bloodygranuaile: (Default)
The Truth was my very first Discworld novel, and it's been a long, long time since I've read it.
I remember being a bit lost the first time I read it, since it's the 25th Discworld book, but I enjoyed it enough to go back to the beginning of the series and start it properly. I read it again a few years later once I'd worked my way through the series in order, and I recall it being just as much fun, and that I was definitely better situated in the story. This time, I reread it because it's the most recent completed book that Mark Oshiro is reading over at Mark Does Stuff, which I've sorely neglected ever since he finished reading the Tortall books. But I've been listening to the videos at work a bit as a way of avoiding checking the news when editing dull things (success has been mixed thus far).
The Truth is the one where they invent the newspaper, and it's full of hilarious observations from Terry Pratchett's time as journalist that are all even funnier to me now that I work in a newsroom. Our protagonist is William de Worde, the son of a rich family full of dreadful people, who has basically run away from his heritage and makes a living writing letters for hire (often for members of Ankh-Morpork's robust community of Dwarven immigrants), including a monthly gossip newsletter that he sends to a number of notable nobles for a subscription.
When a bunch of dwarves moves into Ankh-Morpork with an eldritch* new machine — a movable type printing press — one thing leads to another, William's monthly gossip letter rapidly blossoms into The Ankh-Morpork Times, the city's first daily newspaper, and William finds himself rather suddenly in the role of Ankh-Morpork's first investigative journalist.
While much of the news is really "olds" — human-interest stories about civic clubs and accounts of locally grown humorously shaped vegetables — there is one headline-grabbing case going about: Lord Vetinari appears to have tried to stab his clerk Drumknott to death (he succeeded in the stabbing but failed in the killing him bit, which doesn't sound like Lord Vetinari at all), and then attempted to flee the city on a horse laden down with a ton of money. (Not quite a ton, perhaps, but a lot, anyway. A heavy lot.) The Watch is suspicious that something's not quite right here, but are having a bit of a tough time figuring out what it is, considering they've got Vetinari and Drumknott both safely and uselessly unconscious in custody. This is where William comes in, using his family connections, lack of being bound by Watch procedure, newly discovered right of freedom of the press, and entitled jerk attitude from having grown up rich to nose about the city bossing people into giving him interviews. He also develops an anonymous source called Deep Bone, who is definitely Gaspode, and through him conducts one of the best interviews in the history of fictional journalism.
William's right-hand woman at the Times is one Sacharissa Crispslock, a highly respectable and pragmatic working-class young lady who serves as the Times' human-interest correspondent and copy editor (editorial roles at the Times are a bit flexible, though). Sacharissa is a bit judgmental, possibly a bit sheltered, very detail-oriented and with a much better head for financial stuff than William, probably because she ain't rich. She's definitely relatable and I was so proud for her when she finally got to threaten someone with a gun and swear at them.
Other excellent secondary characters include the vampire iconographer Otto von Chriek, who periodically collapses into a pile of dust when his camera's flash goes off; Goodmountain, the long-sufferingly sensible dwarf who brought the printing press to Ankh-Morpork; Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip, a duo of stock bad guys, one of whom is trying really hard but failing to develop a drug habit; and Commander Vimes, who is always a treat to see from someone else's point of view. He's much less likable as a secondary character than as a protagonist, but since most readers have also seen him as a protagonist in other books, it's extra fun watching him and William needle each other.
In this era of fake news, anonymous leaks, and people named after Italian commedia dell'arte characters being White House Comms Director but only for a week, The Truth is an especially timely reread. The tech has changed since the printing press was invented, but humans and their unfortunately malleable relationship to information haven't. Pratchett gives us a witty, compassionate, absurd, and insightful accounting of the sausage-making process behind what "they" let into the paper and the valiant struggles of the truth to get its boots on by the deadline.
*"Eldritch" means "oblong," right?
bloodygranuaile: (wall wander)
For BSpec's book club I finally got around to reading the first book in Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence, which I have been meaning to do for at least two years now. I have the last two books in the sequence signed, but the first one only in paperback, and am missing the second and third. To make it even more complicated, the books take place in a different order than they are published -- they are ordered by the number referenced in the title.

The first book, therefore, is Three Parts Dead, which follows the adventures of young Craftswoman Tara Abernathy as she is hired on probation at the necromantic law firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao under the mentorship of terrifyingly efficient senior Craftwoman Elayne Kevarian. Tara graduated from Craft school under dubious circumstances that involved her trying to kill one of her professors and getting thrown out of the school, literally, which is pretty dangerous because the school floats up in the sky, as all the best magic schools do.

Tara's first assignment is in the city of Alt Coulomb, which runs off the power of its god, Kos Everburning. Unfortunately, Kos has died under mysterious circumstances. Tara, with the help of a hilarious sheltered young priest (or Novice Technician, as he is called) named Abelard and his junkie policewoman friend Cat, has to help Elayne figure out who killed Kos and why and how and who benefits and all that stuff and generally unravel the massive conspiracy hidden in the heart of the Church.

While the story is plenty funny, it's not as much of a comedy as one might think from some of its elements -- demon lawyers! a vampire pirate captain! divine contract law! -- and the world of magical techno-corporatocracy that Gladstone builds is convincing, at once both weird and distressingly familiar.

Tara is a great protagonist, driven and talented and badass and definitely in a bit over her head, and Abelard is a great dual lead, being an earnest bumbling weirdo in an arcane religious order who chain-smokes to show religious devotion and doesn't know what a newspaper is. They're a fantastic, fantastic team, especially since the book very sensibly eschews the unnecessary romantic subplot that I think a lot of authors would have found obligatory.  Instead of romance we get, like, shape-shifting gargoyles and blood magic libraries and a nine-story demonic BDSM nightclub and stuff like that.

The philosophical underpinnings of the main conflict ends up having a lot to do with free will and consent and the dangers of clever, talented technolibertarian douchebags being allowed to exploit other people without adult supervision, so suffice it to say that the book is not all fluff and explosions, although like any good urban fantasy it certainly has quite a lot in the way of fluff and explosions, and even an instance of leather pants.

I think we're going to get a really good discussion out of it. I've already started reading the next book in the Sequence, so we'll see how many we get through by the time book club rolls around.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)

As many who hear me ramble about books know, I have a not-very-deep but quite enthusiastic love for Gail Carriger's fantasy-of-manners steampunk books, the Parasol Protectorate quintet and the ongoing Finishing School series. So I read the first book, Prudence, in her new series set in this universe, The Custard Protocol.

This series takes place about twenty years after the end of the last Parasol Protectorate book, and its protagonist is Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama, the metanatural child of werewolf Conal Maccon and soulless Alexia Tarabotti, adopted by the mysterious vampire dandy Lord Akeldama. She goes by Rue. She can "steal" vampires' and werewolves' skins, meaning she touches them and she turns into the sort of creature they are, leaving them mortal until either the sun comes up or they get far away enough that the tether snaps.

