Miss Clara Burnham doesn't mingle much in society. Raised in the Scottish hinterlands, she has grown up pale, delicate and odd. She is odd in that she...moreMiss Clara Burnham doesn't mingle much in society. Raised in the Scottish hinterlands, she has grown up pale, delicate and odd. She is odd in that she believes she possesses the power of Second Sight, a power which her dear friend Mrs. Crayford is desperately trying to convince her is just a fancy, nothing more. Mrs. Crayford's husband is the First Lieutenant of the ship The Wanderer, which, with The Sea-mew, leaves port tomorrow to find the Northwest Passage. Therefore a ball is in progress. Clara longs to follow her heart and accept the advances of Mr. Frank Aldersley, who ships out on The Sea-mew the following day, yet she harbors a secret. Clara believes that the violent and temperamental Richard Wardour, a man who she spent much time with because of their fathers friendship, is under the misapprehension that they are engaged. Richard has been at sea and Clara worries that the letter she sent to him to clear up the misunderstanding has been mislaid.
Clara has every reason to worry. Not only is Richard still believing himself attached to Clara, but he returns that night and seeks her out at the ball. He ferrets out the truth, that her heart belongs to another. He declares that he will find this man and destroy him. Clara, with her superstitions, believes that Richard will succeed, and that a reckoning will happen between the men. Little does she realize how right she is when Wardour secures a berth for himself on The Wanderer... Clara must than wait for news. Years pass as the expedition fails and they become ice bound. Yet, learn Frank's identity Wardour does, now one must hope that Clara is mistaken as to what her visions see in store.
This is an odd little book. The story, having started it's life as a play sometimes seems to still cling to it's old identity. Descriptions of places have the ring of stage directions verses prose. But knowing that this was the story's origins and also having spent a good portion of my life doing theater, I was able to overlook this slight flaw and enjoy the story for what it has become, after it's first life as a play. Yet the question still must be asked, how much influence did Dickens have on this story? Many have said that once a play got into his hands he'd do whatever he wanted to make it "better." Better being more like his work than subjectively better. Therefore The Frozen Deep is sometimes credited to both authors, but the truth is, the play was just "under the management of Charles Dickens," while the novella was substantially re-written by Collins to use as public reading material for his American tour.
I have to say that, having read Collins's other works, The Moonstone, and in my mind, the superior, The Woman in White, a lot of the book rang true to Collins and his style. The narrative set in England with Mrs. Crayford and Clara felt like Collins at the best of his writing. I even had fantasies that this story could have been expanded beyond the short story and made into a fully fleshed out novel, but seen more through the eyes of those left behind than those on the ship, because I don't really care for arctic voyages or the privations that an ice bound ship faces and, lets not mince words, cannibalism. Yet, there's another part of me that applauds Collins for creating such and captivating story with strong female leads, a Collins speciality, without the story going to hundreds and hundreds of pages. Brevity has never been a trademark of Collins, and therefore I was pleasantly surprised by this story.
While the book is ostensibly about the failed, some might say doomed, expedition to find the Northwest Passage, it was everything else that drew me too it. I might even say that the fact it was about a Arctic expedition made me avoid reading it for quite some time. Yet the other worldliness and the relationships between the characters are so riveting, the expedition is almost just used as a plot device to bring the two men together for their final confrontation than as anything of true significance. There is one thing the I found interesting and if I could go back in time and talk to Collins I would ask. The way the two men pursue each other across the pristine white landscape, the way they are at odds but are still connected and still need each other reminded me eerily of Frankenstein. The way the creature and the doctor have their final showdown on an ice bound ship, I think we must say that Collins had to be a fan, or at least an admirer of Shelley's. Leaving aside the fact that one of the characters is called Frank, it is really Frank who has turned Wardour into a monster, a creature bent on revenge. Therefore, it is my belief that this story owes far more to Shelley than it does to Dickens. (less)
Miss Mary Smith often visits Cranford. While she provides an outside view of the goings on of this town of "Amazons," she views herself as a true Cran...moreMiss Mary Smith often visits Cranford. While she provides an outside view of the goings on of this town of "Amazons," she views herself as a true Cranfordian. She usually stays with Deborah and Matty Jenkyns, and later, after Deborah's death, with just Miss Matty. Yet she has been known to stay with the gossipy and often inadvertently hilarious Miss Pole, in particular during the misunderstanding of what a cage is... to some, a piece of undergarments, to Miss Pole, erroneously a parrot cage. Everything is go in Cranford, from cows in pajamas to imagined burglaries, to widows remarrying way too soon to financial disasters. There is love, romantic and platonic. But most of all there is the bond of friendship between all the towns residents. Sometimes life isn't one logical story from beginning to end, but a series of stops and starts, which is what Mary's cunning eye captures in her loving portrait of her, sometimes batty, friends. Just wait for the fake burglaries to understand how batty these ladies can be! Heaven forbid the thought of sleeping with a man, but sleeping with the silver to avoid a theft by gypsies that may or may not be women or men or hunchbacks, that's just common sense.
