Caitlin Kittredge's Black London series has so many elements which ought to work for me. Throw together edgy grit, contemporary magic in a twisted LonCaitlin Kittredge's Black London series has so many elements which ought to work for me. Throw together edgy grit, contemporary magic in a twisted London setting, and plays on English culture and folklore. There are also tired, played out elements: female law-enforcement type, bad boy mage, rapidly escalating power scale. Done well, they sing. Done badly, they make a horrible mess for literary dinner. This series is a deflating souffle.
Books one and two hit good notes. Jack is really the star of the series, as the fabled, notorious "Crow Mage" usually up to his eyeballs in trouble. His girlfriend, the ex-cop Pete has to bail him out and gets her footing in the underworld of magic. When he makes a deal with a devil at the end of book 2, the consequences are sure to come around and bite him in the ass. Kittredge does not believe in bunnies and rainbows about that. Detail is paid specially to the labyrinthine unseen world, and the dangerous interactions between supernatural denizens. Jack's reputation is always charming to watch unfold and usually foretells stuff hitting the fan.
"Bone Gods" picks up where the last book left off: Jack recovering from harrowing trouble of the hellish variety (again), the relationship in tatters, and Pete pregnant. I'll admit I did not like the last development one bit. Pete and Jack are a quintessential dysfunctional couple with many added problems. More on that later. That she's expecting helps nothing with the narrative of the story. Her pregnancy feels like the series is getting a tad Merry Gentry, in a bad way, where the danger to the baby, the existence of the baby, the spazzout of the baby will take on an integral role. I'd prefer urban fantasy try to stray away from that angle without dipping hard into the romance pool and I'm not sure Kittredge will pull it off.
Enter the slog for Pete to deal with a body carved up like an English roast -- foretelling bad juju all around -- while being nauseous, missing Jack, hating Jack, resenting missing Jack, pumping the supernatural community for information, and trying to carve out some respect on her own instead of being 'his woman.' Add more resentment here. Pacing falls right off the rails. Events happen slowly interspersed between a lot of relationship angsting.
Here we enter what I've come to dislike very much: Pete gets more bitchy, shallow, and flippant with each passing chapter. The qualities I liked in the earlier books are evaporating faster than a puddle in Death Valley, leaving only undesirable dregs. The end result is a dislikable character with only the thinnest appeal to me as a reader. I'll put up with bastards, villains, losers, and characters with wildly opposing views from me if they're compelling. Pete isn't. I don't like reading about her, and I don't want her to open her mouth. Jack's imperfections at least make him relatable on a broader scale and he is genuinely more interesting at this point.
The weaknesses of Bone Gods' interactions left a very sour taste in my mouth. Pete and Jack go at it with cruder, more vicious, love-hate drama than before. As he starts growing up and seeks to do the right thing by his unborn baby, she transforms into a psychohosebeast or a frosty bitch by turns. There is -no- feasible reason these two would stay together in real life other than safety of the baby or mailing in support cheques (or Black London's equivalent). She treats him like utter crap on a downward spiral and he acts like a damned puppy dog begging for a treat from the scolding hand, or sometimes talks about leaving to keep the baby safe. Tension, casualties, and human consequences increase. I get that. What I don't care for is the role reversal which puts Pete in the aggressor's stance of an abusive relationship when she suffered plenty of garbage in her teen years from Jack (who is trying to reform, by this point), and has her sister as an example not to follow. I really felt like flinging the book at the wall on more than one occasion, not in the 'author got a good reaction' response, but out of sheer disgust.
Don't get me wrong; I don't want there to be instant super-love-karma connection. Successful novels have kept the protagonists in adversarial roles; Jim Butcher and Mike Shevdon are two fine authors who manage not to make their allies (Murphy and Dresden, for example) smoochy-face and drawing hearts all over one another. Shevdon includes the protagonist's daughter front and center in book two with a pregnant fae girlfriend on the side, and doesn't sink into these level of ridiculous hysterics. The bad relationship that fell out poisoned any love I could have for this novel.