While Rue gets into a number of scrapes that add up to her being at least not at all a passive character--not that I'd want to be anywhere within fifteen hundred million miles of her in real life, considering her principled disdain for such stodgy middle-class values as "being even dimly aware of other people and giving half a shit about them"; I think she's supposed to be a heroine but I can only stomach her as an anti-heroine--and the further development of the wacky steampunk universe is a lot of fun, I didn't end up liking this book as much as the others.

While I'm not usually focused so much on the plots in Carriger's books as I am the wacky hijinks, I feel like the plots in this one were a little more confused than usual. I'm usually quite fine with the plots of comedies being basically vehicles for jokes, and some of these were, mainly the bit where Rue is only aware of one of the two major plotlines for a good long time and thinks people are talking about one thing when they're actually talking about another and everyone is being too ~mysterious~ to use their words and clear it up, but I still felt like I just didn't really buy it? Perhaps the jokes weren't as funny as they needed to be for me to not mind. And Rue's trip to India ended up being far too pro-colonialism for my taste--I know it's a fluffy book series taking place in an alternate history, but one of the basic plotlines (which doesn't really become clear until a good two-thirds of the way through the book) is that the English crown ~accidentally~ pissed off one race of supernatural beings in India by allying with a different race of supernatural beings in India, and they have to sort out a way to ally with both of them because the race they didn't know about ~stubbornl~y insists upon being mortal enemies with the other race and won't recognize England's ~super enlightened~ policy of blanket alliance with all supernatural races they come into contact with. The entire idea of Indian independence appears in the book only as a red herring, on the occasions when the doer of a nefarious deed is as yet unknown and therefore might possibly be "dissidents." It's a lot uglier than the trip to Egypt at the end of the Parasol Protectorate, where the plotline focused on issues that were essentially unrelated to British colonialism--this plotline is basically about how best to pull it off. I kept waiting for Rue to realize that the British were wrong to be ruling India, and she just never fucking did. If Carriger wants this universe to be fun and fluffy even though it's about the British Empire, she's welcome to do that, and I'll read it, but there are some places she just should not go if she wants to not go anywhere serious, and "India" is one of them. Now I'm half afraid that the next Finishing School book, which takes place in the 1840s instead of the 1890s, is going to involve the cast going off to Ireland to have wacky hijinks at the potato famine.

The characters were often fun the possible exception of Quesnel, who is a terrible obnoxious love interest. Ivy's twins--Primrose Tunstell, Rue's best friend, and Professor Percy Tunstell, played in my head by Eddie Redmayne--accompany Rue on her dirigible journey, and are good solid sidekicks. Basically, things are OK as long as they never leave the dirigible, but when they do it gets pretty cringeworthy at times.

Whether or not I read the second Prudence book is probably going to depend on how much I like the fourth Finishing School book, and possibly whether I hear any news of whether or not the second Prudence book involves everything from the first book coming back to bite Prudence firmly in her self-absorbed imperialist ass.

Also, was it just me or was the humor that there was considerably more lowbrow in this one? There's always been raunchy humor in the books in addition to the farce and whimsy, but this one really came off as a lot cruder and with a lot more fart jokes.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
A whole bunch of people told me that Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus would be right up my alley. They have been telling me this for a good couple of years now. I have finally gotten around to reading it and am pleased to report that my friends know me very well. Or perhaps I should be less pleased to report that I am apparently very, very predictable?

The Night Circus is a lush, vaguely steampunky-Gothic, dark-romantic Victorian fantasy. It is ostensibly about two young magicians forced into a bizarre competition of skill by their teachers—both entirely dislikeable characters in their own ways—in the arena of a mysterious, magical black-and-white circus. Mostly it is about the circus, really, and although obviously the challenge that started it is quite important and provides the plot, the circus becomes a lot more than that—which I think is the point. There are many people involved in the circus besides the two magicians and their insufferable teachers, and the circus is very, very important to them. There are, therefore, a lot of vignettes and subplots and backstories and whatnot. A lot of readers, even ones who like that it takes place in the Victorian era and is full of pretty Victorian things, may not be as OK with the structure and pacing of the novel, which also tends to resemble a lot of Victorian lit in that it begins quite at the beginning and rolls along slowly and descriptively like a big sluggish river of words until it washes gently up upon the plot. The regular parts of the story are interspersed with little second-person interludes simply exploring the circus, which will probably strike some readers as pretentious and bore them, but which I enjoyed as pure one-thousand percent escapism, probably because the Night Circus is the type of place that I would love to attend. (Its fans, the rêveurs, have a dress code that just so happens to be what I wear half the time anyway. Like, it is my kinda place.)

I think my biggest complaint is that some of the magical stuff was a bit vague—I don’t know if actually explaining the mechanics of it any more would have made it better (actually, I’m 99% sure it would have ruined the atmosphere) but sometimes it didn’t have enough emotional force to really keep it all together—there’s a number of mentions at the end of how much effort it is for Celia to keep the circus running but I think if that’s the case—and if it’s been a longstanding case—the Celia POV parts of the book needed a bigger infusion of sensation-novel-ness, a stronger sense of the weight and strain of maintaining control.

This book does, however, go firmly on my “I want a movie/miniseries” list, even though it is not particularly action-packed, because it is so hugely visual and I want to see all these illusions animated! I also want an excuse for a more social experience of it, like going to a midnight showing in full rêveur wear or having a premiere party with all black-and-white food. Please tell me I can get this! Marketing to Goths is like, so hot right now, right?
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
The elevator pitch for Elizabeth Bear’s new novel Karen Memory is colorful enough that you can pretty much be certain that if you like the elevator pitch, you will like the book, and if you don’t, you won’t. The elevator pitch is: Heroic prostitutes versus disaster capitalists in the steampunk Old West.

I was pretty much sold at that point, and I am happy report that Karen Memory is just what you’d want from a pitch like that, with added awesomeness besides. This includes a fictional appearance by real-life historical badass U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves and his giant mustache.

I’ll be frank: I have enjoyed a fair number of stories that are absolute trashy messes, because they are trashy mess hodgepodges of stuff I like, and I probably would have still liked Karen Memory well enough if it were that. All the same, that is not the case here: This is a really solid story. It’s got strong and unashamed dime-novel elements, but it all ties together into a coherent, well-paced, thrilling narrative that is chock-full of awesome things and they all make total sense.

It’s a first-person narrative that does well the main thing a first-person narrative has to do well, which is: the voice is fabulous. Karen’s been taught “proper” grammar as part of her genteel parlor-girling duties, but the narration is in her regular nineteenth-century Old West working-class reads-a-lot-of-dime-store-novels voice, and it’s great—it’s fun and colorful and folksy and smart, and Karen’s a great one for sly observations and over-the-top similes and you can generally tell she’s got her roots in a good old playful Irish storytelling tradition. She says “could of” and “knowed” and she’s not one whit the less smart for it. She’s also totally adorable in her developing feelings for Priya, an Indian girl who’s managed to escape the cribhouses of the story’s villain, abusive pimp Peter Bantle.