Going into Cranford I didn't quite know what to expect. I had heard that it was very much a sweet comedy for many years, that's until I saw the miniseries and my expectations went out the window. Aside from the humor, it felt more like Elizabeth Gaskell was a Victorian George R. R. Martin, willing to kill off a character every five minutes. Watching the miniseries you had to have a thick skin and just expect that everyone was fair game. It could also easily be a drinking game where you'd end up very very drunk. So, I was a little surprised than that the book only had three major deaths. THREE!?! Ok, I know that the miniseries was based on some of Gaskell's other writings as well,* but I wouldn't have put off reading this book for so long if I'd known that all the characters I love and care for make it through the book unscathed. I know Heidi Thomas, who adapted the works, has a love of pulling your heartstrings, so much so that it's now a given if you watch anything she does you end up in tears, but still, gaw, you almost made me not want to read this book Heidi. Also, I'm not forgiving her for killing off Martha! She lives Heidi! SHE LIVES! And Deborah doesn't like eating sliced oranges, so there!
*I will also mention here, that because of the two other books integrated into the Cranford miniseries, I went on and read them as well. I personally think that it was a mistake to incorporate My Lady Ludlow and Mr. Harrison's Confessions, seeing as they are, for the most part, where all the depressing resides. My Lady Ludlow was basically a hundred some page treatise on why Lady Ludlow thinks that letting the lower classes read will lead to another Reign of Terror, which was glossed over with one sentence in the miniseries. As for Mr. Harrison, note the "Mr." not "Dr.," it was just the romantic blah that was in the miniseries, but with "Mr." Harrison being far more unlikeable. Enough about Gaskell's other writings, back to the one at hand!
Cranford is more just comical vignettes than a book really. In fact, this is what I would call ideal writing for a piece released in installations, like this one was through Dickens' magazine. You're not overly desperate for the next chapter because the plot doesn't drive the story, the character's quirks and foibles do. Also, while you think a town of widows and spinsters would be sad, Cranford is not depressing, but a melancholy sadness for life and opportunities lost written with wit and understanding. It shows us to make the most out of what you have and to rely on the kindness of your friends. Oh, and cows are awesome in pajamas!
A note on the edition. So, I have to say, that I have coveted the cloth-bound Penguin Classics ever since they started appearing in bookstores a few years ago now. I wanted them all! But, I restrained myself and only bought Cranford. Why only Cranford? Well, if truth be told, I did have other editions, at least two, but the gorgeous lime green with the dark green runner beans was just too too perfect. The thing is, these books where made for display, not for reading, in my opinion. I'm so glad I never bought more of them, because, they're pretty but impractical. Firstly, some of the dark green screen printing has rubbed off with my holding it. Secondly, it was impossible to read because the book didn't want to open. I got cramps in my hand trying to pry the book open long enough to read! It's like Hagrid's Monster Book of Monsters, there has to be an easier way to read it, but I couldn't find it. Also, the fluctuation in font point size depending on introduction, book or appendixes was annoying and pointless. But finally, what put the nail in the coffin of this edition was the superfluity of footnotes and appendixes. There should not be more pages of extraneous "extras" than the actual book is long. Bad job editing Patricia Ingham, I will avoid you at all costs from now on.(less)
Edith Adelon was rescued from an Italian orphanage years ago by the kindly Lord Hamilton to be a companion to his daughter Amy. Lord Hamilton has sinc...moreEdith Adelon was rescued from an Italian orphanage years ago by the kindly Lord Hamilton to be a companion to his daughter Amy. Lord Hamilton has since died and his son Arthur is the current Lord Hamilton and Edith and Amy have grown into lovely young women. Yet Edith has always felt apart, treated by some in the household, in particular Amy and Arthur's cousin Ida, as nothing more than a servant. When Arthur's friend Lord Percy arrives for the summer, Ida can see there is a connection between Edith and the Lord... a connection that Ida wishes to have for herself. Compounding matters, when their house party expands to include Lord Arlington, he too develops feelings for Edith. Also, after a daring rescue, Edith is responsible for saving Amy's life and is now treated by all as family.
