This is really not the sort of book I would have been likely to read immediately off my own bat. 15 years ago, per... There's going to be more, right?
This is really not the sort of book I would have been likely to read immediately off my own bat. 15 years ago, perhaps, but I haven't really read secondary world fantasy like this for ages... and not necessarily for a reason I can put my finger on, aside from I Like Spaceships More.
Still, it's on the Hugo ballot in The Time Of Rabid Puppies, and a lot of people whose opinion I generally respect have raved about it, so I wasn't too sad to be sitting down with it as part of my Read The Hugo Ballot binge.
And I really liked it.
This stills seems improbable to me. Lots of 'thee's and formal 'you's and so on - the sort of thing that sometimes makes me break my eyes in the rolling. It's goblins and elves for... no reason I can see? The elves have non-human ears which you only know because they're described as doing things like flattening when the person is annoyed, and goblins just seem to have darker skin and maybe grow bigger than elves? But goblins and elves do intermarry; Our Hero is a product of just such an (unhappy, arranged) alliance.
And it's not like the book is startlingly original in its plot. Emperor and his sons all die together, leaving one nearly-forgotten son by aforementioned unhappy marriage to inherit the throne. There are political machinations, palace intrigues, quandaries over who to trust, questions over whether someone in such a position can have real friendships... y'know, the normal things that happen when an unlikely heir takes the throne. We've all been there.
And yet. And yet. It works. Much of this is down to Maia, Our Hero. He may be the forgotten heir but he's not completely stupid; clueless at times but not a Garion figure; possessed of a brain and determination and a desire to do some things his own damn way, thank you very much. I'm reminded somewhat of the story I heard once about Queen Victoria: that when she was crowned (I think?), one of the first decisions she made was to sleep in her room by herself - without her mother - for the first time ever. Maia isn't just led around by the nose. But neither is he super arrogant, thinking he can do anything he likes and deciding to do just that; nor is he super capable in an impossible period of time. Addison strikes a good balance of learning the ropes and being actually, like, capable.
I liked many of the other characters (Csevet for the win), and the variety of female characters is really nice. I like the honesty with which Addison confronts the issues of arranged marriages, and the different ways of thinking about things like duty and honour.
Basically, when I finished reading it (in one day), I wrote that opening sentence: there is going to more, right? ...more
Another in my long slog towards Reading Everything By Greg Egan, Dammit.
When I started this last week, I was completely thrown: it was familiar. Like,Another in my long slog towards Reading Everything By Greg Egan, Dammit.
When I started this last week, I was completely thrown: it was familiar. Like, I had definitely read this before. Yet I had definitely got it from the TBR shelf, so... wha? I thought about it, and I didn't remember the ending, but let's be honest - that's not exactly unusual for me. So I read a few more pages - still familiar. I read ahead 20 or so pages - getting less familiar. Eh; I decided just to keep reading, and see what happened. Turns out that at some point, I read the first 50 or so pages, and then gave up. I have no idea why I would have given up at that point, because it's not even like this is a particularly hard book as Egans go.
UnknownThat is to say, if you don't like entire pages of dense scientific discussion and you're not the sort of person who is happy to skim that to get back to the plot, do not read this book. It's ok; it's no reflection on you; it's just not going to be a happy match-up between the two of you and it's not worth your time getting annoyed.
Even more than any other Egan until the Orthogonal books (The Clockwork Rocket and Eternal Flame), half of this book is unashamedly working through a scientific revolution. In a society where things just are the way they are and curiosity isn't rewarded - cooperation and teamwork are, hormonally - one misfit manages to co-opt a fellow worker into being curious about the way weight changes in different parts of their habitat, and... from there, you get an explosion of scientific discoveries. How does that even work? What sort of questions do you even need to ask in order to discover basic principles of gravity, for instance? Egan throws himself, and the reader, into these issues - without forgetting that they occur in a vacuum, and therefore also incorporating discussions of social change and disruption and, because this is Egan and it's just what he does, a bit of gender role discussion as well.
Seriously. This man.
