It is the reign of Queen Victoria and the British Empire is vast and ever expanding, thanks in part to the Werewolves and Vampires. The supernatural a...moreIt is the reign of Queen Victoria and the British Empire is vast and ever expanding, thanks in part to the Werewolves and Vampires. The supernatural are acknowledged the world over, but only England has truly accepted them into their daylight world and even into Victoria's government. They even have their own watchdog agency, BUR, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry. This revelation has resulted in technology exploding in the industrial era to harness the power of steam and create a veritable Wellsian world. Now Alexia Tarabotti enters into our story. Alexia deftly straddles these two worlds, not supernatural and not fully human, she is preternatural, soulless, and can cancel out supernatural powers. Preternatural's being used for centuries, particularly by the Templars, to hunt and kill supernaturals. But these are not Alexia's concerns...she's more worried about finding a nice cup of tea and a little something to eat...if a party says that there is to be food, food there should be! What else is a spinster who tragically takes after her dead Italian father in looks and is extremely outspoken to do at parties specifically designed to marry off her two step sisters? But her peace, and the treacle tart, are destroyed by a surprisingly ignorant vampire. She prevailes with her trusty parasol and BUR, in particular, Alpha Lord Maccon and Beta Professor Lyall, arrive on the scene to tidy up the loose ends.
The next day dawns surprisingly normal, till out on a walk with her best friend, and fashion victim, Ivy Hisselpenny, Alexia is invited to the hive of the Vampire Queen, Countess Nadasdy. From there everything goes pear shaped and it's up to Alexia to sort it out, despite Lord Maccon's interference, in more ways then one, some of them surprisingly intimate. There are disappearing rogue vampires and werewolves, and not even her trusty go to gossip, the vampire dandy Lord Akeldama knows what to make of it. With the full moon fast approaching will Alexia be able to keep her overly large nose out of this supernatural business? Or will she storm into the fray, trusting parasol (made to her specifications) in hand And will she get the man even though she has been a resigned spinster since the age of 15?
Soulless is the author Gail Carriger's first published work. I have to say I'm surprised and impressed. Surprised in that it is such a well written polished piece with great Victorian vernacular and lots of wit. Plus as an aside, I only found maybe two typos, it's unheard of for a book to be that well copy edited! But what impressed me was the author's world creation. The England of dirigibles and dandys is wonderful. I found the science and the history she created to be easy to understand, despite it's complexities, and I can't wait till the next book to re-immerse myself in this world...too bad I have to wait till March! The interaction of science with the supernatural was also so well done and logical, you never once felt that she was trying to force one or the other on a preexisting history of the British Empire, but was explaining the oddities of the British Empire itself with the world she created. If only Prince Albert were still alive...I can picture him with Professor Lyall, both equipped with Glassicals and studying the latest scientific aspects of chloroform while waiting to give a presentation to The Royal Society.
Overall the book was able to work on many levels, one of which was to overcome typical romance genre stereotypes. I don't think I'll ever really like Ivy Hisselpenny, she is too, wide-eyed innocent best friend who Alexia will endeavor to find a good match for in subsequent books. Also the throwing together of the heroine with the gruff hero so early in the novel was surprising to me, usually they wait till the very last moment. But Carriger made this work in the end with not the least bit of diluted suspense and the conclusion made me wish I hand Changeless right away to dive into to read of Maccon and Alxia's further adventures. Alexia herself is so wonderfully abrasive and forthright and knowledgeable with such a love of food you can't help embracing her instantly. Who cares that she's the typical spinster stereotype, because when you get down to it, there is nothing stereotypical about her. She is a woman who takes after Victoria herself, not those insipid heroines always needing a man to save them.