Ida will not tolerate the situation she has been placed in. If being devious won't do, she will be downright underhanded. She will make all those who care and respect Edith despise her. Ida will make it look like the girl with the heart of gold who attends to all the ill and poor of the neighborhood is nothing more than a common thief. Yet there is a secret about Edith that she herself is unaware of. A secret that will change everything, perhaps even her chances with Lord Percy.
Surfing the upper cable channels late at night was how I first discovered The Inheritance. This being before I had a handy cable box that told me what I was watching, or even a computer, I'd just catch parts of it every now and then but I never knew what it was. For some reason I've seen the ball scene probably fifty times because of this strange viewing relationship I had with the miniseries. Also, seeing as I seemed to stumble upon it always around two in the morning I'd never be able to stay awake to see how it ended. All I knew was that it was a romance and Thomas Gibson from Dharma and Greg was in it, oh, and the mother from Family Ties. But being a huge Dharma and Greg fan and seeing Thomas Gibson dancing and strutting around in period clothing was enough to keep me hooked. Quite literally years after the fact I finally found out that it was called The Inheritance and was based on one of the very first stories Louisa May Alcott ever wrote, and then I was able to get it from Amazon for about $4!
So over a decade after it was made and probably five years or more after I had stumbled upon it, I finally knew the ending and the beginning and everything in between. I was also amused that the family estate was Rory Gilmore's High School on Gilmore Girls, but that was just a funny aside because that building has been used in almost everything, even Alias used it as some Eastern European Consulate. Now that I finally knew the author was the famed author of Little Women I ordered myself a copy of the book and was excited to get to reading it right away to see how it compared to the miniseries. As is often the case with me, right away means: and over three years later I create a themed event on my blog so that I force myself to pick up books I've been meaning to read for years. Hence me and The Inheritance finally set a date to meet each other. At least it took a lot less time than getting me to watch that miniseries in full...
The first thing that stuck me about the book was how much the miniseries had changed it! I'm not talking about little things here and there, but that this book is set in England not Concord, Massachusetts, and one of the main characters who I should add is long dead in the book is magically alive in the miniseries only to die tragically. At first I could see no correlation between the two. I was more than a little confused. The book and the miniseries where done in the same year, so at first I thought, maybe the people behind the miniseries where given just a vague outline of the plot and they just made up the rest... but then little things started to pop up which I recognized. The daring cliff rescue, the horse jumping the wall... little things that made me realize that yes, this was, in it's barest essence, the same thing.
Personally, I don't know whether it's because I saw the miniseries first, but the truth is, I far enjoyed the miniseries over reading the book. Edith was a little too good. She was a goody two-shoes. Always suffering silently and working to help the poor and willing to risk her life and her reputation for promises and oaths. How did she suffer from unwanted attention! Dear me, the horrors of men liking her, please. How Ida not loving her pained her most of all. Blah blah blah. She needs a backbone! Also, I know this is in all probability the earliest work of Louisa May Alcott, until something else comes along, but, unlike authors like Austen who where quite developed at this young age, you can tell the youth of the author. Everything is so juvenile and kind of badly written and repetitive. How I wish that Louisa had gone back to this story as a more mature writer, because I think she could have made this a masterpiece, instead it feels like a clunky rough draft of her childhood fantasies. (less)
Agent Eliza Braun lives for field work. Agent Wellington Books lives for his archives. Both working within The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, a sec...moreAgent Eliza Braun lives for field work. Agent Wellington Books lives for his archives. Both working within The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, a secret agency within Queen Victoria's government, they never have had much time for each other. Eliza was always off on some dangerous mission, hopefully involving dynamite, while Books had his files and artifacts and tea, deep within the bowels of "Miggins Antiquities." That all changed when one day, Books was Eliza's mission. He had been kidnapped by the enemy and whisked away to a secret base in Antarctica. Eliza arrived guns a blazing and rescued Books, returning the two of them to jolly old England. Only, she didn't follow directions, per se. Doctor Sound had ordered Wellington to be decommissioned, in the most final way possible, in case he had let any secrets be spilled. Yet Eliza knew that Wellington hadn't been compromised, deep in her bones.