The other half of the book is a slightly more straightforward SF plot, where the far-future equivalent of a bored early-20-something seems to handed the puzzle of a lifetime and he sets off on a joyride around the galaxy, complete with sidekick. Well, not quite, but close. You could definitely take these chapters and have a fairly good SF novel, anyway, about the differences between living in the disk of the Milky Way and living in the bulge, and how you might go about being a detective with all sorts of cool gadgets (wait til you read about the telescope they construct). The reference to the sidekick is a little unfair; Parantham is not just along to have ideas bounced off. He/she is an undeveloped character in many ways; not descended from DNA but rather - to put it crudely - from AI, Parantham allows Egan to suggest issues around body perception and suchlike but doesn't do that issue justice. The not-quite adolescent, Rakesh, verges on petulant and annoying and just manages to avoid being such, most of the time. Their interactions are interesting enough and certainly add a different dimension to the novel overall.
In the end, I enjoyed this. It's not Egan's greatest, by any stretch. It's a clever way of thinking through some scientific issues, and it has some nice character moments. Probably not the place to start with reading Egan, though.
(view spoiler)[ I really thought this was going to end with Rakesh helping the people of the Splinter, and with a discussion of the role of the Aloof. As the pages kept turning and there was no actual contact, I just could not figure out where Egan was going with it. When I got to the last page, I admit I was flummoxed at first. But then I realised: Rakesh had been interacting with much later generations of the Splinter. They weren't happening at the same time, at any point! Not that Egan had ever suggested they were, of course. I quite liked this. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Also, this is a complicated book and my reactions are complicated, so I may not always be completely c**spoiler alert** Importantly, I am a Christian.
Also, this is a complicated book and my reactions are complicated, so I may not always be completely coherent….
A company called USIC has established a base – a colony in all but name – on a habitable planet they’ve called Oasis. It already has a sentient species living there. Peter, a Christian minister, gets the job to go and evangelise to these aliens. How is there even a question about whether this is science fiction?
The novel has a straightforward structure, with one intriguing aspect: the ‘title’ of each chapter is the last line, or sentence, of the chapter. This is… weird, and adds some remarkable suspense, and it means each chapter feels circular; it ends up where it began. I’m not sure whether this will turn out to have some greater significance than I currently perceive over the course of the novel.
Notes at roughly the halfway point:
As I rather expected, Bea is pregnant. When she was so keen to have sex on the way to the airport, it just seemed like the obvious reason. And of course, it’s also an obvious thing to do to Peter while he is so very distant.
I can’t quite get a grip on Bea. This isn’t entirely surprising, since the reader mostly experiences her through Peter’s memories, and through her letters. I think she’s meant to be appropriately complex: a faithful Christian woman, a dedicated nurse, a wonderfully supportive wife. A woman understandably struggling with her husband’s prolonged absence, sending letters of fear and worry to a man who can’t possibly help her. And, through the lens of Peter, pretty much an angel, having heavily contributed to rescuing him from his drug-addled life and having brought him to Christ. I am conflicted: part of me wants to be annoyed at Faber making her out to be so fearful, while at the same time being annoyed that Faber makes her so good. I suspect this means that she’s quite a real character. (Also, Beatrice: Dante’s Beatrice?)
Peter… well. The name is significant, of course; the man who denied Christ and then became ‘the rock’ on which the church would be established; the spiritual ancestor of all Popes, in the Roman Catholic doctrine. On which: I don’t think his particular brand of Protestantism is ever identified. There’s a line at some point that suggests he’s not Baptist (because someone else is), nor ‘a strict Pentecostal’ – but he’s not tied down, otherwise. He is an evangelical, in the sense that he believes in and uses the Bible (the Book of Strange New Things) as the basis of his faith and – obviously, since he’s gone to be a missionary to an alien people – he believes in spreading this good news. Although he does have an issue with some of Paul’s letters. This non-denominational aspect is clever, since he’s open to connections with a wide number of readers and is less likely to turn off those who have had a bad experience with a particular denomination. And then there’s his background. The years of living on the streets, drinking and using drugs, and then falling in love with a nurse and being converted and becoming a preacher. Again, I am conflicted here. This is absolutely a real and true scenario and completely believable. And it definitely means that Peter has ins with others on Oasis that a ‘I grew up Christian’ minister might not have. On the other hand, it is a bit of a cliché for the preacher to have quite such a… yeh ok, I was going to say ‘road to Damascus’ story, for which reason I just have to get over those issues. Faber can absolutely use Christian parallels in telling his story.
