This debut novel by Dru Pagliassotti is being billed as a steampunk romance/urban fantasy. And it is all of these. But it transcends each of them asThis debut novel by Dru Pagliassotti is being billed as a steampunk romance/urban fantasy. And it is all of these. But it transcends each of them as well, making it IMO an incredibly enjoyable cross-genre read. I'm sitting here trying to think of someone I wouldn't recommend this book to and I'm coming up blank.
Taya is an icarus--a member of the messenger class. Every day she straps on a pair of metal wings and soars across the city of Ondinium delivering messages. Life in Ondinium is extremely stratified. As an incarus, Taya is considered outside caste and is therefore able to move freely between the uber-powerful upper crust and the lower level plebeians. Social rank is marked by a subtle facial tattoo. And the "exalteds" (the highest of the high) only go out in public masked and heavily robed, to preserve their grace and purity.
Then one day Taya inadvertently rescues an exalted and her son. This seemingly minor event thrusts her into the realm of the exalteds and into the lives of two brothers--Alister and Cristof Forlore. Alister is the dashing younger brother, a gifted programmer, a rising star on the political scene, and an incorrigible lover of women. Cristof is the caustic older brother who has chosen to live outside his caste, maskless, working as a clockwright among the working class of Ondinium. As a rebel group known only as the Torn Cards terrorizes the city with a series of bombings, Taya is swept up in a murder mystery and must quickly learn how to navigate the deep waters between exalted and plebeian, charm and ruthlessness, and Alister and Cristof Forlore.
Clockwork Heart delighted me. I went into it complacently, wanting to love some characters and hate others unreservedly, but Ms. Pagliassottii's multi-faceted characterization made that impossible. I was forced to sit up and care about all of them, to see their flaws and their virtues, to really understand them and how they were themselves but also the product of the unique world they lived in, the society they were born into. A world built on the carefully delineated contrast between humanity and technology, privilege and humility. A truly engrossing read....more
I'd seen this cover batted about the internets for awhile and I admired it at every encounter. It really is effective, I think, in giving you an accurI'd seen this cover batted about the internets for awhile and I admired it at every encounter. It really is effective, I think, in giving you an accurate and enticing glimpse into the goods inside. The slant of the modern font, the steampunky parasol, the charmingly off kilter stance of the heroine. Put that together with it's killer tagline,
"A novel of vampires, werewolves, and parasols."
It was pretty much a foregone conclusion I'd be picking SOULLESS up. Then at BEA I happened to turn a corner and come across a delightful lady sitting at a small table at the Orbit booth. I approached and she smiled and inquired as to whether I would like some tea and shortbread. Oh, and perhaps a signed copy of her book? I nodded, completely charmed, accepted a cookie, and then caught sight of the cover of her book. It was SOULLESS! And the lovely lady was Gail Carriger.
Miss Alexia Tarrabotti is larger than both the stuffy Victorian social mores and the stiff stays of her corset allow. Being half Italian, well past the age of eligibility, and completely without a soul, she spends most of her time reading, chaperoning her half-sisters to a series of insipid balls, and trying to avoid embarrassing encounters with a variety of supernatural creatures roaming London these days. You see, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, the whole bit are out and about and accepted in society. Part of their makeup includes an overabundance of soul, while Alexia suffers from an utter lack. As a result, she is able to cancel out their supernatural abilites with a mere touch of her hand. Known as a preternatural, she is a rare commodity indeed and no one but a few well-placed, well-connected vampires and werewolves know what she is and what she could be used for. When she unexpectedly encounters a rogue vampire at a fancy ball, Alexia does the only sensible thing and stakes him on the spot. Enter the irascible Lord Maccon--the Scottish alpha werewolf of a local pack. On orders from the Queen herself to investigate the incident, this is not the first run-in Lord Maccon and Alexia have had. And, when Alexia expresses her determination to remain involved in the case, it is clear it will not be the last.
