced. It’s good that it’s light, but sometimes it takes the lightness too far and in this case it meant that the story didn’t become interesting for a long time. It took me a whole week to read this book – six days to read the first 174 pages, an evening to finish off the last 200. Once it got to the point where it was interesting, the plot worked quite well, though the villain was obvious and the source of the humanisation problem evident to the reader a good while before Alexia figured it out.
There wasn’t enough Lord Akeldama in this book. He lightens things, plus, who can resist a who-knows-how-old vampire with openly ‘flowery gay’ mannerisms? Not I.
Warning: there’s a cliffhanger ending to this one so you’ll want Blameless at the ready to pick up as soon as you’re done with it.
The story took too long to get interesting; the lightness was sometimes too light, detracting from the plot; and it just didn’t appeal to me in the way the first book did. Admittedly, I may have gone into this book with some prejudices considering my dislike of Blameless (if I had to read about a British aristocrat talking about “ladybugs” one more time I was going to blow my top) but I still did not really like this one.(less)