Her penance for such belief in Wellington? Being demoted from field agent to assist him in the archives. Both of them view this as the worst kind of hell imaginable. Wellington doesn't like interlopers in "his" archives. Early morning hours and the complete tedium of filing isn't what Eliza thinks of as a good time either. Though the archives do hold some interest for her... deep within the darkest reaches there are unsolved cases. One of those cases involves her ex partner, Harry. They had been investigating a series of gruesome murders together when Doctor Sound told them to abandon the case. Yet the files indicate that Harry kept working the case secretly, until his disappearance and subsequent reappearance in Bedlam.
Eliza will not let this rest. Slowly she convinces Books that it's in their best interest to continue Harry's investigation. She'll investigate it with or without him, so Books might as well come along. Soon there's buildings blowing up, high speed carriage chases, fights during the opera and secret societies. Working side by side, Books and Braun have to learn to trust each other and believe in their new partner. Yet for Eliza, relying on an agent, untrained in field ops, while being deep undercover could be the riskiest decision she ever made. For Books, leaving the archives was his riskiest decision.
I think I have quite probably found my new favorite series. The mystery, the chemistry, the humor are all perfectly balanced to create one of the best reads out there, Steampunk or otherwise. The polar opposites of toffy, British to the bone, Books and trigger happy, dynamite loving New Zealander Braun can easily go down as one of the best pairings since Mrs. Peel and Steed, Maddy and David, Sam and Diane, Castle and Beckett. They just fuel each other to new levels of ingenuity and snarky, witty banter. They are the chemical equivalent of dynamite, a comparison I know full well Eliza would love. There's a part of me that spent the entire book just hoping they'd get together, and another part of me just loving this long tease... I trust in the writers that everything will be worth my wait and the payoff will be sublime.
Almost a Victorian version of The Avengers, I find that with the artifact nature of many of the investigations, that the book can be favorably compared to one of my favorite series, Warehouse 13. I would not be surprised if at any moment HG Wells popped up and asked for a little help from Books and Braun, creating the best fan fic mash-up of the Victorian Era. Everything about the book just worked. The mystery changes directions many times throughout the lengthy story, yet I enjoyed every minute of the ride and the denouement brought everything back together. The Steampunk elements fit in the story and never once felt out of place or forced, which is a hard thing to do with techno babble. Just wonderful worldbuilding on the parts of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.
The authors where even able to take a trope that I've come to hate and make it fresh. The Hellfire Club. Anything Victorian or Regency, or really, any time they can in anything slightly period or historical in a British setting, or British Coloney, the Hellfire Club will rear it's head. Heck, they even did it in The Avengers. Yet the Phoenix Society, while having the debauchery of said predecessor, goes beyond just the wanton lust of what came before. They have a secondary agenda too, yet that isn't what made it work. What made the society work was that the way the authors set up the weekend of loose morals was by creating the perfect British Country House weekend and then skewing it. Like a very dark Gosford Park. Personally, I adore mysteries in a Country House setting. Therefore by adding this level of aristocratic sheen and typical behaviour over the atypical club, I never once was raising my fist going, "Damn you Francis Dashwood and your Monks! Damn you to a real, not intentional hell. Devils poking you... oh wait, you'd probably like that."
Also, as is my way, sometimes when reading a book I totally see one actor in my head immediately. Obviously, the agent Bruce Campbell, would be played by Bruce Campbell, that isn't up for negotiation. For Books I was trying to think of someone stuffy, but who could kick ass and be menacing when need be. The obvious choice is Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and later Angel. Can't you just picture his stammering and lecturing of Eliza? I sure can!
Here is "Books" in lecture mode, disgruntled lecture mode, hence the tie being loose, when he has had one too many problems with Eliza. Once again trying to explain the taxonomy of the filing and how work starts not near lunch or in the afternoon but in the morning.
Yet, he can totally bring the "dapper" for a night out at the opera to enjoy some Macbeth or to infiltrate a Country House Party that has nefarious undertones.
For Eliza, I wanted someone young and plucky, who looks like they are a little cherubic, until they pull a gun on you. While she is The Doctor's next companion, it was Jenna Louise Coleman's performance in the Titanic miniseries by Julian Fellowes that shows she has Eliza's competence, quick wit and sharp tongue.
Also, she can bring the glam, but that reinforced corset might need some adjustments...