The presentation of Christianity has, so far, been an honest one. Peter and Bea are real people; life is not perfect, and they don’t pretend it is. They are genuinely motivated by their faith in trying to reach people – not just to evangelise but to make lives better. They are honest about the people in their church, and the world. They pray unselfconsciously. They don’t try to understand or explain everything in the world, but rely on God as the author and ultimate arbiter. Finally I have one Protestant in space – and a female Protestant, too, although she’s still on earth.
And then there’s the aliens. I am intrigued by the fact that although they are humanoid, so far Faber is making little attempt at humanising them; their faces are inscrutable, in that Peter can’t even figure out how their faces work; they don’t seem to have different tones in their voices; it’s not even clear whether there’s genders or how they reproduce. Peter attempts to know them, and so far is having little success. This is amongst the more honest approaches to alien contact that I’ve read. I love that although they know some English, they can’t say ‘s’ or ‘t’ or ‘ch’ – instead replacing the sound with sounds from their own language, and that these sounds are represented with alien symbols in the novel. These symbols, as much as the fact that hello, these are aliens, amuse me because this is definitely a science fiction novel… but I found the book in the LITERATURE section of a (slightly snobby) bookshop. I am liking the aliens, and I am completely intrigued, while at the same time fearful as I remember The Sparrow. I’m also suspicious about what’s going on with their (lack of) technology, and with the medicines being provided by USIC. I do like that not all of the Oasans, as Peter calls them, have become or want to become Christians.
Meanwhile, planet Earth appears to be destroying itself. An earthquake in England, a cyclone hitting North Korea, the Maldives wiped out by a tsunami…. This is a really odd part of the narrative so far, whose only purpose appears to be making Peter agonise for Bea and feel even more separated from her. Is there going to be an attempt at an exodus (oh, ha ha) to Oasis as Earth falls apart?
Now I am finished. And I am… dazed. Bemused. In the language of surveys, somewhat dissatisfied.
About the three-quarters mark, I realised that the catastrophes back on Earth were no new thing. Peter has been telling the reader all the way through that he doesn’t really pay attention to the news, that it’s Bea who is the sharp-eyed one and the one who asks the hard questions. And the news she relates to Peter now must be more of what’s been going on for a while; it’s just that Peter has never paid attention to it before. In fact, he doesn’t really pay attention to it now, except insofar as it’s distressing Bea and feels alien to his understanding of existence.
I can’t say I was surprised that Faber went the route of having Peter and Bea’s relationship (apparently) collapse. And as with Bea in general, I can’t figure out whether this is a cheap move to get emotional kicks or a realistic and inexorable consequence of the (literal and metaphorical) distance between the two. I wonder if this is a case where two things can be true simultaneously. It was frustrating to only get to Bea via Peter; her letters to him, which are constrained, limited; plus his reaction to and memories of her. And he is gradually losing the ability to remember her clearly. Again, I can’t quite figure out my reaction to this: is it just another example of ‘the women men don’t see,’ with the focus being on the poor white boy whose life is going all pear-shaped – well, one part of it anyway – or a clever look at issues to do with isolation and distance? I think it does do the latter… but I think it definitely has the former too, not least because it is such an overdone staple of literature. This is compounded, though, in that it could really only be a man: there are so few female ministers to this day, after all, and not all Protestant denominations allow them, thus taking away from the … well, not quite universality, since my whole point here is that it’s gender-specific, but see my point earlier about the generality of Peter’s Christianity. (This wouldn’t have prevented it from being a non-white man, of course.)
