The Shadow Conspiracy II edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff caught my eye in the LibraryThing Early Reader program because I’d...moreThe Shadow Conspiracy II edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff caught my eye in the LibraryThing Early Reader program because I’d met both the editors at BayCon (and had, in fact, heard both of them read). Between that and the steampunk theme, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity, and I am glad I didn’t.
This is a wonderful collection of eleven steampunk short stories by the following authors: Amy Sterling Casil, Judith Tarr, Irene Radford, Brenda Clough, Sue Lange, C.L. Anderson, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Nancy Jane Moore, Pati Nagle, and Chris Dolley. It contains both stories set in the more traditional arena of Europe, and ones occurring in the New World and even Africa. The characters range from society darlings, to pirates, and even on to missionaries and newspaper men. The main characters are just as likely to be male as female as well (despite the inclusion of only one male author), offering rather different perspectives on the stories and environments. The stories themselves range from psychological/philosophical pieces to adventures and mysteries.
Where many have questioned whether the “punk” has lost its meaning in steampunk as the aesthetic gains more ground than the theme of poking into society’s corners, this collection will offer neither group a quibble. The stories found within these covers (metaphorically speaking since I read it as an eBook) contain automations, steamships and blimps, and various other devices of unusual properties. At the same time, most, if not all, address some aspect of society and philosophy. The most common theme among them is what defines a person, but each story finds a different way of exploring this, such as through the question of skin color, soul transference, or immortality, to name a few.
I can’t say every story was a hit with me, but none of them made me regret reading. The collection even offered a game for the careful reader to play in that these apparently disparate stories held hidden seeds showing how they interrelate despite differences in time and location, if in the most minor fashion. The stories are clearly not just sharing a genre, but sharing an interpretation of that genre within a specific world. While I did not find the clues in every story, or was too involved in the story itself to notice them, I enjoyed how this steampunk world spanned a good part of the globe, and the timeframe, without losing its unique elements.
I wanted to mention my favorite stories, but I am having a hard time separating out just which ones those were. Some I enjoyed the most at my first read while others lingered longer and have now become favorites. There’s little question that I will be picking up the first collection set in this world, and the next should there be one. The only story that significantly jarred me was the very last, and this because it rests primarily on a joke, something not common among the other stories. That said, it’s well written with well-drawn, if traditional, characters and a mystery that builds throughout the tale so when the joke happens, it makes sense and fits with the rest. As a story, it did not fail the reader in me. My only issue was how it related to the rest of the collection’s feel.
Overall, a wonderful read, and one I do not hesitate to recommend to anyone who likes steampunk…or would like a taste of this fascinating genre.
I started reading Harlequin novels when I was a teen. They were quick comfort reads. I knew what to expect and rarely would they exceed those expectat...moreI started reading Harlequin novels when I was a teen. They were quick comfort reads. I knew what to expect and rarely would they exceed those expectations, but they always met them.
Modern Harlequins are more likely to exceed those expectations. The formulary is much less obvious and they usually read like any other book with the exception of the required happy ending. It’s less often that you have a powerless female character who meets a powerful male character and he sheds some of his arrogance in favor of finding love for her, a traditional theme for early Harlequins.
His Mistress for a Million by Trish Morey, though, follows exactly that theme, or almost does. I’m not going to say much more than that for the fear of spoiling it, but while everything seems to follow a specific pattern, a modern element is introduced to bring something newer to the traditional storyline.
However, that’s not why I wanted to mention this book on my blog. It’s more that Trish Morey has reminded me of the strength of Harlequin novels, especially the shorter ones. This is a Harlequin Presents. What the imprint promises is a passionate romance in an exotic locale. The funny thing is that the exotic location in this case, the island of Santorini, is a place I visited as a child. This fact made me think about why I enjoyed the book, since I didn’t fit its proper audience.
The answer there is tangled and yet simple. The characters draw me in. Sure, they’re not the same as me, one being an Australian who is impoverished after believing a man she met over the Internet and the other a Greek tycoon, but I can identify with their circumstances. She’s trying to make the best of things, aware of her own stupidity and determined to learn from it. He’s stuck in an uncomfortable situation where another woman has built up expectations about what he’d thought was a purely business relationship, as in she works for him, but he has no interest in emotional ties and is looking for a way out of this one. The characters might be exotic by type, but what they’re going through has analogs in my life or in the lives of family and friends around me, if not to the same degree.