Fun, fun, fun. That is what this book is. I found myself completely won over by Alexia. And Lord Maccon. They're just so very thrown together and they are just so very much fun to be with. It was nice to read about a relationship full of tension and romance, but without an interfering third party or one party who persists in being intolerably stupid or thick about things. Don't get me wrong. There are misunderstandings and miscommunications and a few other mis-es. But the whole thing is so enchanting and light-hearted. And it centers on two (for lack of a better word) good people. They have their quirks and idiosyncracies, but they are also both admirable and spunky and full to the brim of life and passion and personality. Soulless spans several genres (urban fantasy, historical, steampunk, comedy of manners, romance) and it makes fun of and love to them all. Though things did grow a bit silly for me at the very end (I found myself longing for a little more gravity between the lead characters), my affection for them kept me reading. Like the title font, Alexia is quite modern in her sensibilities and she is nothing if not uncompromising. With her modernity comes a few more heated scenarios than one might expect in her situation. At the same time Ms. Carriger makes Miss Tarrabotti hyperaware of every flaw and foible. Buffeted by the disapproval and dislike of her family and society, she is skeptical of the motivations of anyone expressing admiration or interest. As a result, she longs for home and love at the same time as she holds herself aloof from those who might be interested in getting close to her. I, myself, am quite fond of her and found her very sympathetic. I look forward to Changeless--the second installment in the Parasol Protectorate series. SOULLESS is due out September 29th....more
This cover. This cover remains one of my favorite covers ever! I had never heard of Paula Volsky before or read much historiOriginally published here.
This cover. This cover remains one of my favorite covers ever! I had never heard of Paula Volsky before or read much historical fantasy at all when a copy of ILLUSION arrived at my house. I was fifteen and my Aunt Claudia sent it to me for my birthday. She's a great reader, my aunt, and she has flawless taste. When they were kids, she and my dad would ride their bikes to the library and each check out a stack of Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys, go home, read them, switch, read, return, and repeat. She loves Dickens and Georgette Heyer and all manner of good ones. So I knew this one would be good. And I loved how reassuringly thick the mass market copy was. Slick gray pages and 674 of them in all--absolute bliss. I ended up reading the majority of it during a couple of late night babysitting stints. After the kids brushed their teeth and went to bed, I curled up in an oversize chair in the living room and lost myself in the crazy elaborate world Ms. Volsky created. I had honestly never read anything like it, and sadly, I have yet to actually talk to anyone else (besides my aunt) who has read it.
Eliste vo Derrivale (wow, did I love her name when I was 15 . . . oh, who are we kidding? I still do) is a member of the ultra-privileged Exalted class in the land of Vonahr. Having grown up on a rather idyllic estate in the countryside, she can hardly focus on anything else when the summons comes to move to the capital city of Sherreen and become a lady-in-waiting to Queen Lallazay herself. And so she packs her bags and trips off to make her debut at court without a backward glance. Unfortunately for Eliste, her timing is catastrophic. While she is primped, prodded, and ruthlessly trained in the intricate ways of court life, the nation's serfs are rising up. Sick of centuries of subservience to the Exalted class, whose rule is based on their much-lauded but rarely-seen magical abilities, the peasants have united. Before she has fully adapted to her new life, violence breaks out in the city and the life she longed to lead is ripped from her grasp. Forced out onto the streets, Eliste comes to grim terms with a very different way of life. And a past uncharacteristic and seemingly insignificant action comes back to haunt her, as one of the key members of the rebellion is none other than Dref Zeenosen--a serf she once freed from her father's tyranny in a fit of momentary pity a long time ago. If she is to survive, Eliste must develop a whole new set of skills and avoid the dreaded Kokette--the death machine that awaits any Exalted the rebels can get their hands on.
Just thinking about this gorgeous epic sends pleasant little sparks to the tips of my fingers. And I do mean epic in the long and drawn out sense of the word. Densely written, ILLUSION is expansive and filled with exquisite, minute descriptions of everything from the lace in Eliste's hair to the bloody spikes on the horrific, possibly sentient Kokette. Based on the events of the French Revolution, Eliste's world is richly evocative of that period in history and, while some of the events in the story may not surprise you as a result, the elaborate and sympathetic characterization and the delicious magical overtones will reel you in. I love that Eliste is such a spoiled brat at the beginning. She's the epitome of snobby upper crust debutante with a disdain for anything she deems beneath her--which is pretty much everything. She's young and thoughtless and incredibly annoying. But. She is often a keen judge of character. She is always a survivor. And she's unwittingly in for a real nightmare. The joy is in the transformation that is wrought and the growth she achieves as a result of having front row seats for the devastation of her world. I very much like who she becomes. Everything about this book takes its time, from the main character's evolution, to the extremely subtle and slow-building romance, to the final quiet and bittersweet conclusion. It could get tiresome, but to me it felt earned. If historical fiction is not your thing, you might find it difficult to sink into the slightly affected vocabulary and speech mannerisms of the principle characters. For me, the unusual blend of historical tapestry, magic, and early steampunk (in the form of crazily creepy machinery used as part of the revolution) worked like a charm. I would love to hear what fans of any or all of those genres think of it as it has long been a favorite....more
The moment I heard about a steampunk retelling of Jane Eyre, I geared up for its release. I am always up for a retelling of tOriginally reviewed here.