Moste Importante Steampunkery: While there are many great Steampunk inventions in the book, many designed by Books himself, the prize has to go the Mad McTighe's coin-operated Combobula Bar. Lord McTighe was a gallant nutter who disliked women having to be bar maids because "women shouldna be pawed by drunk patrons!" So he invented the Combobula Bar where you can listen to "Onward Christian Soldiers" while waiting for the machine to mix and serve you drink. Yet what makes this shiny brass-and-wooden bar stand out is that it can somehow sense a bar fight and close in on itself, protecting the machinery, but, more importantly, the booze.(less)
Whitby is abuzz. The approach to Halloween usually means the town is deep in preparations for the annual Goth Weekend. But this year brings even more...moreWhitby is abuzz. The approach to Halloween usually means the town is deep in preparations for the annual Goth Weekend. But this year brings even more excitement. Whitby is to be the location for the remake of Get Thee Inside Me, Satan, which will film it's climax at the ruined abbey on Halloween night. The movie that was filmed in the sixties and has been wiped off the face of the earth because of the curse that lives within the film. Death and destruction have followed in this films wake. Yet one day at the local thrift store, Penny, Robert's new assistant up at the Hotel Mirramar, finds a copy of the film on DVD. How is this possible? This film should not exist in any form. Penny can't help herself. The coincidence is too much and she buys the film. She needs to see the original, see if it's true that the film holds pure evil, see if it's true that the star, Karla Sorenson, hasn't aged a day as she readies to film the remake, see if she, Penny, can survive watching it with her sanity intact.
Meanwhile, Brenda has been off gallivanting with her husband Frank, but she is returning for Goth Weekend. Her B and B will be filled to the rafters. Though she knows in her water that the filming in Whitby is bad news when she confirms that Karla Sorenson is there. Brenda was there, in the creepy quarry in Wales, all those years ago when the original film released evil into the world. And Karla remembers her. With mysterious arrivals in town and evil afoot, the film's curse looks as if it could bring all of Whitby to hell. Unless Brenda and Effie with their posse can bring a stop to Karla and her enrapturing ways as well as the mysterious Brethren.
Their is something primal about horror films. Everyone remembers their first real horror film that brought nightmares for years to come. That might still give you nightmares! The mere mention of the film brings chills to this day. For me it was The Legend of Hell House. Britain dominated the making of low budget B grade horror films in the sixties and seventies, Hammer Films being the most prolific and well known. While The Legend of Hell House wasn't a Hammer production, it had all the hallmarks of British cinema at the height of horror; a few "name" stars with Roddy McDowell and Michael Gough, a house steeped in evil where no one makes it out alive, and implied psychological horror versus too much on-screen gore.
I can still remember the morning I first watched the film. It was August the second, 1996 or 1997. Our house had just been tpeed, with over 167 rolls of toilet paper. It was a grey day, where it feels like it's constantly twilight or dawn out, you just can't tell; wet and humid, where your clothes stick to you no matter what you do. We spent hours and hours cleaning. When we cleaned up as much as we could, I was so exhausted I just came in the house and sat on the couch and turned on AMC. The Legend of Hell House was just starting. I have never been the biggest fan of scary movies, but that day I stayed my hand on the remote. I was a fan of Roddy McDowell and Gayle Hunnicutt, who I loved on Dallas was also in it. I don't know if it was just the exhaustion or the subject matter, but this movie freaked me out beyond belief. Weird possessions, mysterious deaths, nothing really scary, just the feeling of the whole. The movie come through my mental barriers and has forever haunted me.
Therefore, a film, albeit imaginary, but of the same school, thought to be actually possessed by the devil doesn't seem that far fetched to me as I think back to that fateful day in August. Paul was able to use his story to tap into my preexisting fears to create a delicious and scary read. While I was curled up in a comfy chair on a hot August day, I was also on that lumpy couch with my clothes plastered to me watching The Legend of Hell House for the first time. While I've enjoyed and loved Paul's writing in the previous Brenda and Effie books, I had never felt so connected with his writing as I was with Hells Belles. You could feel his love of this tacky genre and it made the book shine. He created something magical and luckily I was just drawn into the pages of a book, not into a quarry in Wales in the sixties.
Everything else was just icing on the cake. The introduction of new characters, from Penny Danby (that last name is so going to be important), the run away housewife Goth, to Michael, the mysterious Irish lad, to Karla the unaging vamp and the thrift store ladies who have other things in mind than "saving the kiddies." The final reveal of Mrs. Claus's secret, which has been building up and hinted at for quite some time, to the return of someone instrumental to Brenda's past. All of this is just extra wonderfulness on top of this horror movie framework. Next please!(less)
Even in Whitby Brenda's life might be going to the bad. Sure there have been dangers before, but they've always found a way to have a punch up and be...moreEven in Whitby Brenda's life might be going to the bad. Sure there have been dangers before, but they've always found a way to have a punch up and be victorious. The return of Effie's fancy man Alucard might be the turning point. Because Brenda may be in denial about what this once and possibly still evil vampire has done to her best friend. She doesn't want to go accusing Alucard of turning Effie unless she is certain, and she sure doesn't want to be certain. Yet, there is no way of denying that the vampire population in Whitby is on the rise... which brings Henry Cleavis back into Brenda's life. Brenda sure does have her trouble with men, either they're monsters, like her MIA husband, or monster hunters, like Henry.