But now I must get to my favorite character, Lord Akeldama. He's a dandy to be sure, and a rogue vampire due to a mysterious disagreement over waistcoats, but he's so much more. He's a complex little spy who loves Alexia because she makes him feel human. But his spy network is really where it's at. His trusty Drones, led by Biffy. These dandy's are everywhere and hear everything, but at the same time are so stereotypical and a product of their time that they are a part of the scenery. They are perfectly calculated by Akeldama to be his eyes and ears lending him the appearance of omniscience. Also lets not forget they are great little helpers, in every sense of the word. Do to their cackling dandy herd mentality and the name of Drones and knowing that the author is a fan of P.G. Wodehouse, I can't help myself envisioning a whole different take on the Drones Club. This one would be more stylish, with lots more purple silk and more overt Wildean overtones. I would pay to read about that...really I would. Perhaps in an upcoming sequel by Gail Carriger...(less)
Brenda has decided that after her long long life it's time for some peace and quiet in the small northern seaside town of Witby, famed for Dracula's s...moreBrenda has decided that after her long long life it's time for some peace and quiet in the small northern seaside town of Witby, famed for Dracula's ship, the Demeter, crashing into its harbor. While the town does have many B and B's, Brenda sets out to make hers the friendliest and cleanliest for a few select guests. Settling down has always been the last thing on her mind in a life of tumult and late night escapes, but she has a nice routine and a best friend, Effie, her neighbor next door who runs a junk shop filled with centuries of family ephemera. Days are spent cleaning and making her home nice, going out for tea and dinners with Effie, and quietly getting on with life, something the bride of Frankenstein never thought possible. Yet Brenda realizes it is too good to last when during one of her and Effie's outings, their regular waitress at The Christmas Hotel, Jessie, is literally 20 years younger. She has gone to a new boutique in town and the years have just been taken away. Brenda's years of being surrounded by the strange and peculiar means she knows that this "Deadly Boutique" has to be up to something, and her feisty new friend Effie is all for investigating. The boutique though is only one of many strange occurrences. Aliens, vampires, every manner of supernatural goings on start to happen, and they all seem to have one thing in common, Brenda.
For quite awhile now I've had two books by Paul Magrs on my "to_get" shelf on goodreads (I've also oddly had one of them on the shelf nearest my computer tower that I just recently rediscovered). Never the Bride and 666 Charing Cross Road intrigued me, yet not being in print here I was at the whims of someone selling a copy to a used bookstore or biting the bullet and paying the shipping charges from overseas. I met Paul this past fall at TeslaCon and realized that these books needed to be bumped up the list. Paul is an engaging reader. Sometimes authors get up to read their work and it falls flat. You aren't drawn into the world. I was instantly drawn into the world of Brenda and Effie as the characters took him over. During the weekend I got to know Paul a little, attending his readings and Q and A's, hanging out at the hotel's bar.
We're now facebook friends and he put me in touch with his publicist to wrangle me a few of his books for my blog here, yeah. I was instantly over the moon and filled with dread. Here is someone I had met who I genuinely liked but had yet to read his work. What if it was awful? What if he asked me how I liked it? What if I had to break it to him that I hated a book with characters so dear to his heart? It's a constant fear of reviewers, or at least a fear of this reviewer. What if you get too close to your subject? What if you form some alliance or tentative friendship that can't withstand the truth? Because I will always tell the truth. I can't lie. As an artist I have learned to take harsh criticism, and it has made me better at what I do, so therefore I'm not trying to be mean, I'm trying to make you better. Sadly it's easier to write about a bad book than a good one, but when it's someone you like and admire, you feel bad that you didn't like it. I've even once or twice hesitated to even publish my review because the book was so bad and the author someone I so admired, yet I still published my review for all to read. Because in the end, the truth will out. As you've probably surmised because this book is on my top ten reads for 2011 that all my fears where unjustified in this case. Whew.
The book combines so many of my favorite things into one book it's instantly a series I must now devour. Never the Bride is set up like an old fashioned chap book, with each chapter dealing with a different crisis that has arisen. Just like the different guests that stay at Brenda's B and B, each chapter is a cozy little mystery that while solved by chapters end, adds a little more to the books overall story arc. I like cozy little mysteries. There's something comforting about them, but then, sometimes they are formulaic. I think by adding in a few vampires, aliens and characters from Gothic literature, that Paul has smashed the formulae and made something new. It's like Mapp and Lucia for the supernatural set. Buffy for retirees. Being Human, but just a little more mature. In fact I can totally see this as a series with Geraldine James as Brenda and perhaps Annette Crosbie as Effie.
At different points in the book I was sad that the chapter was ending, because, the characters being guests, would leave, and leave me a little sad. The family of aliens that Brenda harbors where so sweet and so well developed they didn't devolve into the horror of cliche, Simon Pegg's atrocious Paul anyone? Because I'm sure the first time I said this book had aliens, you kind of cringed a little, as I myself did. Aliens and Neanderthals (Australopithecus to be exact) don't usually seamlessly fit into fantastical fiction, I'm sure the Neanderthal episode of Buffy wasn't your favorite, aside from adding "Beer foamy" to you quotes; and you sometimes end up with the mess that Jasper Fforde has gotten himself into with his Thursday Next books where you just don't care anymore. But here each character is created with such loving detail that no matter how much you think this might be too much or too far, it isn't. It's just perfect. I instantly felt that these fictional characters where in fact my friends and can't wait to visit them again and again. If only I could stay at Brenda's B and B sometime... and not just in my dreams.(less)
Gail Carriger has added the one thing these books needed to be perfect, a little Egyptian mysticism. Though I find it cruel to put the sample for Blam...moreGail Carriger has added the one thing these books needed to be perfect, a little Egyptian mysticism. Though I find it cruel to put the sample for Blameless in the back and then make us wait till September!