The moment I heard about a steampunk retelling of Jane Eyre, I geared up for its release. I am always up for a retelling of this book. And I've had spectacular success in the past. This one is not YA, or even New Adult, and I could tell it relied more heavily on the rich fantasy aspects of the world and story, all of which I was eager to fall into. I love the cover, particularly the iron mask, and everything about it just had the ring of excellence to it. This is not to say that I wasn't apprehensive, because there's always a bit of that when you go into a retelling of any kind, isn't there? But do any of you ever start to tire of your own wariness when it comes to upcoming releases? I go back and forth between feeling justifyingly jaded (particularly when it comes to oversaturated genres or tropes) and feeling like shaking off all my suspicion and caution and just jumping in like I used to as a kid. Because the exhaustion of both maintaining expectations and forcing yourself not to have them . . . it's exhausting. So all of that to say that when an ARC floated my way via NetGalley, I didn't even blink before downloading it to my nook and settling in that evening.
Jane Eliot survived the Great War. They don't call it a victory as the Fey just up and disappeared rather than outright lost. But the humans who survived are altered beyond recognition. Some of them inwardly and some of them (like Jane) very much outwardly. Those struck by Fey fire during the war bear a curse. The curse not only affects the victim but spills out from the site of the wound onto all those they come into contact with. Each curse is different. For Jane, it is rage. From the jagged scars on her face that never heal, rages pours through her and onto those she encounters. That is until she stumbles across the Foundry. There ironworkers create what they call ironskin. These pieces of iron attach to their bodies over the wounds, sealing them in, preventing the curses from affecting passersby. And so Jane wears a mask, and all the rage is bottled inside. Nevertheless, when she applies for a job taking care of the reclusive Mr. Rochart's daughter Dorie, she does cherish some small hope that in this wild, remote location she might find a place where she could belong. Of course, Mr. Rochart, his daughter, and the entire household are so strange that Jane begins to feel the normal one. Despite her mask and veil. Despite the rage boiling under her skin. For something very wrong lurks behind the doors of her new home and Jane may find her mask is not the only one keeping curses at bay.
This is a fantastic setup. I found myself instantly caught up in the whole notion of the ironskin, of seeping curses from fey wounds, of Jane filled with an unnatural post-war rage. I even enjoyed Connolly's revisionist version of Mr. Rochart's uber-creepy secret. The whole world, its history, the way it was peopled, and the horrors they bore set my imagination racing. I couldn't wait to watch it play out. But then it . . . didn't. Unfortunately, I felt as though the writing itself never matched up to the premise, which was grandly dark. The words just plodded along, never rising above serviceable, never engaging in an organic way with the world's potential to really give the story wings. Add to that the fact that the characterization just stagnated after the beginning. Jane herself is primed to be a force in her own story, yet she remains flat throughout. Mr. Rochart comes off as a mere placeholder, and I felt as though I was waiting the entire novel for the "real" Mr. Rochart to reveal himself, or at least make an entrance on stage. No such luck. And without any actual chemistry between those two key players, it's quite impossible difficult to make this particular tale work on any level. Without that connection, the hints at the horrific left me simply cold, without that delicious chill that comes when it is happening to people you care about and have some emotional investment in. In lesser problems, several twists felt fairly predictable to me, and I was uncomfortable with some of the implications when it came to the various races and/or creatures in this world and the way they were viewed. The end result was, as you can imagine, me struggling to finish the book and mourning the myriad of missed opportunities and empty characterizations where so much richness was possible....more