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)
So I was vaguely intending on only reading nonfiction from now through March but then I discovered the Bloodsucking Feminists podcast and realized I'd never read John Polidori's The Vampyre: A Tale, so of course then I went and read The Vampyre. After listening to the episode about it, because that's how I roll. (That is not how I prefer  to roll but sometimes I mess up.)

The Vampyre is best known for being one of the entries in the famous horror story contest between Polidori, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. It... didn't win. Frankenstein won, in the process basically inventing science fiction generally and the cyborg story in particular. The Vampyre is also a pretty genre-kicking-off piece of work, being one of the earliest or possibly the earliest instances of vampire prose fiction in the English language, but if you read it you will understand why Frankenstein is generally considered the winner, even with Percy Shelley's terrible copy edits.

That said, it was a pretty valuable read, I think. It's short, so despite its flaws and the extremely eighteenth-century nature of those flaws, it's not too much of a slog (unlike, say, the thousand-plus-page Varney the Vampire, which I have been avoiding reading for at least two years now).

The story itself is fairly simple. A good-natured but flighty young dandy named Aubrey is introduced into society and befriends the aristocratic Lord Ruthven, who is a cold brooding sort but very handsome, and who only hangs out with the most virtuous of women. Aubrey and Ruthven go on a trip through Europe, which was a tradition for well-born young men at the time, and during the trip Aubrey notices that the virtuous young women Aubrey hangs out with all have their reputations ruined by the time they skip town. Ruthven also gambles a lot, and while Ruthven doesn't necessarily always win, the people he's playing with all manage to lose, and to exhibit horrendous bankroll management while they're at it. Aubrey eventually grows disgusted with the trail of fallen women and busto family men with hungry children that his friend is leaving in their wake, and bounces to Greece by himself, where he develops a flirtation with an "unspoilt" (this is a term with a large number of very specific meanings when applied to young maidens in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Brit lit) young Greek maiden, who tries to warn him about vampires. But he thinks she is just being adorably quaint and superstitious, so he goes to look at some ancient ruins or something and has to walk back home through the woods in the dark, where he finds a fancy knife and also the dead body of his Greek girlfriend, who has clearly died of being bitten in the neck. Ruthven shows back up and they keep traveling together, then Ruthven is shot by bandits and dies, but first he makes Aubrey promise not to tell anyone anything about what a terrible person he is for a year and a day. Aubrey agrees, and the dead Ruthven's body mysteriously disappears.

Aubrey goes back to England where it's time for him to bring his sister out into society. At one of these society parties he espies Lord Ruthven, apparently no longer dead, and he can't say anything because he is a Man Of His Word and also he is apparently hallucinating Ruthven in his head saying "Don't you dare," which oddly is a thing that happens in the second Twilight book nearly two hundred years later. Aubrey runs away and has a fit, and spends the next several months descending further into the depths of fever, incoherence, and unspecified trauma-induced mental illness. As he gets closer to the deadline where he can finally tell people how terrible Ruthven is, he starts to feel better, and someone tells him that his sister is going to marry the Earl of Marsden, and he's happy for like ten seconds until he finds out that the Earl of Marsden is, of course, Lord Ruthven. Instead of being able to say anything, he has a stroke and his sister marries Ruthven and is promptly et, THE END. Seriously, that's the story. The vampire wins.

The storyline is entertaining enough, I suppose, but the real joy of The Vampyre lies in its epically poor pacing, wobbling unevenly through long atmospheric scenes with actual details and quotations and stuff, and passages that read more like the author's outline or synopsis for a scene rather than a scene itself. And it tends to be all the most important, exciting bits of the story that are rushed through like this, with vague, telling-not-showing sorts of descriptions that add two centuries' worth of dust on top of what are apparently some pretty action-packed chase scenes and intense histrionics. It has an amusingly Plan Nine from Outer Space-y feel to it, sometimes, with a palpable amateur earnestness that renders the clumsy wordcraft endearing.

This story, obviously, is of enormous historical importance to the development of the vampire story generally and the rise of the Byronic anti-hero character archetype in particular, and it also provides a good amount of fodder for discussion of at least two of the four pillars of British Romanticism Fuckery that my British Romanticism class focused on (race, class, gender, and imperialism--in this case, mostly gender and class, although you could have a good time deconstructing the portrayal of the Greeks a bit). For a much more thorough look into the weird gender politics of the story in particular, I strongly recommend checking out the relevant episode of Bloodsucking Feminists.
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)
It’s October, and October means it’s time for me to read at least one classic vampire novel. I bought Varney the Vampire last year, but it’s intimidatingly ginormous and I don’t have enough spare time right now, plus I don’t want to lug the stupid thing around on the T. So instead I read J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 novella Carmilla, since it is short and I had it on Kindle.

The main thing I knew about Carmilla is that it involves lesbian vampires, or at least as lesbian a vampire as you could get away with publishing in the 1870s. Which actually turned out to be pretty blatantly lesbian, unless of course you are our terribly sheltered and Victorian narratrix, who has never head of lesbians and wonders if maybe Carmilla is actually a dude in disguise like in some of the old romances she’s read, but then decides she’s not manly enough to be a dude in disguise, and is just TERRIBLY BAFFLED.