I was saddened by Bea losing her faith because of the issues around her. I do understand, and of course it happens all the time, and perhaps it’s easier to write that realistically/believably for a not-necessarily-religious audience than trying to write the ‘and she kept her faith despite the despair’ story, which ALSO happens a lot and could be realistic/believable. Actually though the most difficult part about this was Peter’s reactions. Because while he was, of course, saying true things about the way God views the world, and those words delivered in person and in context could absolutely be viable parts of a conversation – on paper they are the sententious drivel that makes it embarrassing to be Christian. And of course this is meant to indicate Peter’s distance from his wife, but it was still an acute reminder of how parts of the Western world view Christianity.
I am intrigued and a little frustrated that the aliens remained basically obtuse and unknowable to the reader. I think we’re meant to understand that Peter understands them more deeply, but the reader is treated like just another member of USIC; an alien in this land. We are on the outside. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Peter’s farewell speech, which is rendered almost completely in the Oasan script. I was amazed by this choice. I think it can genuinely be called ambitious.
I grew to like Peter less and less over the course of the story. He’s self-involved. He’s blind to much of Bea’s suffering and to how his stories will sound to her. There is redemption, of a sort, I guess, in his decision to go home once it’s clear to him just how much she’s suffering personally, physically, emotionally, mentally – but it’s also because now he’s suffering, at being apart from her. Also, the cat died. How is having a cat die a legitimate catalyst when all of the other stuff has not been?
Overall I am content with the presentation of Christianity. There are bits that I disagree with – Peter’s attitude towards Paul, for instance, and the wearisome reliance on the King James version (other translations are mentioned but the King James is praised for its lyricism; personally I prefer accuracy and being able to understand a text over whether it sounds like centuries-old poetry, and VERY FEW churches actually use the King James Bible these days so that’s a mark against Faber’s authenticity). But the notion of faith isn’t seriously challenged – it’s not shown to be a mark of weakness or evil, for example. Peter and Bea’s struggles are real ones, and neither the decision to abandon God nor the decision to be faithful is privileged. It’s not easy for Peter to stay with God; even through her letters it’s clear that abandoning God has not been an easy decision for Bea.
Things that frustrated me: the lack of resolution overall. What is Oasis meant to be for? Someone does suggest that it will be populated by philanthropic billionaires, but that doesn’t really answer my questions. And what is USIC? And is there something about the Oasans, or the air or environment, that makes most people more docile? I feel that this is insinuated, especially in Peter, but again never resolved. Neither is the question about the fate of Kurtzburg or Tartaglione, and the reasons behind their changes. I know, novels don’t have to answer all my questions, and of course sometimes there should be mystery, and perhaps if this were all spelled out I would be impatient with the answers. But all of them? Just hanging? This is not even to mention the biggest issue – does Peter go home, does he find Bea – but this, although frustrating, is a frustration I am accustomed to. It reminds me a lot of the ending of The Dispossessed.
I think this is an intriguing book. I think it’s a well-written book – for nearly 600 pages it was a remarkably easy read. If I had read it before March, would I have put it on my Hugo ballot? Perhaps. Is this a ‘work of genius’ (David Benioff)? A “wildly original tale of adventure, faith, and the ties that might hold two people together”? Umm… I don’t think so. Well, yes to the bit from “tale of.” But genius? Nah. Wildly original? Nah. Cleverly – impressively cleverly – put together, sure. Intriguing, totally. But there are other missionary stories out there – only a few science fictional ones, to be sure – and other stories of alien contact and relationships. Perhaps from this perspective no original tale is possible; perhaps I am too harsh. Oh well. At any rate, I do not regret having read it, and look forward to talking to other people – both Christian and not – about it....more
This book was provided to my by the author at no cost.
The main problem, for me, with Guns of the Dawn is that I thought I was getting a book based onThis book was provided to my by the author at no cost.
The main problem, for me, with Guns of the Dawn is that I thought I was getting a book based on the French Revolution, with a bit of magic. So I was expecting it to actually be about the French side, and I was excited to try and find familiar faces or at least familiar issues. However, that is not what I got. The extent to which this is based on the French Revolution is that Denland has had a revolution, and now has no king, and is at war with one of its neighbours. The Goodreads outline tells me that it’s pseudo-Napoleonic, and the era feels about right for that, but still there’s nothing obvious to connect them except the regicide bit and the war-with-neighbours bit (I'm not a Napoleonic Wars expert, so I'd be interested to hear from others who see closer resemblances). I freely admit this is a problem with my expectations and not a problem with the book, but it did colour my reading of it a lot and – well, that’s just the reality.