If vampirism wasn't enough, there is a new bookshop in town, The Spooky Finger, run by an odd lady, Marjorie Staynes, who doesn't quite get that a book club should have a broad range of reading material, and instead focuses on the works of Mrs. Beatrice Mapp, an Edwardian writer, who placed the majority of her work in the fictional land of Qab, where men are subservient to women, which is the main draw for the book club. But the name Beatrice Mapp sparks something in Brenda's mind... what is her personal connection to Beatrice, and, on a side note, Marjorie's assistant and Robert's new plaything, Gila, looks suspicious like the subservient lizard race of Qab. Could Qab be real? Before long there are vampire attacks and portals to other places with tears in the very fabric of time, yet the strangest thing that happens is that Brenda willingly, if begrudgingly, takes the help of Mrs. Claus. Maybe that is the first sign that it's the end of days?
Qab. That land before time of garish colors where Jane Fonda from Barbarella wouldn't be incongruous. Qab was interesting, as was the Professor Challenger "Lost World" vibe. Yet, it felt wrong somehow. Spending so much time and energy on a place that's not the Whitby I know and love. This really pushed the series, not in a different way, but in a direction that, while logical, I wasn't that keen on embracing. My brother was always the "Land of the Lost" person in the family. He had the bad eighties posters of dinosaurs with mauve skies that would make your eyes water. I was never into this prehistoric or postapocalyptic man-eating Eden. Also, not to mention my nightmares of dinosaur dioramas from the Milwaukee County Museum, this volume just didn't grab me. We had just another creative medium that creates a vortex, like the previous installment and the film, Get They Inside Me, Satan. Personally, if I had to chose, a film would be a better vortex of evil than a book any day...
Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the book and there where aspects that I loved. Effie finally going to the bad after all the hints and intimations, a book club that is really a cult. Because truly, if you think about it, I spent years trying to find a book club, and they're hard to break into, so, really, they are very much like a cult. I give Penny big props for getting on the inside, even if sometimes she started to believe the retoric. Mrs. Mapp and Bloomsbury! Adored this! I love that how Brenda describes Mrs. Mapp's writing, or more truthfully, her channeling of Qab. I knew something was up with her writing style, it was too much like Automatic Writing, where the writing is "produced from a subconscious, and/or external and/or spiritual source without conscious awareness of the content." I have always found Automatic Writing fascinating, and to have it in this book made me a little giddy, if truth be told. There where a few things that where left open ended, which I hope will be handled in the next book, mainly, the Limbosine and what happened to Leena.
Finally onto the nit picky. The switch back to first-person narrative was a bit jarring. It's not like this series hasn't utilized it, but since the third book we've been in third-person narration which made sense considering the expanding cast of characters and certain events that made Brenda unable to continue the narration herself. Here it seems to be occasionally forcing the narrative back on Brenda or Effie in her letters to Alucard, so that all news and events must filter through them and it's kind of awkward. Even more awkward is the fact that the book doesn't stay in first-person, but jumps back to third-person or vice versa, sometimes in the same chapter. The really really long chapters. I like third-person, it works for these books, even if we lose Brenda's voice, her voice is so strong now it can survive the change over from first-person.(less)
"You are mine. And I want to see you. All these years. Years and years. WE've never really met. But you are mine. And I have rites. Conjugal rites. Yo...more"You are mine. And I want to see you. All these years. Years and years. WE've never really met. But you are mine. And I have rites. Conjugal rites. You are mine and I am coming to see you. I know where you are now. I have been looking. Now I know where you are. And I am on my way. Your husband is coming to get you."
So Brenda is warned at the end of Something Borrowed. Her husband is coming home. Though for the pragmatic Brenda, thinking about what might come in the future, sometimes torches and lynch mobs if history where to serve, are not as immediate as dealing with the overflow from the Masked Hero Convention up at the Christmas Hotel. The old age pensioners trying to relive the good-old-days means nothing when her nemesis, Mr. Danby reappears. While he claims to be hosting an innocent late night call in show, "Night Owls," Brenda is sure that something is afoot. After all, even Effie and Robert are calling in and revealing deep, dark secrets about themselves and others. They even almost reveal who, or what, Brenda is to everyone listening, which happens to be all of Witby. Mr. Danby is up to no good. How is he getting these people to spill their souls over the airwaves?