Priya’s also great—a budding mad scientist with phenomenal language-learning skills who wears pants and is even more awkward about feelings than Karen. In fact, the cast of characters surrounding Karen is almost exclusively made of thoroughly awesome people, except the people who are such utter terrible people that you viscerally want to punch them in the face with their own fists, which does still make them great character. The cast at Madame Damnable’s consists of a diverse crowd of women (and one dude—the house bouncer, a gay Black man named Crispin), including the inestimable Miss Francina, a transwoman who nobody is an asshole to about it (except Peter Bantle, of course), the human embodiment of solidarity and friendship, and all-around stellar character. The other girls come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and accents, and they each have their own characters, though we rarely learn their backstories. The rest of Rapid City seems to be populated with men ranging from the villainous to the sort of ineffectually decent enough, at least until Marshal Bass Reeves and his posseman, a Comanche dude named Tomoatooah, arrive. They kick ass, quietly and with great dignity and sometimes dynamite. The dynamite is less quiet, obviously.

On to the steampunky bits! The steampunky bits are a bit less goofy than much of the steampunk I’ve read so far, although I admit to only reading ridiculous steampunk. There are no flying whales. There is, however, a lot of really bizarre city infrastructure and some weirdo robot full-body sewing machines that sound more like Iron Man suits than anything else. Much of the plot hinges on a creepy technological advance that’s so far still secret but not implausible based on what tech they’ve already got, and a bit more plot hinges on a particularly souped-up submarine with tentacles, because what’s a steampunk story without at least one octopus-thing? At any rate, I’m wicked jealous of Karen’s sewing machine.

I strongly recommend this book to everyone who likes badass ladies, steampunk, stories about lesbians that aren’t tragic death coming-out novels, historical figures you haven’t learned of in school, seeing abusive assholes get what they deserve, the Old West, big diverse ensemble casts, luxuriant mustaches, characters exhibiting genre-savviness (the genre in question being dime novels), and fun.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
The upside of the current combination of T-shattering weather and my own personal broke-ness has had one excellent upside: I’m finally getting around to reading a bunch of the books that have been up near the top of my Have To Read ASAP list for months. This includes The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (apparently an alias for Sarah Monette), which I bought way back in July with every intent of getting on it as soon as I could. It came highly recommend by a lot of people whose tastes often run similar to mine, and the basic premise of “court intrigue with steampunk elves” definitely piqued my interest! There are many more fun things than that, though.

FUN THING #1: There are no humans in this book. It takes place in the Elflands, where the inhabitants are elves—a white-skinned (paper-white, it sounds like, not just Caucasian-white), white-haired, big-pointy-eared people with kind of a big stick up their collective butt about how imperial their empire is. Their most important neighboring land in this book is inhabited by goblins, who seem to be sort of a subspecies or maybe just a separate ethnic group rather than an entirely different species, since they can (and do) marry and have kids with elves, most often along the border. The elven higher-ups are predictably snobbish about this. Our protagonist is a half-elf half-goblin named Maia, the fourth and youngest—and least-favored—son of the elven emperor, who has grown up in a shabby sort of country estate far away from court. When the emperor and his three older sons are all killed in an airship crash, Maia suddenly finds himself Emperor. He is not really prepared for this, and neither is anyone else.

FUN THING #2: All of the court intrigue and politicking and mannersy stuff. I will admit, I am easy to please on this front because I adore the crap out of fussy court stuff I have no hope of understanding, especially when outsiders are dropped into it and don’t understand it either and are all like “oh my god this is ridiculous how do people live like this,” and this book does not stint on that front at all. But it’s also done really, really well, with a sensitivity towards how it is that people actually do live like that, and it shows our protagonist slowly and painfully learning to master it and to introduce changes to try to make things less toxic. It also gives enough history to paint a picture of not just “courts” and “empire stuff” but specifically of what a court looks like when it starts to go stagnant—there’s a real sense that the court may not have always been quite this fussy and ridiculous but that it has sort of ossified somewhere in the last couple of rulers, particularly under Maia’s dad, who sounds like not really the most innovative ruler. The reader has to learn how the court and its faction function along with Maia, under the guidance of his fantastic secretary Csevet. It is a delight, and probably not an unrealistic one, that not everybody is actually terrible, but many people are hiding their lights under the bushels of convention.

FUN THING #3: Language. OK, I might just be being a huge dork about this, but apparently the elven language has a more complex system of pronouns than we do. There’s a formal and an informal second person, represented, respectively, by “you” and “thou,” as English used to. There’s also a formal first person, represented by “we,” as has also sometimes been done in English—although in the elven language the first-person plural and formal are clearly two distinct pronouns, and sometimes have to be explicitly differentiated in the text. There’s also a wonderfully complex system of titles and prefixes and suffixes, where family names are roots that take masculine, feminine, and collective endings. There are basic titles that translate to “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” and “Miss,” essentially, and grander and grander forms of address are built up by piling on prefixes. Maia has to pick a new name to be his emperor name, and he’s always addressed as “Serenity,” and it’s a super big deal for him to let anyone call him by his real name, and it’s all SO FUN if you are a big dork about that sort of thing. It does occasionally make it a little confusing to keep the already-large cast of characters straight, but there is a character list at the back, or you can try to slow down and read things more carefully than I usually do these days.

FUN THING #4: Ladies. Our protagonist, Maia, is a dude, because that is how it works in the elven language. The elven society has a pretty patriarchal system in place, but that does not stop the book from having a lot of awesome elf ladies in it, and a few awesome goblin ladies, and Maia is not a jerk at all about it, hooray! I particularly liked the plotline about the elf lady who he picks to be his Empress—an excruciatingly awkward situation in every conceivable way, and one that could easily have gone terribly wrong.

FUN THING #5: Steampunky goodness. The steampunk element of this book is actually fairly understated compared to my other experiences with steampunk writing, which, to be fair, are basically just Gail Carriger and Scott Westerfeld. There are airships and there is an awesome plotline with the Clockmaker’s Guild who wish to build a politically important bridge in a place where it’s been the accepted wisdom that you can’t build a bridge, and Maia is all over bridges, which becomes a nice motif by the end of the story. There’s also a message system of “pneumatic tubes” in the castle which I’m imagining as being like a cross between an old-school phone switchboard and the little tubes you used to have at drive-through banks before you had ATMs. (I always found those super fun when I was a kid.)

FUN THING #6: Ears. Most of the facial expressions, body language, etc. that the elves and goblins engage in is described in terms the same as those of humans—they smile, they frown, they pout, they flinch and stiffen and blush and blanche and all those things. BUT. Also their ears move, like they droop when they’re sad or go flat when they’re angry, and part of putting on your expressionless court face is making sure they don’t do any of those things. It’s just woven in there like it’s the most normal thing in the world and it’s ADORABLE.

The main plotline mostly has to do with investigating who killed Maia’s family, because it’s obvious that that person is after Maia next. Since we don’t know who did that for most of the book, the main antagonist for a lot of it is the Lord Chancellor, a pompous man who had been extremely loyal to Maia’s father and seems to find it his duty to continue his reign in every possibly, including ignoring and hating Maia. This doesn’t work very well, now that Maia is emperor, but that doesn’t stop the Lord Chancellor in the slightest.