Read 1 and 2, get the synopsis for 3, and hope 4 improves....more
Gail Carriger weds two of the hottest fiction trends -- steampunk Victoriana with a strong female heroine who certainly doesn't need a man to hold herGail Carriger weds two of the hottest fiction trends -- steampunk Victoriana with a strong female heroine who certainly doesn't need a man to hold her parasol. Steampunk has seen a massive spike of interest from all corners, from horror writers to a bevy of established romance novelists, but Ms. Carriger is one of the first authors to make a standout series. From the get-go, I've wanted to like these novels. Their smart covers, catchy premise, and the author's trademark quirky voice set them apart.
Alexia Tarabotti is a society spinster of Italian and British descent during Victoria's England imagined if werewolf packs were roughly accepted members of society, although best serving in Her Majesty's Armies overseas and chained up during that time of the month, and vampires took an interest in politics. Rich world building gives each supernatural race its specific roles and friction, since fuzzy people and territorial dead people tend to view one another in negative lights. Ms. Tarabotti ends up swept up in affairs apparently over her head when a young vampire attempts to assault her at a duchess' party. Attempts because, as we learn, Miss Tarabotti can wield a parasol every bit as well as an acidic tongue. She is singular in British society because of a well-disguised secret; she is preternatural, a woman who by virtue of her touch can render any supernatural being mortal again. It just so happens she can do this because she's missing her soul.
Being soulless also grants Alexia an unexpected advantage of logic. She approaches problems with a pragmatic sensibility that sets her head and shoulders above the typical fluffy, swooning Victorian. She's no over the top firebrand either. Though not above giving a foe a good tongue lashing or hurling a teapot at him, she relies on wits and intellect to grapple with challenges. I especially love this aspect of her character; add her acerbic quips, and it's like watching a young Violet Grantham, Dowager Countess of Downton, in action. The fact they both enjoy hats and whacking sticks (parasol, walking stick) also secures an obvious connection I am thrilled by.
"Soulless" takes a little getting used to, but it's a romp after the first few chapters. Alexia squares off with the head of BUR, a Victorian government bureau for recording and monitoring supernatural affairs. That said head just happens to be a delicious Scotsman, the Earl of Woolsey (Lord Maccon) and the alpha werewolf in the Woolsey Pack -- London's most powerful -- adds fuel to the fire. Neither Lord Maccon or Miss Tarabotti care much for one another, and although readers should expect romantic sparks to fly, Ms. Carriger doesn't make it easy on either of them. In the very best sense of the word, she runs either partner up a tree whenever there's a chance of interest and throws rocks at them.
The side characters exist mostly for comedic relief as there's a cheekiness established to the series from the get-go. Alexia's family is the stuff of nightmares, led by a sighing Mama who makes Elizabeth Bennett's very put upon mother seem gracious and intellectual. Her half-sisters care for nothing more than fluffery and making fun of their sister's situation. Ivy Hisselpenny, the best friend, is a bit more redeeming although she doesn't feel like she comes fully into her own by the end of the book. Her love of gossip and horrendous hats are the two major defining traits that -- spoiler alert -- get fleshed out in much more detail by the second book. Maccon's pack of werewolves certainly tickles, but the beta wolf, Rudolph (don't dare call him Dolly), is a complete treasure. An unassuming bureaucrat with a bit of long-suffering Watson sprinkled on for good measure, his insights and side comments wonderfully contrast the agitation that comes from oil and water Maccon and Alexia. But my favourite of all is Lord Akeldama, the ponciest vampire who would look scornfully upon Bela Lugosi for wearing only black and pooh-pooh any Cullen as horribly dull and dreary. Really, sweaters with a glittery complexion? Perish the thought. He's an astutely played character whose legion of man-servants are absolutely a riot.
Soulless gets its feet wet introducing a reader to the depths of Victorian London. For a macabre, gritty read, this is not your book. If you enjoy a bit of pointed humour and sardonic wit wrapped around a rolicking story, then definitely give it a shot. The entry to the Parasol Protectorate series was definitely enjoyable and left me wanting more.