Marital bliss can't last long when a surly regiment of werewolves shows up on your doorstep, your husband disappears to the wilds of Scotland and a bizarre plague of humanization strikes London, making werewolves and vampires alike mortal, and shuffling off the ghosties. But Alexia would not be Alexia if she didn't set right to figuring out what's up. After stopping off at a milliner's, always a trying experience with Ivy in tow, Alexia makes the acquaintance of Madame Lefoux, a dashing haberdasher prone to wearing male attire who happens to be a great inventor on the side. In fact, she's invented the parasol to beat all other parasols, making this umbrella indispensable to Alexia. After an explosive attack while leaving Madame Lefoux's establishment, and rumors that the humanization proceeded her husband to Scotland, Alexia decides that the safety of the supernaturals as well as her husband are at stake and to Scotland she must go. Of course, if she must go by dirigible, her long held wish, well then she must. She didn't count on the entourage of a love sick claviger, an engaged Ivy, one of her sisters and Madame Lefoux.
Attempted poisonings and dangerous dirigible daring do lead to a welcome return to Terra Firma. But if Alexia thought the troubles before where anything to the troubles to come she was mistaken. Her husbands old pack are not all that welcoming, and they seem to have collected a lot of Egyptian antiquities on their way home for being stationed in India. But if it's the last thing she does Alexia will get to the bottom of everything, little knowing of the shock in store.
Gail Carriger has outdone herself in creating a rollicking good read, with a tighter more thrilling mystery and even more memorable characters than in her first book, Soulless. From creating a proto telegraph telephone to dirigibles riding on aether, she has not bogged down her book with too much unintelligible speculative steampunk gadgetry. She has made an accessible world that you never want to leave and makes the wait for Blameless excruciating. Plus, delving deeper into the mysteries of what exactly a preternatural is, and unearthing Egyptian myths, sheer perfection. There's nothing I love more than Egypt, and while, throwing Egypt in delights me, I find it truly satisfying when it works so well with the plot and advances the narrative. Egypt for Egypt is all well and good, Egypt for a purpose, all the better. If there was one complaint I could make, aside from the cliffhanger, it is not enough Lord Akeldama. But I can't in good conscious make this complaint with the arrival of Madame Lefoux. She is so mysterious and kind of glamorous, and her openly defining the stereotypes of the day is just wonderful. I hope she continues to play in important part in the story. Also, am I the only one who instantly saw Emma Fielding as Miss Galindo from Cranford as Madame Lefoux? Maybe it's the hat thing, maybe it's the cravat thing, but I think she would be perfect. (less)
Alexia Maccon has left her husband due to his stupidity and ended back in the "loving" bosom of her family. She has been fired from the Shadow Council...moreAlexia Maccon has left her husband due to his stupidity and ended back in the "loving" bosom of her family. She has been fired from the Shadow Council and has a very infant inconvenience, but at least her family throws her out, so things are looking a bit brighter. If only she had someplace to go and didn't have mechanical ladybugs attacking her. There are so many unanswered questions, the most obvious being, how could this happen, followed by, who can give me answers. The Vampires seem the logical ones for knowing the secrets of the Soulless, but seeing as it's probably them trying to kill her, best not to ask. Her one counselor to turn too in regard to all things, cravats to conspiracies, Lord Akeldama, is MIA. Alexia calls on those still close to her who trust she is not an unfaithful wife, but one wronged by lack of knowledge. Madame Lefoux, a milliner to be reckoned with, Tunstall, an ex werewolf groupy and now famous actor, Floote, a butler through thick and thin, and her husband's Beta, Professor Lyall. Leave it to the logical werewolf to believe her and not drown his spirits in formaldehyde... A plan is formed. To Italy and the Templars they will go. Of course they are pursued by night by Vampires and by day by drones. They seek refuge with Madam LeFoux's inventor friends, one is quite helpful, the other, Mr. Lange-Wilsdorf, a scientist with a murky past, is a bit over excited to study "the female specimen" but soon throws them onto the mercy of the world once learning of Alexia's condition. Barely making it to the "safety" of Italy. The Templars are a strange bunch, viewing Alexia as a taint on the world, a necessary evil. She is the perfect weapon in their fight against the supernatural, yet she is all that they abhor. If she could just find some answers it will all be worth it so that she can crow her innocence at her husband, Conall. She just hopes that the Templars don't figure out her real reason for visiting, who knows what their reaction would be to a pregnant Soulless. But if worse comes to worst, at least coming to Italy made her discover the most wonderful thing she has ever encountered, pesto!