In attitude, this novel feels far more closely aligned with World War 1, reflecting its having been written (I presume) and published around the centenary anniversary. There’s a lot about the futility of war, and the horrendous conditions where most of the action takes place has thunderous echoes of trench warfare (and of jungle warfare too, from later wars). There’s also issues of new technology, mimicking some of the developments of WW1 (and the recount of a cavalry charge being mown down by artillery parallels the story often told about Poland and the Germans in WW2).
The book opens with the protagonist, Emily, in her first battle in an area known as the Levant. After that, the first third is mostly about Emily’s life before being called up as a soldier, and I guess it’s a story of manners: the family are gentry but poor, there’s three sisters and only one married and no parents; there’s a jumped-up, venal bureaucrat and problems with how to keep the estate going while the men are gradually drained off to go fight Denland. This section felt too long by about half. I understand that Tchaikovsky is trying to show how genteel and simultaneously how resourceful Emily is, but it really just dragged on and without the knowledge that she was soon going to be fighting, and that then something different would happen, I may have stopped. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with that sort of book when I know what I’m in for. But the title doesn’t give any clue that one third of the book will be Austen-esque, and neither does the blurb. And even if I did anticipate it – Too. Long.
Most of the rest of the story is a fairly relentless meditation on the unpleasantness of war. Lots of people die. There are terrifying battles where finding the enemy and negotiating the ever-shifting swamp are equally difficult. There’s some of the difficulties you’d expect from having women in a man’s army. Tchaikovsky also includes those moments of camaraderie that every war-story needs, both for verisimilitude and to break up the unrelenting horror. Again, I found this part of the story too long. There was too much floundering in the swamp, too much focus on problems in the camp. It ended up losing some of its impact because I got impatient.
Is the book well written? Yes, the prose is entirely readable – after all, I read something like 650 pages (ebook) even though I wasn’t entirely convinced by the whole set up. Are some of my issues with the book entirely my own and not the book’s? Indubitably. But I still think it would have been better if it had been cut by a third. ...more
I just love Carriger's work. I love her attention to detail, I love her wild ideas, I love the banter.
An important thing to note: you could absolutelyI just love Carriger's work. I love her attention to detail, I love her wild ideas, I love the banter.
An important thing to note: you could absolutely read this without reading the Alexia Tarabotti novels. While they are set in the same universe, this novel gives you enough background information about the older characters to be going on with. And although, as is only natural, Prudence does reflect on her mother, it's not an overwhelming part of her character - and one of the most awesome things is that Prudence is NOT her mother. And isn't even the antithesis of her. Instead, she is very definitely herself.
The plot, briefly: Prudence goes to India and gets into all sorts of shenanigans while preparing to go, while on the way, and while there. Said shenanigans involve numerous supernatural creatures, a couple of boys, her best friend Primrose, several hats, and a rather large dirigible named The Spotted Custard. There is copious amounts of tea, a great deal of banter and snark, a tinge of British imperialism critique, and a lot of dresses.
The set of characters Carriger has brought together bode well for future books in the series; they fall into tropes, but they also have their amusing quirks and individuality. The best friend, Primrose, is very concerned about niceties of language and dress and manners; she's also intelligent, socially sensitive, and I'm fairly sure she's quite ruthless. Her twin is Percy, absent-minded professor type with loony ideas; he's probably the least developed in this novel, but I trust will come properly into his own in the future. The fourth in the quartet is Quesnal, whose family I won't reveal because that would be a bit of a spoiler but made me happy. He's the engineering one, more practically-minded than the others, but also French - which in a novel like this is taken by the characters themselves to mean that he's more emotional and sensuous (in good ways) than the more prim British.