Overall this book is a bit more serious and dense than I would have expected from “steampunk elves,” but not in a bad way—it’s very engaging, and it does have enough touches of humor and general charmingness to not be a downer, but it also has enough weight to get me really invested in the plot and in caring about what happens to this realm and wanting Maia’s reign to be a success. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes court intrigues of any sort.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
A few weeks ago I had the delightful experience of seeing Gail Carriger at a tea party/book signing at the Brookline Public Library, where I picked up the newest installment of her delightfully madcap steampunk Finishing School series, Waistcoats & Weaponry.

In this one, Sophronia Temminick and a number of her companions plot to escort Sidheag Maccon, Lady Kingair home to her werewolf pack in Scotland, after The Thing happens with Lord Maccon that we had learned about in Alexia’s series, where he goes off to become Alpha of Woolsey. Before this, of course, there is a masquerade ball where, among other ridiculous things, all the household mechanicals go nuts and begin to sing “Rule, Britannia!” and Sophronia gets accidentally secretly engaged to Dimity’s younger brother Pillover.

Over the course of the action-packed adventure to Scotland, in which Sophronia, Sidheag, Dimity, fashionable twit Felix Mersey, and sootie Soap steal a train full of crystalline valve frequensors and their old enemy, vampire drone Monique. They run into diverse problems they must overcome, including low fuel, flywaymen, Dimity’s lamentable lack of cross-dressing savoir-faire, and Felix’s father. In between climbing things, hitting people, and practicing her espionage, Sophronia also has to deal with a lot of tangly difficult mental and emotional issues, such as the obligatory love triangle she’s got herself stuck in with Soap and Felix; whether she wishes to accept Lord Akeldama’s patronage when she finishes; and trying to figure out what the vampires, the Picklemen, the mechanicals, and other interested parties are up to.

My biggest issue with this book is the sad lack of Genevieve Lefoux. No book should fail to have at least a cursory Vieve cameo in it. There had better be some Vieve in Manners & Mutiny.

Carriger seems to get a bit deeper into the numerous shitty social issues of Victorian society with each books, and the results are often kind of awkward, although I think they’re supposed to be awkward. But the fact remains that the stuff that affects the protagonists directly (mostly sexism, although in Alexia’s case there’s also anti-Italian prejudice) is less awkward to read than the stuff that affects other characters and it’s the protagonists who put their foot in it, which happens with some frequency, as the protagonists for both series are straight white gentry ladies. Sophronia’s handling of her obligatory love triangle between Felix and Soap is particularly uncomfortable, because Soap is obviously ten billion times more awesome than Felix, partly because he is a pretty cool dude and partly just because he isn’t Felix.

As usual, the best part about this book is really neither the plot nor the social commentary, but the delightfully absurd language. The worldbuilding is so whimsical it makes Harry Potter look like gritty contemporary realism, and everything has beautifully ridiculous names, both of which reach their epitome in Sophronia’s illegal pet mechanical mini dachshund, Bumbersnoot, who eats coal and occasionally is forced to go undercover as a lacy reticule. Everyone goes around saying things like “I don’t know who you are, but I respect the courage of any man who goes around wearing satin breeches that tight” which I don’t think is an actual thing you were supposed to say in polite Victorian society but who cares. It’s basically complete fluff, but it’s complete fluff with steel-bladed fans and teen girls kicking the asses of pompous adults, which is definitely my favorite kind.

I can’t wait for the fourth one already, especially since I am still very concerned about Professor Braithwope’s mental health.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
After the embarrassing escapade where I wasn’t sure if Snuff existed for a while, I started paying much closer attention to Discworld book releases, and so I was aware of the release of Raising Steam well in advance. However, so were several dozen other people in the Boston metro area, so I had to wait several weeks for the ebook to become available at the library.

My two main thoughts on Raising Steam are one, that it is hilarious and great and I adored it and at one point it almost made me cry, and two, that it is not quite as good as most of the other Discworld books and it’s really sad to see that Terry Pratchett does appear to be losing some of his touch. I mean, Terry Pratchett at his most mediocre is still funnier than most other people at their funniest. But I was still unreasonably disappointed that they didn’t come up with any wacky Discworldian name for a railway, and just called it the railway—sure, there were cute names for the individual engines and stations and lines, but remember when they invented rock’n’roll and called it “Music With Rocks In”? That was awesome.

Anyway, Raising Steam follows pretty much immediately after the events of Snuff, and the events that aren’t directly to do with the railway are mostly sequelae to the more recent Vimes books—mainly Snuff and Thud!—and yet, Raising Steam would more properly be set in the Moist von Lipwig subseries. This is a bit confusing at Moist is not actually the man behind the railway.

The man behind the railway is Dick Simnel, a blacksmith’s son from Sto Lat who somehow manages to invent mechanical engineering properly and builds a steam engine. He takes it to Ankh-Morpork, which is, after all, where stuff happens, and presents it to Harry King, the sewage tycoon. Moist gets involved when a stern Vetinari tells him to make sure this locomotive business isn’t going to be bad for the city, which Moist manages to do by making the Bank of Ankh-Morpork, of which he is the head, a ten-percent owner in the company, thus solidifying Moist as a not completely random choice of protagonist.

The plot mostly involves a bunch of dwarf religious extremists, known colloquially as “the grags” even though a “grag” is a particular type of religious official and not all the grags are extremists, who are still annoyed about the Koom Valley Accord where they stopped fighting the trolls, and are deeply committed to returning to a sort of fundamentalist dwarfdom where they don’t interact with anybody else and they shun all inventions that other people have come up with as being intrusive abominations. The first big target of this is the clacks towers, the Discworld version of the telegram, but soon their wrath is turned to the locomotive, especially since Lord Vetinari now seems very keen on using the locomotive to connect Ankh-Morpork and Uberwald. There was also an odd subplot about the Low King and gender that I wanted to like but didn’t really, because we’ve done dwarves and gender already and it also popped up kind of weirdly late in the book.

There is still a great deal of delightful Discworldian absurdity and punning (and footnotes), featuring place-names such as the Effing Forest and Downsized Abbey and The Netherglades. I feel that Discworld might be tipping ever so into that self-referential sort of point where the humor gets dependent upon previous stuff in the series—like, my first Discworld book was The Truth, which is late enough in the series that I was fairly confused not having any prior knowledge, but funny enough to keep reading anyway, but here I think someone who hadn’t read all the other books would just be utterly lost and not entertained at all. As someone who has read all the other Discworld, I don’t mind so much, because it really is good to see characters like Otto Chriek and Sacharissa Crispslock randomly showing up a lot, and it’s definitely worth it to have Vimes and Moist both featuring fairly largely in the same book and having to interact with each other more than just in passing.

The end of the book was a lot tamer than I’m used to from Discworld; I was pretty sure things from the Dungeon Dimensions were going to show up at the end since that’s a common recurring theme in the A Powerful Thing Gets Invented On Discworld formula (sadly, it is a bit of a formula by now), but they didn’t, there was just cleverness and dwarf politicking.