After a dust up with Danby, Brenda gets the surprise of her life. She knew one day HE would come for her, she had fair warning, but she didn't expect it to end with a scuffle and a fall over the Western cliff straight into hell. Effie and Robert are at a lose. Brenda was the glue between them and now everyone says she's dead. But Robert and Effie won't lose hope so easily. Effie has had first hand experience with the gateway to hell the resides in Witby. Perhaps Brenda is in hell and not gone forever. If Effie's ex Alucard could go in, perhaps they could too... only they plan on coming back. Headed to the old Abbey one night, with Shelia Manchu tagging alone, they ask the old Abbess to help them rescue their friend. Whether their plan will work is anyone's guess.
I have a feeling that my reviews for all the Brenda and Effie books will start "Yet another wonderful entry in Paul Magrs's Brenda and Effie series." Literally, there has not been a misstep! Granted, I've only finished the first three, but the teaser for book four almost made me abandon my organized reading list for the month and rush to pick up the next one. Each one is witty and fun and develops off the previous installment in a natural way but expands the story and the universe logically, so that each book is something more instead of just treading the same ground over and over again, like some series are wont to do, especially of the supernatural variety (*cough* Sookie Stackhouse *cough*).
Conjugal Rites deals with the big elephant in the room when it comes to Brenda. She is "The Bride of Frankenstein," emphasis on the "Bride." While she has mentioned in passing her creation and her mate that she was literally made for, the fact that her long-lived spouse hasn't come calling has always been hanging there in the corner. Now he has finally arrived. I liked that it acknowledged Frank and brought a bit of closure to this chapter of her life. If Frank never showed up, we would always be left wondering. I also loved that while he is a bit of a brute of a man, what with the neck bolts and strong Northern accent, there is something that draws Brenda to him. Not just the fate, but there is something else there. A kindred goodness deep down that makes it right for them to be together. I for one am excited to see how their relationship develops, I view it as a kind of supernatural Wuthering Heights.
Speaking of relationships... while I was sad that Brenda was off in the wings for a good portion of the book, what I loved was the bonding between Effie and Robert. Everyone has, at some point in their life, had someone they hung out with a lot, but aren't exactly friends with. It's not for any logical reason, it's just that they are a friend of a friend. For Effie and Robert, Brenda has always been the one that bonded their group. Effie and Robert always viewed Brenda as their friend and the other as Brenda's friend, not their own. Yet, because they had to come together in order to rescue Brenda, their relationship naturally changed, and they have started to form a friendship without Brenda. I was cheering on this fledgling friendship. Some of my strongest friendships have started in this round about manner, and I really have the highest hopes that Effie will no longer look slightly askance at Robert and Robert won't view Effie as the odd lady with the junk. Going to hell and back together, it's the best bonding there is, like a cross country road trip, you really get to know the other person and hopefully, at the end of the day, you're better friends than ever.
While these reasons for loving the book are more on the "deeper" side, dealing with love and life and the connections between disparate people on this earth we call home, it's the zaniness that balances it. The pensioners in superhero costumes, the fact that the first level of hell is 24/7 Christmas. The ingenious realization that our favorite clothes that we loved and lost really where just dragged to hell. Perhaps that's where missing socks go as well? Is the sock monster perhaps a being from a hell dimension? I think so. Also Paul's obvious love of the B-movie genre, with the very green Frank, the return of Dracula, oh, I mean Alucard, and a Monkey's Paw playing a crucial deus ex machina, not to mention Sheila's long gone husband, Mumu, a very hilarious reference to Fu Manchu, led to a B-movie extravaganza of fun! Also, back to the more serious side, I liked Sheila finally being confronted by the actuality of her husband Mumu, her "God," and realizing, that perhaps, she was idolizing him and romanticizing her past a little too much. Ok, back to the funny... an escalator to hell! Now I have to go read the next one, whose review will most likely start "Yet another wonderful entry in Paul Magrs's Brenda and Effie series."(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)
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)
Liza Bathory loves books. The older, more gothic and mysterious, the better. Her niece's boyfriend, Daniel also likes old books, but this will never e...moreLiza Bathory loves books. The older, more gothic and mysterious, the better. Her niece's boyfriend, Daniel also likes old books, but this will never endear him to Liza. She just doesn't like Shelley's man. She likes him even less when she learns that Shelley is rushing things and has moved in with him on the Upper West Side, giving up her own shitty apartment. If this relationship fails, which Liza is sure it will, then where will Shelley go? To Liza's own little sanctuary on the Upper East Side. At least Liza has her young gay friend Jack. Sure the bookstore he works at is no longer the type of olde thyme bookstore that Liza loves, instead selling all the hip and sexy vampire fiction you can shake a stake at, but he knows Liza's tastes and helps her to find the books she wants.