Oh, and Prudence of course. Her family situation has meant that she is quite worldly in some ways, while still naive in others - and she knows it. She's curious and game for adventure, intelligent and witty, and aware of her own faults. Perhaps the most intriguing part about her is her conscious use of character. She pays attention to those around her and she deliberately adopts mannerisms - mostly from her parents - that she thinks will help her in different situations. This idea of re-negotiating identity, in effect, is fascinating.
I love that Carriger is exploring more of the world that she created initially in Soulless. I love that we've now got a young adolescent perspective (in The Finishing School books), the 20-something perspective (here, in The Custard Protocol books), and the... 30-40, I guess? perspective (Parasol Protectorate). If I started re-reading the last again, maybe a book every six months, I could get myself thoroughly chronologically confused.
I'm really looking forward to the next book in this series (Imprudence).
Note: I had a... discussion... with some friends about whether there's a typo on the first page, where Prudence is described as inspiring "immanent dread" in people. Given who and what she is, I think this spelling of 'immanent' is fine. However, I was disappointed to find a number of typos throughout the book. I'm not silly enough to blame Carriger for this and it doesn't really subtract from my enjoyment of the novel itself, but I am quite disappointed by finding them and they do detract somewhat from my reading experience. ...more
I bought this book ages ago because I was fascinated by the idea of finding out more about Thucydides. I've read bits and pieces by the man, of courseI bought this book ages ago because I was fascinated by the idea of finding out more about Thucydides. I've read bits and pieces by the man, of course, although never all that much. The thought of having such a seminal figure put in his context and explored as a fallible man and amazing historian was alluring indeed.
Alas, this is not the book I was expecting. It would be better titled Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War - which wouldn't have appealed to me as much, because I'm not quite as in love with the Peloponnesian issues as I am with, say the Persian, but that's beside the point. What Kagan has written here is overwhelming about the Peloponnesian War, with bits about Thucydides' perspective and how he's being a revisionist woven through that. Which is an entirely admirable project, but it is NOT what this book proclaims itself to be. So I was disappointed.
Overall it's readable; fairly dense, but I haven't studied this era in ages and I am not a military historian, and I still got on relatively well. ...more
Reading this has been a long time coming. I think I've owned it for a couple of years, but I've never quite got there before now... mostly because I kReading this has been a long time coming. I think I've owned it for a couple of years, but I've never quite got there before now... mostly because I knew that once I had read it, I would have read it, and then it wouldn't be sitting there waiting to be read.
Yes, sometimes my brain is weird.
TL;DR: totally, totally worth it; wonderful and strange and making me moon-eyed. It is indeed like reading those fairy tales that were deemed Not Really Fit for young children and discovering that THAT is where the good stuff is.
Almost all of the narratives in this collection are connected in some way to other stories. Sometimes this is explicit: there are a couple of families for whom generations get stories. Others are more round-about, as a passing character in one gets developed in another. This goes too, of course, for The Bitterwood Bible in which Slatter has written prequel stories, of sorts. The fact that I read Bitterwood first meant I got to see some of the places where she went back and filled in gaps, fleshed out history, made connections clearer. The upshot is that reading the stories is a bit like moving to a small town. You meet one person and then another and only a few months later do you discover that those two have History; and then over time all the rest of the connections come tumbling out - except some of them still stay hidden, teased at the edge of perception. Sourdough and the world that Slatter has created here is exactly like that.
One of the things I fiercely love about the stories here and in Bitterwood is the focus on women - and that they are so very varied. Women are daughters, mothers, lovers, wives, friends, neighbours, enemies; they are skilled, bored, frustrated, vengeful, magical, lost, bewildered, smart, sacrificial, victims and heroes. They are human.
Seriously, just read this. Come back and thank me later. ...more
There are spoilers ahead for the first two books of this series, Etiquette and Espionage and Curtsies and ConsI received this book from the publisher.
There are spoilers ahead for the first two books of this series, Etiquette and Espionage and Curtsies and Conspiracies. I'm also going to talk about the very end of this book, but I'll let you know when that's about to happen.