Let me preface this with, I love the Parasol Protectorate and all things Alexia. But this was not my favorite book in the series so far. It seemed to lack a certain spark that the other two contained. Perhaps it's that Alexia was more contemplative while being a woman of action and lacked a pragmatism that she previously possessed, she did versus dwelled. The pregnancy has changed her. She's so focused on proving herself right that in order to come to an explanation as to how that happened things get a little too technical mumbo jumbo. The thing that was a barrier to overcome in reading the first book was the steampunky technology of the day, which you were used to by book two, but now there's all this new stuff being thrown at you and it gets confusing. It felt like the technology was a crutch to the wonderful back story and mythology of the Soulless. Aether this and that, when I feel it could have been simpler. Plus the lack of Akeldama, while key to the denouement, made this book lack his sheer wonderful presence. Also the separation of Conall and Alexia made their verbal sparring rather hard. Plus, in the end, we didn't really learn that much. We know what might be, but not what is. So more than anything, this felt like a bridge book and now I need the next book desperately. That could be, in the end, why I feel dissatisfied. There's so much I want to know NOW, that having to wait, having to have patience to learn the back story of Floote, more on the Soulless breeding program, more on what their child could be, is excruciating. Maybe I'm greedy, but I want more answers, less techno fluff. (less)
Review to come... but loved the more Akeldama, the octomaton was a bit too Wild Wild West (the bad Will Smith version).
After the to-do with the Templa...moreReview to come... but loved the more Akeldama, the octomaton was a bit too Wild Wild West (the bad Will Smith version).
After the to-do with the Templars, Alexia is back with her husband in the land of connubial bliss. She has even reached an entente with the vampires so that they'll stop trying to kill her and her unborn child. The plus side of the arrangement is that she gets to see a lot more of Lord Akeldama, the downside is that technically she's living in his second best closet while claiming to be residing next door. Which does get a mite complicated when her sister shows up and demands to stay with them. Apparently Alexia's family can't take their daughter being a suffragette... even if the other one is eight months pregnant by a werewolf and living with vampires they must maintain their middle class standards. Exceptions cannot be allowed. But Alexia can't have her sister residing with a pack of werewolves while she's snoozing next door! She must also maintain propriety. Plus, the wolves aren't liking living in town and then there's poor Biffy. Biffy isn't taking to his new life being a wolf. He lacks control, which can only be restrained by the touch of Alexia. Between the tea, the witty repartee and the ashamed Biffy, there is something afoot in London. The ghosts have started threatening the Queen. Or warning of a threat... the ghosts aren't really being very specific about the threat or where the threat originates from or if there's some evil invention involved. Wouldn't it be nice to get a simply worded warning with no vagaries and no zombie porcupines thank you very much. But even if all these problems are resolved before the birth, what exactly is being born? The Vampires and the Templars where both scared, and that can't be a good sign.
I have had much too and fro with my friends about this book. Some are all happy, others are dissatisfied. Personally, I'm of the camp where I was personally satisfied, with one caveat, but I am willing to see why there are those dissatisfied. There really wasn't much action or plot to this story. It was more a comedy of manners with more dirigibles than ever before. There was a lot of witty banter, a lot of Lord Akeldama (which was seriously lacking in the previous volume), not enough of the Madame Lefoux I know and love and a poor Biffy. Which I think was enough. But the ghosts and their dire warnings seemed to hint about some big conspiracy, some huge world altering emergency, and there plot seemed to just fade like the vabors they resemble. There was follow through, and what they did warn of did occur, but by the time it came it fell flat. If something is set up so wonderfully and has the feeling of a good Victorian mystery in the vein of Wilkie Collins, please don't let that urgency fade. This for me was a small aside, something I could live with because I was so engrossed in the book. Let's get to my problem though...
I will not say why, how or who but I will say what. The Octomaton. This creation just about jumped the shark for me. Picture a Victorian Man in stripy swimsuit and a mechanical shark instead of the Foz please. It was too over the top. A giant metal octopus killing machine of steel and fire set to destroy vampires. Ok, cool idea, kind of, it's just there was another loony who had the same idea... and yes, I'm talking about Dr. Arliss Loveless in the misguided reboot of Wild Wild West, I apologize in advance for getting the Will Smith song in your head, it just can't be avoided.
So, yeah, in his evilness with the mutton chops and spidery goatee, I will admit, I find Kenneth Branagh kind of sexy. That's my issue. The book's issue is that the Octomaton is his freakin' spider death machine. There is no other way to view it. This tacky kitsch movie kept intruding onto my lovely little world of the Parasol Protectorate. I cannot forgive this bizarre breach of a world I love. Yes it's not EXACTLY the same, but it's not EXACTLY different either.