I do love seeing Discworld getting increasingly steampunky, even as I’m not a huge fan of it getting more serious. I also think the later books could stand getting edited somewhat more tightly, but this is a complaint that seems to be inevitable when any author gets successful, the editors start getting all wary of messing with the golden goose and possibly pissing them off, so the books get not just longer but also more full of rambly extraneous stuff. I often like extraneous stuff, but sometimes it really is just… extraneous. In this case, I think the same footnote occurred more than once, but not in a way where the repetition was the joke; that sort of thing.

Anyway, it is what it is, and what it is is still a highly entertaining Discworld book, which is pretty much what I wanted, so I’m pretty happy.

bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Gail Carriger seems to have received my complaint that I have to wait until November for more wacky steampunk books, and recently blessed the Internet with a short story, a prequel to the Parasol Protectorate books called The Curious Case of the Werewolf that Wasn’t, the Mummy that Was, and the Cat in the Jar. It is about Alexia’s father, Alessandro Tarabotti.

We knew going into this that Mr. Tarabotti (a) has no soul, (b) used to work for the Templars, and (c) was not what most people would generally consider a nice man. This all turns out to be quite true. Mr. Tarabotti is about as judgy as the Dowager Countess Grantham, although with a much greater propensity to engage in fisticuffs. He is very at ease shooting archaeologists, setting priceless historical artifacts on fire, and causing dirigible crashes that kill off the younger brothers of college boyfriends. All in all, he is a fairly detestable person, but he is still quite a fun character, in that way that “the smart asshole in a room full of dumb assholes” is always a fun character when done properly. Mr. Tarabotti is done very properly.

Floote shows up in this story, as does Alexia’s mother Letitia, although she neither says nor does anything much. We also get some intriguing hints about further mysteries of this fictional universe. (I would like a short story about the cat-embalming aunt, particularly.)
All in all it was quite a good read and an excellent way to spend 99 cents. Now, back to your regularly scheduled whining about how long I have to wait for the third Finishing School book.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
After last weekend’s wacky hijinks with Etiquette and Espionage, I was luckily able to immediately get hold of the sequel, Curtsies and Conspiracies, by Gail Carriger. Curtsies and Conspiracies follows Sophronia Angelina Temminick as she returns for her second semester at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Qualit-Tay, a school in a large dirigible that trains young gentlewomen to be spies.

The main plot in this novel concerns another crystalline valve, no longer a prototype, and smaller than the plot valve in the last book. Adorable Baby Genevieve thinks this one has to do with protocols rather than communications, which, being something to do with real telecommunications instead of purely Carrigerian steampunk technobabble, is the single thing in the book I had the hardest time getting my head around (Reason I Am Not An Engineer #34825976389274573289574). It also seems to have something to do with Sophronia’s flibbertigibbet roommate, Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott, the daughter of evil geniuses but who just wants to be a regular proper lady and wear sparkly things. Or possibly with her younger brother Pillover, a sulky but ultimately kindhearted ten-year-old student at Bunsen’s academy for evil geniuses. At any rate, Dimity is nearly kidnapped by some thugs on multiple occasions, until the final act of the story when she actually is kidnapped and we start figuring out what’s going on, but of course I’m not going to tell you what it was.

Sophronia spends much of the first half of the book being ostracized by her friends as a result of getting distressingly high marks on her midyear exams, so she hangs out with Vieve and Soap instead. Soap, predictably but quite charmingly, is developing into an awkward love interest that Sophronia is in utter denial about, because she has espionage to do. Something is up with the odious Monique de Pelouse, who is not going to be finishing after all, but who is planning a dreadfully lavish coming-out ball in London. Something else seems to be up with a bunch of the teachers, including the unfortunately moustachioed but otherwise very dapper vampire etiquette teacher, Professor Braithewope. Things get even more complicated when the finishing school acquires guests—and the guests are ­boys. Specifically, they are one Professor Shrimpdittle from Bunsen’s, and a host of Bunsen students, including Pillover Plumleigh-Teignmott, a chinless family friend of Dimity’s named Lord Dingleproops, and an arrogant, broody, and very wealthy Viscount’s heir named Felix Golborne, Lord Mersey, who develops a fantastically irritating crush on Sophronia. Dingleproops and Mersey are a part of a new clique at Bunsen’s that seems to be Gail Carriger’s dig at disaffected teenage Goth steampunks, as these guys brood a lot, dress predominantly in black with brass/bronze accents, sew gears to their clothes to no useful purpose, and wear eyeliner. They also are dreadfully snobbish and like going to parties and spiking the punch. I want to condescendingly pinch all their cheeks and then hand them all over to the Lady of the Manners for some finishing.

There are some very fun cameos by characters who either show up in or are deaded by the Parasol Protectorate series, including the dewan, the old potentate, the Lord Woolsey before Conor Maccon becomes Lord Woolsey (Maccon only shows up indirectly, via Sidheag’s dialogue about “Gramps”), Countess Nasdasdy, and some other Westminster Hive members. But the crowning glory of cameos goes to the brief but memorable carriage lift Sophronia gets from Lord Akeldama, who, in a very Lord Akeldama-ish fashion, insists upon being in no way involved in anything but seems interested in possibly recruiting Sophronia for not-getting-involved purposes when she is finished. I fervently hope this means more Lord Akeldama in the rest of the series, because Lord Akeldama is perfection itself. I want to be Lord Akeldama when I grow up, even though I think I’d be terribly unsuited to it.

Sophronia is an unabashedly wish-fulfillment-y character and I am not complaining, because everything about her and her situations is so colorful and wacky-hijink-related. I think the thing that really is the problem with most wish-fulfillmenty characters are that they are boring and there is often a lack of tension, but the multiple plot threads Sophronia keeps juggling—particularly her moral dilemmas about an attempt at character assassination that she’s really not properly trained how to do—keeps things fast-paced, and everything and everyone is just too clever and bizarre to be boring. It’s sort of like Victorian teenage girl James Bond (which, as a girl who likes Victorian things, I like better than regular James Bond, but apparently a lot of people find James Bond not at all boring, is what I’m getting at).

I am desolated that I have to wait several months for the sequel and for the beginning of the Custard Protocol series. Whatever shall I do with myself?
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Today in “utterly delightful things,” I started reading Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series the same way I began reading her Parasol Protectorate series—in a cute rustic cabin in Maine. Her stuff really is grade-A vacation material—light, fluffy, and hilarious.

The Finishing School series is a YA series that takes place in the same universe as the Parasol Protectorate series, perhaps some thirty years earlier. The first book, Etiquette and Espionage, follows fourteen-year-old tomboy and klutz Sophronia Angelina Temminick as she is packed off to Madame Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, or Quali-Tay, depending on how annoyed the speaker is. Sophronia soon discovers that she is a “covert recruit”, which basically means that she didn’t know about the true nature of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s until she got there. The true nature, of course, is that the young ladies of quali-tay are actually being trained in espionage and subterfuge, of which “learn all the expected social graces of proper useless ladies” is an important part of their cover.