I continue to be impressed by the fact that the problem set up in the first book, about the mysterious crystalline valve, has continued to be a significant plot point across the three books of the series so far. Aside from a simple continuity of characters, this makes the series feel more cohesive than it otherwise might and it's something I especially did not expect from an adventures-at-school book. Sorry for doubting you, Carriger. It does of course continue to develop, until here we start to see how the valve might actually be used nefariously. The other intriguing, if fleeting, piece of continuity is Professor Braithwope's mental instability, caused either by the snapping of his vampiric tether or his experience in the aether. It would have been nice to see a bit more resolution of this, but I'm glad he hasn't simply been abandoned.
The focus of the series, of course, is the growing friendship of the girls - Sophronia and Dimity especially, but Agatha and Sidheag as well. (Sophronia is the central protagonist throughout; Dimity got a starring role in C&C; Sidheag has her turn in this book... which surely means that the fourth book will finally give us some Agatha love? She's absolutely the most mysterious at this point - apparently from great wealth, there's no hint about why she's at Miss Geraldine's, and given her apparently mouse-like character how could she ever survive as an intelligencer? So that's something to hope for.) Sophronia and Dimity continue to be inseparable; I was concerned that Dimity was just going to be the slightly dopey sidekick, but again I should have trusted Carriger; she's definitely got a mind of her own, and although she doesn't try that hard to stop Sophronia being mad, she doesn't just go along blindly. I was glad to see more of Sidheag, while feeling sorry for the reason behind it. Solid female friendships are a lovely lovely thing.
One of my disappointments with this book is the same as in Curtsies and Conspiracies: the boys. There's a lot of anguishing over Lord Mersey and Soap. Felix is a useful person to know but he's a right pain in the butt and I got pretty sick of him, it must be said; his overly familiar and pushy attitude towards Sophronia was irritating and bordering on offensive. I like Soap. I can appreciate the we're-just-friends narrative, as well as everyone rolling their eyes at the idea that Sophronia is so naive. I really appreciate that this is a cross-race and - perhaps even more pertinently - cross-class friendship/might-be romance. Felix vs Soap isn't much fun, though, bordering on possessiveness sometimes. Sophronia doesn't really put up with it, which is good, but it still bugged me.
But not as much as the ending..
(view spoiler)[I knew that there was going to be some drama involving werewolves and Soap wanting to change from about the middle of the book. As soon as there were guns pulled at the end I got that sinking feeling and yup, then Soap got shot right while Lord Slaughter happened to be standing there. Oh what a surprise. At least it wasn't in protecting Sophronia directly. I did like that Sophronia saved her friend, and was wonderfully gallant in standing up to Slaughter and demanding he try - and that she stood by her promise to be indentured to him (HOO BOY). But... there's still something about this turn of events that makes me uncomfortable. I'm glad Soap was saved, and yes he wanted to be a werewolf, but this is not on his terms. I can't express it much better than this: it just wasn't quite right. (hide spoiler)]
I did like it, I really want to find out where Sophronia goes now, and I REALLY want a book featuring Agatha.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is another hugely enjoyable book from Carriger. Once again our girl Sophronia is thrown into difficulties at her alleged finishing school. This tThis is another hugely enjoyable book from Carriger. Once again our girl Sophronia is thrown into difficulties at her alleged finishing school. This time she has a lot more to do with the supernatural element of her world, especially the vampires. Of course there's a lot of discussion of dresses and fashion and hats and reticules; she must figure out how to carry a knife without it being obvious, she must learn to bat her eyelids effectively, and how best to carry the implements required of a young lady in her position. I'm still surprised by how enjoyable I find yet another school focused book.
Most of this book is spent on the dirigible of Miss Geraldine's finishing school. Some time is spent in classes, learning about domestic economy, poisoning, fainting and how to properly address vampires. But for Sophronia, much of her time is spent on the outside of the dirigible – climbing – as well as with the sooties down below and the dressing-as-a-boy Vieve. Interestingly the plot follows on from Etiquette and Espionage, in that the MacGuffin here is the same. Of course this time it's not so much about finding the prototype as it is about figuring out what it can do, how it will do it, and who will control it. There's a surprising amount of politics for a book that seems at least on the outside as being solely can send with fashion. I guess that's kind of the point; that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive and anyone who is thinks they are is likely to underestimates graduates of Miss Geraldine's finishing school.
