In case you're wondering, Kady Cross' "The Strange Case of Finley Jayne" is apparently a prequel to the forthcoming novel "The Girl in the Steel Corse...moreIn case you're wondering, Kady Cross' "The Strange Case of Finley Jayne" is apparently a prequel to the forthcoming novel "The Girl in the Steel Corset." But this little steampunk novella stands pretty well on its own -- it has a sensible butt-kicking heroine, a dash of classic horror, and some decent writing (albeit with some anachronisms).
Only a few hours after being fired from her job (for punching a governess), Finley Jayne is offered a new position: companion to Lady Morton's teenage daughter Phoebe. The job seems too good to be true -- she gets a beautiful room, Phoebe's old clothes, and even is brought to balls and parties under the pretense of being a distant relation.
However, she is uneasy about Phoebe's older fiancee, Lord Vincent. Not only is Lord Vincent creepy and twice her age, but he is also still obsessed with his dead wife, Cassandra... who looked exactly like Phoebe. Finley sets out to find out what devious plans he may have for Phoebe, and her greatest ally may be her secret, superhuman dark side.
There is honestly not enough steampunk in the world, and "The Strange Case of Finley Jayne" is a decent example of the genre -- we've got clockwork automatons, steam carriages, robotic horses and a bit of "Frankensteinian" mad science. There are still some unanswered questions (Finley's dark side and superhuman strength), but presumably the full-length novel will explain that.
Cross' prose is fairly good -- it's not exceptional, but it's solid enough, albeit with some comments that sound a little too modern (Finley refers to Lord Vincent's plans as "icky"). And while the first couple chapters feel a little fluffy, the story tightens up and becomes much darker with the introduction of Lord Vincent, although the subplot about Phoebe's boyfriend seemed extraneous.
And Finley is a very, very likable heroine -- she's strong, self-reliant, sensible and intelligent. She also has a Hyde side (see, I can reference 19th-century horror too!), which allows her incredible strength and almost gleeful aggression that she has to keep bottled up. And I can't help but hope that we'll see more of Lady Morton, a clever noblewoman who recognizes a good bodyguard for her daughter when she sees one.
"The Strange Case of Finley Jayne" is a solid introduction to the world of Kady Cross' Victorian steampunk/urban-fantasy series, and leaves me anticipating whatever comes next for Finley Jayne. (less)
Sarah Addison Allen's version of the South is a lovely place -- bright sunshine, fruit, flowers and the ghosts of the past (sometimes literally).
So y...moreSarah Addison Allen's version of the South is a lovely place -- bright sunshine, fruit, flowers and the ghosts of the past (sometimes literally).
So you can guess what her fourth novel, "The Peach Keeper," is absolutely soaked with. It's a lush, summery little novel that spins together buried secrets, ghosts, magical realism, romance, and a decades-old mystery. But at heart, it's the story of two young women's struggle to find their place in the world.
The Blue Ridge Madam -- a mansion in the North Carolina town of Walls of Water -- once belonged to Willa Jackson's family, but they lost it when her grandmother was still a young girl. All her life, she has been haunted by this. Now the derelict mansion is being transformed into a high-class country inn by Willa's old classmate, Paxton. Paxton is slowly crumbling under the weight of tradition and family expectations -- as well as her love for her possibly-gay friend Sebastien.
Then Willa and Paxton's brother Colin find a skull buried near the house -- and it turns out to be Tucker Devlin, a devilishly charming salesman who had magical powers and claimed to have peach juice in his veins. Willa begins to unwind the past to find out what happened to Tucker, and discovers some shocking connections to her family past...
When you summarize it, "The Peach Keeper" sounds like a magical-realism murder mystery, or maybe a lightweight ghost story. However, it's not really either -- there ARE ghosts, and there IS a mystery of sorts. But Allen is much more interested in the closeted skeletons of Walls of Water, and in the troubled young woman who need to find their own place in the world.
Her prose is sweet, sunny and full of luscious sensual moments -- smells, delicious food, beautiful clothes, and a sort of misty Southern prettiness. Even in the more plotless moments, Allen's prose draws you into her little world. But she also weaves some tense moments into it, such as when Willa finds a drunk Paxton being harassed by a couple of jerks.
The only problem is that Allen doesn't explore the magical realism angle enough. The "magical, stormy nature" of Tucker and the things he could do -- as well as the ghosts -- are touched on but never a major part of the story.
But her characterizations are uniformly brilliant. Willa and Paxton are both young women who are lost -- one has always felt like an outcast from her own life, while the other desperately wants to escape the "perfect" life she has always led. Romance helps them find their places, with the elegant misfit Sebastien and the charming wanderer Colin.
"The Peach Keeper" is a lot like a peach itself -- velvety, sweet, soft and pleasing to the senses. A truly enchanting little novel. (less)
Every child wants to be whisked away to a magical land, have adventures, and set out on a fantastical quest against a tyrant.
It's a pretty typical fa...moreEvery child wants to be whisked away to a magical land, have adventures, and set out on a fantastical quest against a tyrant.
It's a pretty typical fantasy storyline as well, and it takes something special to make such stories stand out. Catherynne Valente's "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" is an enchanting example, filled with delightful nonsense, wryly witty prose, and a wonderfully oddball world that reminds me of a more lyrical Lewis Carroll.
A young girl named September is whisked away from her boring Nebraska home by the Green Wind, who takes her to Fairyland. But September soon finds herself traveling through Fairyland herself, encountering a soap golem, a half-library wyvern named A-Through-L, a wairwulf, the Perverse and Perilous Sea with its golden beaches, The House Without Warning, gnomish customs agents, a jeweled key, a migration of bicycles.
She also is given a quest by a pair of witches -- find the magical spoon that the cruel Marquess stole from their dead brothers. So she and the Wyverary set out to the city of Pandemonium, but soon find themselves (and a flying leopard named Saturday) on a new quest, with overwhelming results for all the people of
Normally, Catherynne Valente has a lush, lyrical, sensual writing style, and there's a fair amount of that in this book ("... the moon slowly fall down into the horizon and all the dark morning stars turn in the sky like a silver carousel"). Her Fairyland is a weird, sometimes dangerous place filled with countless oddball creatures (migrating bicycles!), making her story feel like a more plotcentric "Alice in Wonderland."
But since this book is meant for children, she also weaves in a wry, arch style that reminds me of some classic British prose (“As you might expect, the geographical location of the capital of Fairyland is fickle and has a rather short temper"). This gets a little twee sometimes, but Valente also weaves in a bittersweet thread as the story goes on, as well as some dark, delicately heartrending moments.
It takes a little while to warm up to September, since she is initially Heartless (like many children), and doesn't care much about what worry she might cause her parents. Then again, it's pleasant to have a heroine who goes happily into another world without moping about going home -- and despite being Heartless, September proves herself to be a sweet, compassionate girl who is just childlike enough to accept the weirdness.
Catherynne Valente blends her velvety prose with a quirky magical twist in"The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making." And she leaves the door to Fairyland open... just in case. (less)