This Octomaton destroyed the climax of the book and if it wasn't for my enjoyment up until then and a sweet denouement, then I might be one of my friends saying that this series is over for me. I won't say that. I love this series, and Wild WildWest intrusion and all, I'll keep on loving it. Plus, the hint of what Alexia's baby is... tantalizing in the extreme. Timeless can't come soon enough for me.(less)
Brenda wants a return to normalcy, while Effie is all for further fun. Brenda just wants to run her Bed and Breakfast and make it the cleanest and fri...moreBrenda wants a return to normalcy, while Effie is all for further fun. Brenda just wants to run her Bed and Breakfast and make it the cleanest and friendliest place in all of Whitby. Yet their adventures of the previous year has made Effie realize that there's so much more out there. Sure, growing up with a family of powerful witches, you know about "other" things, but dating Dracula and watching a hell mouth open change your priorities. Without consulting Brenda, Effie has got them a case investigating a string of poison pen letters. Sheila Manchu, who runs the decidedly low rent Hotel Miramar, is the latest victim. She has been shaken by the accusations and hopes that Brenda and Effie can help her.
Their first suspect is Mrs. Claus, with her mysterious ways and otherworldly air. She runs the upscale Christmas Hotel and is hoarding more secrets than perhaps even Brenda. Yet, she seems to be too classy to resort to poison pen letters. Lucky for Brenda and Effie, their now significantly transformed friend Jessie's nephew Robert works at both hotels and is will to help in their investigations when not tending to his womanzee aunt Jessie.
With a beer garden with evil undertones and a rampaging womanzee, sleep deprivation and things that scuttle in the night, surprisingly it's a man from Brenda's past that upsets the precious balance of life in Whitby. Henry Cleavis was a part of Brenda's life at one time, if only she could remember that time. Both of them are long past the time they should have left this earth, Brenda for more easily explainable, if unbelievable reasons... Henry though? What secrets does he hold? One things clear, he still hunts monsters, so where does that leave him and Brenda... Jessie is in danger, that's for sure. Yet if he's in town, there must be something more sinister that drew him here.
At first I was not sure if I would love this second book in Paul Magr's Brenda and Effie series as much as I did the first installment. There was a distinct structure shift. The narrative style changed from little vignettes to a more overall narrative arc. I loved the little "monster of the week" structure of Never the Bride, because it felt more Victorian in construct. Little sweets of stories that take place in Brenda and Effie's lives. Yet, there shouldn't have been a doubt in my mind. While the structure changed, my love for the characters didn't. Paul's style change perfectly fitted the story at hand. Instead of all these little individual tales, we have one tale that every little aspect of the narrative fed into. The story kept building on itself till we finally got the big reveal in Brenda's flashback that locked all the pieces down into place.
Also, learning more about Brenda's past, and her working as a housekeeper and maid back in 1946, makes sense with her continued love of a clean home. Her run in with Dracula way back in the day makes sense as to her prejudice against him when he previously was in Whitby and courting Effie. Secret societies comprised of academics, B Horror movie characters come to life and running amok. Creatures so dangerous that other evil creatures will inexplicably band together for "the greater good" all make this book a wonderfully fun read.
Still, the heart and soul of the book is Brenda. One doesn't really sit down and often think about if someone had an extremely long life, without the supernatural elements, Brenda after all is a creation of man, having been created by Doctor Frankenstein, what would happen to your brain after all these years. Obviously, there's only so much information that a human brain can retain, so amnesia or just plain having problems remembering your own past would be common. Not to mention, there might be a lot that you wish to forget! Brenda has "too many memories to fit inside one body." Memories return to her in flashes. Everything would be easy if she could quickly recall what happened the last time her and Henry where together, because it's obvious with his return, whatever was a danger to them in the past is a danger to them in the present. Yet, that is not how things work. Life is complicated and messy, and never simple, especially if you've had more than your fair share. You can quite literally be haunted by your past... who knows who or what might appear next. I know I can't wait to read about it!(less)
Despite everyone who thought that Alexia would fail in her very unconventional life; living in a vampire's closet, moving a pack of werewolves into Lo...moreDespite everyone who thought that Alexia would fail in her very unconventional life; living in a vampire's closet, moving a pack of werewolves into London proper after inadvertently displacing them, having her child raised by a rogue, she's actually succeeding. Aside from the few incidences that arise when Prudence needs to be bathed, that is. She has a happy little family. A family that is soon to get a summons from Egypt... a summons that cannot be denied. The Queen of the Alexandria hive of vampires wishes to meet Alexia and this impossible child of hers. Yet, a visit to one of the oldest hives must be hidden from other vampires. Alexia concocts a great plan, using Ivy and her wildly and inexplicably popular acting troupe as cover, to not only get her family to Egypt, but to provide cover. Because, visiting vampires would be odd, travelling with an acting troupe, now that's logical!