At finishing school, Sophronia makes friends, such as the bubbly Dimity—descended from a line of evil geniuses, but who actually wants to just be a regular proper lady—and a younger Sidheag Maccon, Lady Kingair (who is, if possible, even more awesome than in the other series), and Sophronia makes enemies, such as the beautiful but absolutely petty Monique de Pelouse, a senior who got demoted to debut after Sophronia had to rescue her during her “finishing” assignment. Monique has also hidden something known only as “the prototype,” and they keep getting attacked by flywaymen who want it, so Sophronia takes it upon herself and her friends to figure out what the prototype is of and where it is hidden.

If you know anything about Gail Carriger’s other novels you know there will be at least one dandy vampire, at least one hot werewolf, some dirigibles, and a lot of food. All these are indeed here in abundance. There are also a lot of robot maids and butlers. I really, really want a robot maid, by the way. I refuse to do all the cleaning for three adults myself, but it’s wildly annoying to come home every day to three people’s worth of mess. (Ideally the other two adults would clean but we’re only fifty years or so into that societal revolution, so I can’t really plan on that for the next several decades, apparently.)

The novel also continues Carriger’s gift for comedy-of-manners style absurdist humor, mimicking the affected tone of the best in awkward Victorian humor.

There is also a mechanical sausage dog called Bumbersnoot.

Underneath the seemingly random assortment of awesome nonsense, this is a good solid entry into the tradition of fun, feminist-friendly YA books that I am particularly devoted to. The secret agent finishing school setting  provides an opportunity to have lots of different female characters with lots of different opinions on what they want to be doing with their lives, and in which they are encouraged to get up to all sorts of interesting doings of stuff. (This includes one girl who is not a student—a nine-year-old Genevieve Lefoux, niece of mad scientist teacher Beatrice Lefoux. Vieve is already cross-dressing and already having fabulous taste in hats.) Sophronia also breaches questions of class and race when she makes friends with a bunch of the sooties, the working-class boys who run the engine room in the enormous dirigible that constitutes the school. The head of the sooties and possible romantic interest for later in the series is Soap, a Black boy from South London who is always up for Sophronia’s ill-advised adventures and engages in friendly street fighting with Sidheag.

Overall this was the sort of book that makes me want to make friends with the author and have tea parties with her, although I’d be worried about not making the tea well enough. Alternately, I’d love to attend Madame Geraldine’s, although I’m not sure how good I’d be at the fighting stuff (I am terribly bad at fighting) and I might be too Irish to really be considered “of quali-tay.”

At any rate, it is time to check out the sequel, Curtsies and Conspiracies!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I always seem to manage to read Gail Carriger’s books in one or two big chunks of time, even though I otherwise never seem to have the time to read for eight hours straight anymore. Timeless, the fifth and final Parasol Protectorate book, was no exception, coming in from the library just days before I took a nine hour flight to France. Excitement over my impending week in Paris was certainly a bit distracting from reading, but overall, Timeless was still charming and engaging enough to keep my attention so I didn’t shake myself to pieces with anticipation-jitters.

Timeless skips ahead about three years from the end of Heartless, giving us some lovely updates regarding all the social reorganization that Alexia did at the end of that installment, including how the former Woolsey Pack is getting on being the London Pack, how the former Westminster Hive is coping with now being the Woolsey Hive, how her “skin-stealer” daughter Prudence is doing what with being adopted by Lord Akeldama and having grown into the inevitable ferocious contrary toddler stage, how totally awkward things still are with Genevieve, and, in an episode so entertaining that when it was previewed at the end of the last book I mentally assimilated it into the last book’s text as a major highlight (whoops), how Ivy and Tunstell’s ridiculous drama troupe is doing.

The plot really kicks off when Alexia receives an order from the queen of the Alexandria Hive in Egypt, commanding her to bring Prudence to Egypt to meet the queen. Alexia is suspicious, because quite a large number of European vampires spent most of Prudence’s fetus stage attempting to kill the both of them, but apparently one does not ignore a summons from the queen of the Alexandria hive. As cover for this trip, they pretend that the queen has actually heard fabulous things about Ivy and Tunstell’s new play, and so Alexia, Conall, and Prudence set off for Egypt with Ivy, Tunstell, half a dozen actors, a few stage hands, and Genevieve Lefoux, their inevitable escort from the Woolsey Hive. As is to be expected, the trip to Egypt involves many wacky and madcap hijinks, many involving Prudence.

I have always been fascinated with ancient Egypt and I really loved the Parasol-Protectorate-ified version of Victorian Egypt, which ties in the supernatural lore of the universe with Egypt’s ridiculously long and death-obsessed and gloriously occulty history in what I found to be intriguing and fangirly-squee-inducing ways (some of them involve KING HATSHEPSUT). Many of the main characters have a predictably ethnocentric “This place is so Not British fetch me my smelling salts” sort of reaction to Egypt (or in Alexia’s case, “This place has coffee, fetch me some tea”), but I think most of the fun being poked here is towards their Britishy snobbery, which has been a pretty frequent target of mocking throughout the series.

Many former plot threads get brought to a head and largely resolved in this book: the God-Breaker Plague is back, and we learn more about Alessandro Tarabotti and his relationship with Professor Lyall, and the circumstances under which the old Woolsey Pack alpha had gone off and that had led Lyall to draw Conall to London. Biffy finally gets over Lord Akeldama and comes to terms with being a werewolf and having a specific place in the pack, and begins a relationship with Lyall, which made me super happy both because it is adorable and because I have been shipping them since the third book. Some really crazy shit happens with vampire reproduction. I cannot even remember all the plot seeds that were sown earlier in the series that pop up right at the end here, but it’s a surprisingly high number for a series that is so unapologetically fluffy.

As disappointed as I am to see this series end, I did think this installment was one of the stronger ones, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the entire series. The over-the-top steampunkitude, farcical dialogue, and Dickensianly silly names give a light and fun exterior to a series that also has a lot on the Serious Literary Issues Of Our Time (mainly, representation) to recommend it, from its multiple kinds of badass ladies, its very large proportion of queer characters, and its continual messages about the danger of underestimating people just because they seem silly or frivolous.

By the end of this volume, everything is wrapped up neatly in an exquisitely tied sparkly bow, as befits a series populated with such a large proportion of gay dandy vampires and gay dandy vampire drones. Supposedly, there is a series about a more grown-up Prudence due out later this year, and I am terribly excited for it. But first, Finishing School!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Gail Carriger’s Heartless, the fourth installment of her whimsically over-the-top steampunk “urbane fantasy” series The Parasol Protectorate, continues to delight me, and to cause me to drink tea and say all the dialog to myself in a British accent.