That's where the trouble starts. Jack sees a little ad in the paper for a bookshop in London, 666 Charing Cross Road, which specializes in what Liza loves, gothic, mysterious, macabre, old vintage paperbacks with lurid covers. They have no phone or website and do their sales only by correspondence, Liza is in heaven. Her first selection of books is beyond her wildest dreams, Fox Soames rarities, paperbacks of the most lurid nature, even if it turns out their address is the more prosaic 66b Charing Cross Road. The second package leaves something to be desired. Mr. Wright, the proprietor, has sent Liza a grimoire stained in blood. The book exudes evil, and Liza should know, she spent a great deal of her past fighting vampires and demons, but that's all done and now she just reads and edits books.
On Thanksgiving when she takes the book to Daniel's for dinner with her niece, Jack and his new boyfriend, Ricardo, a chain of events is set in motion that no one could have seen coming. Liza berates herself later that she should have, given her past, but who could have known? Shelley is stressed but still crowing over the discovery of a weird effigy her and Daniel are showing in their Museum of Outsider Art that has the whole town talking. The weird "Scottish Bride" or Bessie, as she comes to be called, is bringing patrons to the museum for the first time. The effigy has a strange life to it, almost as if she where once alive.
Then all hell breaks loose. Liza gives Daniel the grimoire to just get it away from her and he ends up possessed by the book and becoming a vampire King, who turns Jack's boyfriend, Ricardo. Than Bessie comes to life and shows up at Liza's apartment. Soon all of New York is overrun with Vampires and Bessie is convinced that she was brought back to life to help vanquish them. If they can return the book now in Daniel's possession from whence it came, perhaps they have a chance at stopping the evil, or perhaps they might spread this evil to two continents.
This is the book that first alerted me to Paul Magrs. I am a Helene Hanff devote. I liked her most famous book, 64, Charing Cross Road, but I adored her followup, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and her collection of radio spots for the BBC Woman's Hour. She is, in my mind, New York. Therefore, if you where to pick someone that exuded the book world to be a protagonist in a new series set in New York, I don't think you could do better than to model the lead on Helene Hanff. It also helps that for some reason, despite Helene being played by Anne Bancroft in the movie adaptation of 64, Charing Cross Road, I have actually always pictured her more as Ruth Gordon. The Ruth Gordon most known for the macabre Harold and Maude and of course Rosemary's Baby, is eerily the perfect combination of who Helene Hanff was and what Paul's book is about. Old New York dame, who happens to be an ex vampire slayer, demon hunter and witch defending the world against evil.
For me, the book was a leisurely stroll through the holiday season in New York with impending evil. They didn't really feel like they where pushing to solve the problem, but doing a lot more thinking and then, when push came to shove, solved it all in a flurry of action that left quite a few loose ends, that, while giving the book resolution, also left it open ended enough so that more books could come. I don't know if it was my mood or the writing style, but it felt like a book where you read a little every night and think on it versus pushing through till the end. I like reading this kind of book. It's a less demanding book and more of a nice calm that you lose yourself in. I know, it's weird thinking of vampires and demons as calm, right?
There was a part of me though that felt this had maybe a few too many similarities to Paul's much loved Brenda and Effie series. We have the sweet intentioned gay side kick with the otherworldly boyfriend, the lady made up of spare parts, who really is this world's Brenda, the elderly witch, and than the younger female sidekick with man troubles. Yes, there's much much more than this, but the basic character traits where eerily similar. But I could forgive this all because I loved the parody of modern literature and the hatred Liza has to the modern vampire literati, Moira Sable, who is basically a Laurell K. Hamilton type that goes for sex and blood versus real ability to write. Paul nails the parody of current literature trends with Fangtasm. He also perfectly captured the previous era of literature with Liza, and I can't tell you how amused I was with every little nod and wink to Helene Hanff and her life. Her wacky neighbors and all!(less)