Yet in Egypt, Alexia learns that there is much more going on than she thought possible, the most surprising though is the vampires', not just love of Ivy's play, but sheer adoration of it. The most dangerous though is the expansion of the God-Breaker Plague. The plague that only effects the supernaturals, by turning them human. Now that she's where the plague broke out, Alexia feels it her duty to find out what is really going on in Egypt. From kidnappings to airship nomads, transformations to life ending decisions, Alexia will face it all... but more importantly, how will Biffy keep it all together on the homefront?
Such a bitter sweet ending. Yet, there's a part of me that is relieved it's over. I know, you'll think I'm crazy, but the truth is, better to end while everything is still perfect, before the inevitable decline with an extended series. Also, it's not as if we are saying goodbye to this world, or even to some of these characters, we must never forget, a fair amount of the characters are now immortal. We still have the Finishing School Books, the first one coming out next year, and eventually the Parasol Protectorate Abroad. So we'll have pre and post Parasol books to look forward to! Yet, in all this talk of beginnings and endings, I'm failing to talk about the book at hand. Firstly, I must declare my love of the toddler Prudence. The fact that her powers are temporarily taking another supernaturals powers, thereby making her temporarily a vampire or werewolf, leads to some of the funniest scenes of a little wolf cub racing around the streets trying to avoid a bath. This image is just so right, just so Charles Addams, I will forever think of this and laugh. Yes, I had to pause there to laugh a little to myself. Yes, I know this gets me strange looks, but, that's just me.
Overall there where many things I loved and a few things that I just felt didn't work out quite right. Biffy and his developing powers has, I think, once and for all killed the "Poor Biffy" fan bases right to say that. No longer just a victim of fate, Biffy has an amazing future to look forward to. Ivy and her play about the impossible relationship between a werewolf and a vampire queen was beyond hilarious, as are Maccon's reactions to the play, also, wonderful foreshadowing. Egypt, ah, I love Egypt. Yet... I don't know... Egypt felt flat. Maybe it's just because I felt the time spent in the nomad's dirigibles too reminiscent of the second Mummy movie, or the actual discovery of what was causing the God-Breaker plague to be tainted by Floote and the weird people on snails. Yes, there are weird people on snails... very Steampunk... very odd.
What I liked though was that in this book, Gail took the time to flesh out not only what was happening with the crew in Egypt, but a fair amount of time was spent in England, therefore giving us more time with all the characters. Instead of just being about Alexia and Maccon, for the first time it really felt like a book for all the characters. No one was slighted and a perfect balance of all was given, which I felt was lacking in some of the previous books. Yet, even with this balance, I felt the plot unification a little clunky. Everything in this book, in all the books, happened for a reason, yet until the end, it sometimes didn't feel as such. While I obviously don't want to know everything all the time and be able to predict the outcomes, I felt like the ending was a puzzle that was just missing one or two pieces because my cat ran off with them (note, this has happened). A near perfect ending. Nearly. Though, Maccon's final decision, that was pure perfection.
Moste Importante Steampunkery: The tribes protecting the God-Breaker plague on their Snails. Now, yes, above I did comment that I thought them odd, and I do, but I don't think you can get more Steampunky than them. Much like my double standards of the Octomaton, the snails win. Also, am I the only one who instantly thinks of the man on the racing snail from The Neverending Story? Because, personally, I thought that guy was awesome and didn't realize until I looked up the picture that it's Deep Roy from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! Dandy's on snails, you can't really lose I guess...(less)
In our world, Queen Victoria would have died at the turn of 1901, but in November of that year Victoria lives still via machines, past her time on thi...moreIn our world, Queen Victoria would have died at the turn of 1901, but in November of that year Victoria lives still via machines, past her time on this earth, in this world. Preserved as ruler. Sir Maurice Newbury works as an "investigator for the crown" for this indomitable woman who plans to outwit death, by any means necessary, should further measures need to be taken. While he works at the British Museum as an expert on ancient societies and the occult, it is his dabbling in the occult that Victoria calls upon from time to time, making his Museum job more a cover than anything. Or as Newbury and his clever assistant, Victoria Hobbes, would say, the museum is there between the interesting adventures.