In this one, a heavily pregnant Alexia Maccon, Lady Woolsey, is trying to manage her domestic life, which largely involves buying a town house for the pack next to Lord Akeldama’s house so that Akeldama can adopt the baby and Alexia can live in one of his closets. This is all to make the Westminster Hive of vampires stop trying to kill Alexia and the baby, because vampires are chronically incapable of minding their own business. Then a half-crazy ghost shows up at the new town house and vaguely warns Alexia that there is a plot afoot to kill the queen.

From then on there is a bunch of the usual delightful Gail Carriger-style nonsense involving cravats, naked werewolves, mad scientists, and Alexia being cranky at people. There is a rather touching subplot about Biffy, formerly Lord Akeldama’s drone but now a werewolf and member of Woolsey Pack, and his difficulties adjusting to pack life. Alexia does some investigating of the area mad scientists, the Order of the Brass Octopus, which involves a lot of investigating the past, as well—specifically, the last plot to kill the Queen, which originated out of Conall’s former pack in Scotland. We learn more stuff about Alexia’s father, Alessandro Tarabotti, who has been an interestingly mysterious figure throughout this whole series. And we get to hang out with Countess Nasdasdy and the Westminster Hive, who are thoroughly interesting characters. Carriger’s vampires have some interesting bits of mythology to them that you don’t see much elsewhere, such as that a vampire queen is permanently tethered to her home, and will only leave in grave danger—a practice called swarming—in which she will take all her vampires and drones with her and must find a new home posthaste or she will die. Ultimately, Carriger’s vampire social structure seems to be based off bees.

There is also a good deal of Ivy Tunstell being very Ivy but also very awesome and useful, which made me very happy, because I like it when we get to like Ivy. Possibly the most hysterical scene in the whole books is Ivy’s on-the-fly introduction to the newly official Parasol Protectorate, Alexia’s private spy network. Ivy insists upon ritual and theatrics, and she gets them, and so does the reader.

In other news, I like Conall better this time around, if only because he has the same attitudes about Victorian melodrama as I do (i.e. that it is THE FUNNIEST SHIT IN THE WORLD). Also we see him being a genuinely good Alpha, rather than Lyall having to cover his ass the whole book.

My biggest issue with the book is that the climax of the plot relies upon Genevieve Lefoux doing something that is somewhat unsubtle and basically just plain stupid, which I don’t feel is very Genevieve. The ramifications of the stupid thing are fabulous, though, neatly upending a lot of the social dramas in the book, and Alexia rearranges everything in a way that would make Flora Poste proud.

The new baby also promises to be a thoroughly interesting addition to the series, being a “skin-stealer,” and I am quite looking forward to learning more about “skin-stealing” and what kind of havoc it can cause.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate novels are like delicious, ridiculously decorated little petit fours of books. I read Blameless in under twenty-four hours, mostly in two sittings. I went through two cups of lavender Earl Grey tea, one glass of wine, two espressos, and one cup of vanilla black tea while reading it. The espresso is not very Parasol Protectorate-ish, but Alexia was in Italy for that portion of the book.

I was a little afraid going into this book, because the end of the last book was very heavy, and also Conall was absolutely terrible, so I was afraid that in order to provide conflict throughout this book, he would continue to be a jerkface and then I wouldn’t be able to be happy about him and Alexia getting back together (which was basically the inevitable ending). Luckily, things weren’t as bad as I feared on that front, since (a) the book only takes place over a few weeks, and (b) apparently Conall deals with his feelings by getting sloshed off formaldehyde and then the mess he created continues because he can’t sober up for weeks, not because he is continuing to actually have dumber-than-a-brick opinions about the whole mess.

The mess is that Alexia is pregnant, which is supposed to be impossible, as Conall is technically dead. Conall initially thinks this means she cheated on him, hence the formaldehyde. The vampires seem to believe it’s Conall’s baby, because they are now trying to kill Alexia. In order to get away from her dreadful family, the public scandal of her getting kicked out of her husband’s house, and the angry vampires, Alexia—accompanied by her cross-dressing mad scientist friend Madame Lefoux and her loyal butler Floote—decides to take a trip to Italy.

Italy is not as progressive as England, in that they have not integrated their “supernatural set,” and the Order of the Knights Templar is still quite active there. The Knights Templar are supernatural-hunters, and they don’t think much of preternaturals either—referring to them as “devil spawn” for their soullessness—but they are willing to use preternaturals as anti-supernatural weapons. Alexia’s father has had some mysterious connection with them, and they are very, very interested in Alexia. From then on there is the usual mishmash of naked werewolves, steampunky flying things, improbably clockwork mechanisms, and Alexia having strong feelings about food that characterizes this series. (Apparently, in this universe, pesto was developed as a minor anti-supernatural weapon, as vampires are allergic to garlic and werewolves are allergic to basic.)

We learn a lot of weird fake science about souls and the aether and a mysterious legend of a being called a soul-stealer, offspring of a preternatural and a vampire, which may or may not end up being roughly what Alexia’s baby will turn out to be.

There is also an ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATING (if you are me) subplot in which the potentate, Queen Victoria’s vampire advisor, kidnaps Lord Akeldama’s favorite drone Biffy, causing Lord Akeldama to go into hiding. Conall and Professor Lyall, his Beta, go to find and rescue Biffy (in their capacity as BUR sundowners, not as Woolsey pack members), and in the ensuing mayhem, Biffy has to get changed into a werewolf instead of a vampire. This causes things to be very weird and tense but also it’s very cute and very, very gay. Biffy has been one of my favorite minor characters and I hope to see more of his adaptation to werewolf life in the next two books in the series.

I have put a hold on Heartless at the library and I do hope it gets here soon! After I finish this series I am very keen on checking out the assassin finishing school one.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Snowpocalypse. Again. This one I celebrated by drinking copious amounts of tea and reading Gail Carriger’s Changeless, the sequel to her delightful absurdist steampunk fantasy mystery romance Soulless, which I read over the summer (in a delightful rustic lakeside cabin in Maine. God, I can’t wait for summer again).

In Changeless, our soulless heroine, formerly Alexia Tarabotti, now Mrs. Alexia Maccon, Lady Woolsey, is just settling in to her multiple new roles as a married woman, the female Alpha of Woolsey pack, and Queen Victoria’s muhjah, when chaos strikes, in the form of an entire regiment of werewolves camping out on her front lawn. Well, that happens, but it’s not the real chaos, unfortunately. The real chaos is a peculiarly exactingly defined area of London in which all supernatural have ceased being supernatural, as if a preternatural (a soulless person, like Alexia) were continually touching everyone within a certain radius at once. Needless to say, the vampires and werewolves are rather panicked. The ghosts, unfortunately, have been exorcised, and as such have nothing to say about the matter.

As muhjah and a member of the Shadow Council, it falls under Alexia’s jurisdiction to figure out what precisely is going on; as a Bureau of Unnatural Registry officer, it is also of interest to her husband, Lord Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey and Alpha of Woolsey Pack. Several unfortunate instances compete for their attention, however—Conall is called away to his former pack of Scottish werewolves in Kingair due to the death of their Alpha; Alexia’s best friend, Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, is engaged; one of Alexia’s intolerable sisters is also engaged, causing the remaining intolerable sister to become so intolerable that Alexia’s Mama sends her to visit; and Conall has left strict instructions that Alexia go hat shopping. The hat shopping causes her to make the acquaintance of a cross-dressing French inventor named Madame Lefoux, who proceeds to follow Alexia throughout the novel—or possibly she is following Alexia’s maid, former vampire drone Angelique. It’s difficult to tell.