One of the big differences in this book compared to the original is that there's a lot more boys. I'm not really sure what I think about this; on the one hand it's obviously an important skill for girls like Sophronia and Dimity to learn – that is, how to deal with difficult yet handsome young man. And of course reappearing in this book is Soap, certainly one of my favorite characters although somewhat problematic given that he's black and his nickname is Soap. On the other hand I really enjoyed the almost exclusively female cast of the first book; the fact that boys were not necessary for the book to proceed, the fact that the girls were perfectly capable of getting themselves into and out of scrapes generally without any male assistance (or hindrance) at all. While some of the ways that Sophronia dealt with her would-be suitors was entertaining, I did find myself enjoying the sections of the plot that solely involves the girls generally more enjoyable.
I continue to be fascinated by the development of this world that Carriger initially developed for the Alexia books. And of course I remain desperately keen to find out how this series will intersect with the earlier one. One of those intersections is quite obvious but I have no doubts that Carriger will provide some further surprises in the rest of the series....more
I'm a little conflicted by this book, and I know I won't write a review that does it, or that ambiguity, justiThis book was provided by the publisher.
I'm a little conflicted by this book, and I know I won't write a review that does it, or that ambiguity, justice.
On the one hand this is a book of gorgeous prose. It's lyrical (heh) and it's evocative, setting up beautiful word-pictures. This is a world where although sight still exists, hearing has become far more important for many people - an inversion of today? There's talk of whistling directions, of using tunes as advertisements and as aides memoire, and then there's Chimes. Chimes is music that plays at Matins and Vespers, and no matter where you are (well, within the small geographic scope of the novel) you have to pay attention. It's fairly fast-paced; Smaill does a good job of showing the dystopian nature of the world without a whole lot of detail; I found the conclusion satisfyingly dramatic.
On the other hand... there are enormous questions that are never answered about how 'the world' got like this (there's hints but that's all), whether the entire world is like this or just some area around London, and there are a few plot holes here and there that are glanced over. What I can't figure out is whether these things matter or not. On balance, I think I can live with those problems, and it's mostly because of the beauty of the language. If this were a more pedestrian novel I would have more problems with it. The one problem with the language is the use of musical terms. No one does anything quickly or slowly; it's all piano, lento, tacet... and I don't even know if some of the words were invented. I have zero musical training so there were times where I was confused about whether we were rushing or going stealthy. Still, I coped. I was a bit sad at about the halfway mark that the novel was so boy-heavy (I hadn't read the blurb so I actually thought the narrator was a girl, at the start), but by the end I was a bit more content with the gender choices overall.
The novel is written in the first person and in present tense; I feel like I haven't read a whole lot of present-tense stuff recently, so that was intriguing. Our protag is off to London with a mission from his dying mother, but he has to hurry because he'll lose his memory of what he's doing pretty soon. Because everyone does. This is a world where people are just about living Fifty First Dates. They keep 'bodymemory' - usually - so they remember how to eat, how to do the manual parts of their job, and so on; and maybe 'objectmemory' can help with some specific events... but unless relationships, for instance, are renewed every day, pretty soon those people are gone from your mind. Because of Chimes. The music you can't not hear.
Simon, of course, is a bit special - he's got a slightly better memory - and while the whole You're Special thing might be a bit old, that's because it's such a good way of making change happen in a difficult world. Anyway, Simon starts finding out more about his world, thanks to a new friend, and things progress from there. I liked Simon, overall, as a voice for showing the world, but really we don't find out that much about him - I think as a factor of the first-person narration. That's not necessarily a problem; you're enough in his head on a day-by-day basis that I, at least, certainly cared what happened.
The musical aspect is original, at least in my reading experience, and the prose is a delight. For a debut novel I'm even more impressed - and not surprised to discover that Smaill is both a classically trained violinist and a published poet. I hope she gets to publish more books, and I hope this features on the Sir Julius Vogel ballot next year (she's a Kiwi). ...more