Queen Victoria has several mysterious situations at present that need Newbury's expertise. There is a plague of revenants, zombie like corpses attacking people in the fog, a string of deaths in Whitechapel that are linked to a mysterious glowing policeman, but most importantly, a crashed airship that had a minor royal on board and among the lists of the dead, well they where all dead except the pilot who was missing. While Newbury longs to find a satisfying conclusion to the murders in Whitechapel and help Scotland Yard and his copper friend Sir Charles Bainbridge, Victoria has insisted that the crash of The Lady Armitage comes before everything else.
Going to the company that made The Lady Armitage, Chapman and Villiers, they discover that the company has been expanding beyond their regular line of airships to encompass Automatons. Villiers is a scientist who left France under a cloud because of his unorthodox experimentations, but Newbury can not help marvelling at the work shown to them. They have created simulated life. A simulated life that coincidentally may be responsible for the disastrous air crash, no matter Chapman and Villiers's denials.
The closer Victoria and Newbury get to the answers, the more in danger they are. Maurice needs help from "The Fixer" on more than one occasion to keep him alive at all. Add the ubiquitous presence of the unnerving automatons everywhere and then throw in a dash of an insane asylum and laudanum addiction and you can see it's going to be a miracle if they can solve the cases and keep themselves alive. Now just a quick rest for tea and off into the foggy fray they go!
I distinctly remember the day I picked up this book. I was in Saint Louis on the way to my best friend's wedding in Arkansas. We had stopped for two nights in Saint Louis because my friend Matt's family is there and it was a very nice half way point. Upon planning a trip to any town I research the bookstores in advance. I was very excited to go to Left Bank Books, which I had heard so much about. But being in a literary town I have high standards. Sadly, the bookstore left me wanting... yet... there, below a window in the basement I found this book. I had been wanting to buy it, there was more than a little cover lust and I loved the handling of the type, especially how George Mann's name was framed, also, I've always loved the name Hobbes since Calvin and Hobbes. So the bookstore itself was a bust, yet the find made me joyous. I had even greater joy later upon learning that George was going to be at last years Teslacon. I was going for Gail Carriger, but I met two more authors there that I now consider friends, George was one of them.
The Affinity Bridge spoke to me on so many levels. One being the sheer Britishness of it. Just count the times they have tea and you will start to feel the call of Queen and Country... is that a stiff upper lip developing? Also, I adore people who, while working covertly, also have a cool day job; British Museum, hello! I'd take that any day! Though it was the pacing that drew me in more than anything. Some Steampunk books have a flaw of constant action with a quick tea break. This break neck speed doesn't always appeal to my Victorian sensibilities, or even my British sensibilities. You would not see The Avengers rushing about. Sure, they had an action packed punch up when needed, but they took the time for the crime to unwind, sure, in their case many people died, but the leisurely pace from one clue to the next with taking lots of time for tea and strolling arm and arm to the crime gives the book a nice lazy Sunday afternoon vibe. Action packed, yet relaxing and inviting.
I also liked the automatons. Given how they play out, there are many Doctor Who Cybermen references that could be bandied about. In particular the fact that the Chapman and Villiers plant is located in Battersea and they used the Battersea Power Station made famous by Pink Floyd for the conversion facility in the David Tennant two-parter, Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel. Yet, George makes them far scarier than I have even felt the Cybermen where. With their fluidity of motion and their mirrored eyes, I would be more likely to compare them to Steampunk Cylons. Needless to say, they freaked me out, and once we find the reason for their malfunctioning, they go into the truly terrifying category. Well done George, you have succeeded in giving me robot nightmares that Doctor Who has failed to do since I was a little girl playing in my grandfather's gravel pit.
Finally there is the Blue Policeman. He caught me at page whatever he first appeared on and George cleverly kept him off stage for awhile, but not too long, pushing me forward to find out what the frak was going on. Side note, I view frak is perfectly acceptable in this review because of the automatons similarities to cylons, end note. I also loved that, most likely, it was a mystery in a mystery. Always keep us guessing George and you'll always keep me reading, though maybe edit that fight scene on the train a little but thanks for downplaying the "zombie card". Can't wait for the next one, Egyptian overtones I hope judging by the title, The Osiris Ritual!(less)
Briar Wilkes lives in the shadow of a great wall and all that happened before it was erected. Within that wall she was married to a great inventor, Le...moreBriar Wilkes lives in the shadow of a great wall and all that happened before it was erected. Within that wall she was married to a great inventor, Leviticus Blue. There he created The Boneshaker, a device to aid in the mining of Alaska, which instead devastated Seattle and released a blight gas that would turn people into the walking undead. Behind the wall Briar's father was sheriff and what he did brought further ridicule to Briar's name. The wall was built to keep the gas and the rotters in. On the day the last brick was laid, Briar gave birth to Levi's son, Zeke. Sixteen years later, life just keeps getting harder.