Then there’s the part that’s unique to me and others who have been to Santorini. While most readers are learning about a unique place, I’m refreshing memories and seeing how the island portrayed in the book is different from the one I visited as time and tourism has shifted the face of the locale.
And in a blending of the two, Cleo is not your typical tourist. Instead of shopping, she wants to explore the complicated history of Santorini and read up on the possibility that Atlantis had once existed on top of the volcano that burst to form the cone of modern Santorini. As she’s telling Andreas snippets of what she learns, I’m remembering hefting boulders bigger than I was over my head (pumice), but at the same time, I’m sharing in Andreas’ delight in a woman who shares his love of this place that he calls home.
So, to come full circle, it’s the people and the places that I enjoy in these romances, but especially the people and how they can come from such different circumstances but find something to draw them together. Trish Morey does an excellent job of doing just that.(less)
You never know what to expect when reading a book by Elizabeth Bear, and All the Windwracked Stars is no exception. This is a post-apocalyptic novel c...moreYou never know what to expect when reading a book by Elizabeth Bear, and All the Windwracked Stars is no exception. This is a post-apocalyptic novel centered around figures of Norse mythology who are trying their best to stave off the next round of apocalyptic disasters. The main character is an immortal who has managed to keep her naivet(less)
My husband recommended this novel for me, and it meets a lot of my interest areas. This Is Not a Game talks about the gaming world gone one step furth...more My husband recommended this novel for me, and it meets a lot of my interest areas. This Is Not a Game talks about the gaming world gone one step further into the real one, and then explores the social and economic consequences of same. The novel has a very cyberpunk feel to it while at the same time showing none of the traditional modifications. It reminds me a lot of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, with modern-based tech as opposed to steampunk.
One of the reasons I enjoyed the book is its very complexity. Walter Jon Williams keeps numerous threads running throughout the book for which the interrelationships are not clear from the start. There are many types of books this one can fall under, but ultimately it’s a mystery. Dagmar is the main character, and she is responsible for crafting complex games run through the Internet but intersecting with the real world as an effort to advertise brand-new products. The games may involve international travel or just research but draw players into a world where treachery is the natural state of things.
As a concept, this is an intriguing one. It would be enough to carry the book. But Williams does not stop there. Our story actually begins with Dagmar making an unexpected stop in Jakarta as its economy collapses. She finds herself in a space much like her carefully crafted games, only with potentially deadly results. Instead of pretend, her life is at risk because of economic riots and various factions seizing control of parts of the city. She has to call upon her boss and close friend Charlie to rescue her.
His companies have made him rich, very rich, but she has no idea just how rich he has become.
And that is about as far as I can go with giving plot information while still avoiding spoilers. The complexity of this novel is incredible. The characters are interesting and their relationships wind all the way through their lives since college. Dagmar is caught between two of them and tries hard to maintain her friendship on both sides without betraying either. Offhand I would say there are easily four to five plot threads running through this book.
Did I enjoy it? The answer has to be yes. However I found myself in one of those odd places where the reader’s perceptions don’t match the writer’s. Ultimately I was disappointed in the resolution. Not that it didn’t work. Williams is an incredibly skilled writer and there was nothing wrong with the path of the book chooses. I just feel of the tales to be told the one that captured my interest the most became incidental toward the end, and to me this is a weakness.
What’s odd about that opinion is simply this: I know full well the way to make people identify with the book is to make it personal. I find my reaction curious because it was that very personal that I felt was almost a copout. Not so much to spoil the book for me, but enough that I wanted to see the bigger picture more and was denied the opportunity. This is a warning of sorts for me, because I also tend to write complex novels, though not on Williams’ scale. It warns of the danger of presenting such an ingenious idea that the reader can get caught up and regret when that idea is not seen through to the end, though honestly I can’t see how that end would look. Every thread resolves. All that complexity ties together. It’s not like anything was left hanging or unresolved. It’s a matter of balance and focus. Ultimately, I think I need to walk away with the understanding that it was a good read. Anything else is just my reader 50%.
Of course, walking away is difficult. This book was intriguing enough to stick around in my head and make me intensely curious. So fair warning, if people do as I ask, most likely spoilers will appear in the comments thread. My question is, if you have read the book, what was your reaction? While I attempted to keep things obscure, I’m sure upon reading the book that you can translate the specifics I have hidden to protect those who haven’t read yet. So in the comments, would you please tell your reaction and whether you preferred the path the author chose, or wanted more. Include a spoiler warning where appropriate, but everyone reading the post has been forewarned. (less)