Alexia, Ivy, Madame Lefoux, Angelique, the intolerable sister, and Conall’s valet Tunstell (who seems to have an unfortunately requited fancy for the now-engaged Ivy) all elect to follow Conall to Scotland, after receiving intelligence that the mysterious humanization plague appears to be moving towards Kingair pack’s territory. The intelligence is courtesy of Woolsey pack Beta Professor Lyall, an unusually urbane and intellectual werewolf, and Lord Akeldama, vampire gossipmonger extraordinaire, and some of his most effective pretty-boy drones. The flight to Scotland is made via dirigible, and features a poisoning, a shoving-over-the-railing, the theft of Alexia’s journal, much melodrama between Ivy, Tunstell, and Alexia’s sister, and Alexia being entirely oblivious to Madame Lefoux’ constantly flirting with her. In short, it is all wacky hijinks, all the time.

Right up until the end, that is. After a lot of fun mystery-solving and Alexia utilizing her fabulous engadgeted steampunk parasol and everyone getting re-werewolfified and some stuff involving a mummy looted from Egypt during military service, we get hit with a surprisingly heavy cliffhanger of an ending. I am very irritated that the ebook for Blameless is on hold at the library; I want to read it NOW. (Also, I do not understand why an ebook must be put on hold.)

My biggest criticism of this book is probably the rather glossed-over way the British Empire’s continuous military campaigns are treated; while the series does a pretty good job of pointing out several social foibles of homeland Victorian England—the constricting nature of women’s fashion being one of the major targets—the Empire’s relentless expansionism and the werewolves’ military service are presented in a kind of “ah yes that thing that’s going on” kind of way—it’s a bit incidental to the story as everything takes place in England and Scotland, but nobody ever seems to make any kind of even cursorily critical comment about what business the Empire has taking over other countries anyway; it seems to be pretty universally accepted and unquestioned.
My less serious criticism is that just reading about Alexia and Conall’s marriage makes me exhausted; it’s all constant bickering and verbal sparring and incessant amorous activities. (Not to mention that I find literally everything about Conall except the accent to be the absolute antithesis of attractiveness.) But it works for them, which I suppose is the important thing. Their bickering is also quite colorful and witty, which I suppose is the important thing for the reader.

This book is to be read with tea and, if you wish for maximum effect, read it out loud in your very best British accent (except for the bits where you need a French or Scottish accent). It’s great fun, and the dialogue really shines that way—Carriger has really mastered the art of comedy-of-manners dry, snarky humor.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I don’t even remember who first told me to read Gail Carriger’s Soulless but I am sure glad they did!

Soulless is the first book in a series entitled “The Parasol Protectorate” and its subtitle/tagline is “A novel of vampires, werewolves, and parasols.” Yeah, yeah, don’t judge a book by its cover and all that but for real, somebody in the marketing department at Orbit Books knows exactly how to get my attention.

Soulless is a sort of steampunk fantasy absurdist mystery-romance-comedy of manners, written in a ludicrously correct Victorian style that I personally found hilarious, but anyone not already into That Sort of Thing might find annoyingly twee. Our heroine is Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a 25-year-old spinster with the misfortunes to have a dead father and a very silly mother and half-sisters, to be half Italian, and to have no soul.

In this particular version of Victorian London, vampires and werewolves are “out” and are respectable (mostly) members of society. As far as their current understanding of science can tell, different people have different amounts of soul, and people with enough excess soul—usually artists and actors and the like—are able to survive the transformations to werewolf or vampires. (The others just die.) Being a vampire’s drone (blood donor and servant) or a werewolf’s claviger (keeper who ensures they are properly locked up at full moon) are fairly popular if somewhat risqué lifestyles/career paths. Far more rare than persons with enough excess soul to become supernaturals are people with no soul, known as preternaturals. Alexia’s father was one, and she is as well (her living family has no idea). Being a preternatural means that Alexia can nullify the traits of supernaturals upon contact; for example, when she touches a vampire, their fangs retract into teeth; when she touches a werewolf who is at all wolfing out, they revert to entirely human.

Alexia is a bit of a bluestocking and enjoys reading, eating, going on walks, more eating, using her trusty silver-tipped buckshot-loaded brass parasol, tea, being endlessly sasstastic, and hanging out with Lord Akeldama, a cartoonishly flaming vampire who is nonetheless absolutely deadly. She also manages to get into a lot of fights with Lord Maccon, the Earl of Woolsey and head of the London werewolf pack, who seems to have had a massive grudge against her ever since an often-referenced incident involving a hedgehog.

Lord Maccon, of course, turns out to be the love interest, so that he and Alexia can sass each other endlessly, including while they are making out, leading to some of the very few makeout scenes I have ever read that I was actually thoroughly engrossed in. I am not a big one for makeout or sex scenes, generally, but the combination of absolute nonstop no matter what was going on sass and the very Victorian and analytical way they are written was actually very engaging. Alexia doesn’t really do the vague sentimental thing; or the getting lost in the moment thing; her perspective on various amorous activities is all very question-and-answer and mentally cross-referencing what’s going on with the stuff she’s read in her father’s books (her father had a rather inappropriate book collection) and generally Scientifick. Lord Maccon’s perspective is less intellectualized but still quite funny. (The POV shifts in this novel are a beast, to be honest; they shift around all over the place.)

The plot begins with Alexia being rudely attacked by a vampire at a party, and proceeds to involve vampires and werewolves disappearing, and new vampires appearing who seem to have no understanding of vampire society whatsoever, a club of scientists called the Hypocras Club, a deeply creepy automaton, and investigations by the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR).

This book, while being entirely fluffy and absurd at all times, is also extremely well-researched, and manages to sneak in quite a few critiques of Victorian England’s various social justice failings, including the insanely silly and restricting views of “appropriate” behavior and life choices for women, the overemphasis on and narrow standards of physical beauty for women (Alexia, being half Italian, is pretty much universally regarded as unmarriageably ugly by all the English humans), prejudice and stereotyping of Italians and the Scottish, restrictive sexual mores, the utter unpracticality of nineteenth-century clothing, and the danger in underestimating people just because they are outrageously campy and dress like circus ringmasters (seriously, Lord Akeldama is quite uncomfortably the Sassy Gay Dude, until shit goes down, and then… well). It’s nothing as deep or going-to-save-your-life as, say, Tamora Pierce’s stuff (plus it is not YA), but it avoids unduly glamorizing or glossing over how utterly stupid the Victorian era really was in many respects.

Overall I enjoyed this novel as much as Miss Tarabotti enjoys treacle tart; the rest of the series is definitely going on the TBR list. Highly recommended for anyone who likes absurd steampunky things (and only for people who like absurd steampunky things).


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