Zeke has questions, yet his mother would just like to leave the past behind. Learning of an entire population of people in the quarantined area, Zeke decides to go beyond the wall. There's two ways in, under or over, he uses the cities drainage system for a quick excursion to relieve his curiosity about his father and the life his parents lived in a quaint Victorian house, before his father destroyed the city. Upon finding Zeke missing, Briar decides that she must go and rescue her boy from his own stupidity. An earthquake stops her from going under, so she must go over the wall. Zeke searches for answers while Briar aligns herself with a rag tag group of folks who hold her father sacred as she looks for her son.
Going into the unknown, their lives are both constantly in danger, from rotters, blight and from a mysterious underworld boss, Minnericht, who it is rumored, might in fact be Leviticus Blue. Briar needs to find her son and face the past that she has been trying to hide from. If her and Zeke can survive this, maybe Zeke can handle the truth.
Being, in it's most basic form, a Zombie story, it does have the Zombie tropes. Small group of people, striving to survive, some will die, but hopefully some will survive. But Boneshaker overcomes this with the infusion of plucky characters and alt history and a purpose other than survival, with the underlying Minnericht mystery. Also, the trope of endangered child is thankfully not harped on, seeing as Zeke is quite capable in his own way. You could, in essence, say that the story is very much the movie Labyrinth, one of Cherie's favorite Steampunk movies. This weird land beyond a wall has taken Briar's child and she is in constant danger, but due to the friends she makes along the way she is able to have her final showdown and escape the Labyrinth. Though the blight is far scarier than the bog of eternal stench.
A story with a very condensed plot and limited characters, like most survival stories, are at the mercy of those characters. If they are not unique, interesting and believable, the whole house of cards would come falling in on you. Taking just the living characters, Cherie has given us unique people with flaws and foibles that makes you root for them. Briar Wilkes is one of those rare instances where I don't waffle about who she is and what she looks like, I just saw her there instantly in my minds eye. The rough life she's led, after being the bell of the ball, the way the blighted rain has streaked her hair and her clothes, and the introspective life she has become accustomed to living in a world where the only person she can rely on is her son, and he might not even do that if she opened up. Kick ass Western heroine alert here!
Zeke is also an interesting character, in that he's a teenager who puts himself in danger who I didn't spend the entire book hoping he'd die. Yeah, I don't really like those too stupid to live, but at least his decisions once beyond the wall, thankfully take him out of the I want him to die camp. But really, my heart belongs to Lucy O'Gunning, the barkeep who has lost both her arms but thankfully has one robotic one left, who is always upbeat and cheerful, I kind of picture her as Clara from The Guild, where she would love all "the clocky windy stuff" down in the blighted city.
Now the alt history really drew me in as well. Being the time of the civil war, but with obvious mechanical advances that didn't exist, I was interested in how things had changed but stayed the same. I have a feeling Cherie will cover it more in later books, this being a series, but I like how she incorporated elements of really history and how those elements would react to this blight. For example, the Chinese immigrant population was very high in the Pacific Northwest during this time period. From railways to mining, these men where imported to the US, leaving their families behind, to do the jobs no American would do, thank you weird literature class I took in college! Obviously, these people would be so used to adapting to changing situations, that the blight arriving and the wall's erection would actually be, in some respects, good for them. They are able to use their skill sets in order to create an empire under the blighted Seattle that rivals that of Minnericht. Just fascinating, I can't wait to see how else history has been altered!
The mystery of Minnericht to me is actually the driving force of the plot. While, yes, Briar is trying to reunite with her son, that's all well and good, and obviously they have to survive as well, mysteries is what makes books tick for me. Minnericht is an enigma. A man who may or may not be whom everyone thinks he is, though he couldn't possibly comment. Briar is a threat to him. She could confirm or deny the fact. Either way, she is a threat to his way of life. Also, the fact that he has so obviously built up, not just a power base, but an opulent little world, he's like the Lex Luthor or Seattle, because real estate underground is where it's at... yeah, so I just watched Superman again recently... maybe I should just read the next book instead of watching that movie yet again, because once that theme song gets in your head, it's their forever.
Moste Importante Steampunkery: The technology itself is so amazing in this book. The way the characters have to wear masks to keep the blight out gives the book a claustrophobic air. The Boneshaker itself might be considered the moste Steampunk item, because, it is created and then destroys all the city... but personally, I'm going with Minnericht's invention used by Jeremiah Swakhammer, The Doctor Minnericht Doozy Dazer, called Daisy for short. Capable of emitting an extremely powerful auditory blast that renders the rotters immobile for about three minutes. Sadly, it can take up to fifteen minutes to be ready. But anything that can give a short respite from the rotters is good in my book! Go Daisy go!(less)