In many ways, Carmilla follows the form of the traditional Victorian vampire Gothic, taking place in a secluded old schloss somewhere in Eastern Europe. The main character is Laura, the daughter of a British expat, who lives in the aforementioned giant crumbling castle with her aforementioned father, her old nursemaid, her less-old governess, and a handful of servants who are essentially invisible. Their nearest neighbor is an old German expat who lives in the next schloss twenty miles away.

The story begins when the German neighbor’s niece, who was supposed to come visit so that Laura could have a friend her own age, has to cancel her visit because she is unexpectedly dead. However, a carriage accident on the road brings Laura another visitor instead, a sickly but beautiful young woman named Carmilla. Carmilla’s ailment is ill-defined and mysterious but appears to be some sort of chronic fatigue thing, as Carmilla sleeps for much of the day and is locked in her room all night. In traditional folklore-vampire fashion, peasants start dying, one every couple of weeks, and Laura begins having weird dreams and developing a languor similar to Carmilla’s. Much of the book is dedicated to the odd friendship that grows between Carmilla and Laura, in which Laura is mostly delighted to have a friend her own age and partially irritated with Carmilla’s refusal to talk about her life and some of her weird behavior, including her bouts of rapturous affection, which are pretty gay even by Victorian friendship standards. (Victorians had much more affectionate friendships than modern people usually do.)

The plot comes to a head with the visit of the grieving German neighbor, who thinks he has figured out what killed his niece—it was a mysterious lovely guest she’d been hosting. Then there is the usual telling of long backstories and the fun vampire-killing stuff, much as you would expect, all of which is still a great deal of fun for all that it’s been mimicked too many times to be at all surprising.

One thing I particularly liked about this story is that it’s in epistolary form, but there’s little to indicate who the letters are to, except that they are written several years afterwards, and that Laura is writing to some sort of lady who lives in a city, and so feels the need to apologize and explain a lot about what it’s like living in deep seclusion in a castle in the woods. Since I am a lady who lives in a city, this was pretty cool, as it sounded like Laura was addressing me particularly rather than like I was snooping on somebody’s letters.

One thing I liked somewhat less was that the ebook I picked up was an “illustrated” version, but instead of contemporary illustrations (which were cool; I have seen them elsewhere), they were modern photos of random Goth ladies—very pretty pictures, but that didn’t really seem to fit. But I suppose you get what you pay for when you decide to get the free ebook versions of public-domain classics.

Overall, though, Carmilla was a fun, quick read, and why the hell aren’t there more lesbian vampires? Or lady vampires at all, really—there were a lot of gay vampires back when people still cared about Anne Rice and obviously there have recently been quite a lot of broody heterosexual dude vampires, but the ladies always seem to be secondary characters. More female main vampires, please! Or perhaps I’m just reading the wrong books, in which case, will somebody point me toward the right ones?
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I believe it was last summer, shortly after Readercon, that I read the first of Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Zephyr Hollis novels, Moonshine. I liked it a lot! And yet, because my TBR list is an unwieldy monster of monstrous proportions, I just yesterday got around to reading the sequel, Wicked City, even though I’d bought the books at the same time.

Wicked City continues the adventures of Zephyr Hollis, chronically broke charity worker and activist, as she tries to find a way to break the magical bond that she accidentally established between herself and her mischevious djinn love interest, Amir, at the end of the last book. Not only is breaking the bond between a djinn and a “vessel” remarkably difficult, but her refusal to use the bond to make any wishes is causing a buildup of power that threatens to destabilize… er, something magical involving the djinni; I sort of breezed through that bit. Zephyr’s quest is continually interrupted with other crises, the main one being that over a dozen vampires have mysteriously died after drinking the vampire liquor Faust, which everyone thought had been toned down enough after the last book to not be overly dangerous. Zephyr is also under investigation by the Other vice squad for harboring an illegal child vampire, in a bargain with the Mayor of New York City to bring him the slightly deranged child vampire Nicholas, and trying to help her investigative reporter friend Lily get scoops on the mysterious vampire deaths situation. Additionally, her roommate Aileen, an Irish immigrant with a touch of “the Sight” that seems to have gotten more powerful in recent months, is running herself ragged doing fortune-tellings for the Spiritualist Society. Oh, and her daddy, the infamous vampire hunter, has gone either crazy or missing or both.

Set in a dirty, glamorously gritty Prohibition-era New York City, Wicked City is at least as much fun as the first book, although I kind of wish I’d remembered more of the plot developments in the first book; apparently they didn’t really stick with me and then the sequel was confusing at times. Zephyr is a stubborn, emotional, and ultimately likeable heroine; nearly all of the secondary characters are amusingly outrageous. I feel like the plot threads are balanced slightly better in this book than in the first one, and the book ends with a very intriguing setup for a sequel, although I don’t know if Johnson has actually written a third book in this series yet.

I don’t really have any sort of deep literary thoughts on this one, which is odd since it at least touches on basically every social issue that was around in 1920s New York, and invents some new ones. They’re all kinda… familiar to me, at this point, I guess. None of them were handled in ways that struck me as particularly terrible; neither did they provide any sort of particularly astute commentary—it was just like “It’s the twenties! Everyone is terrible to each other! That sucks; now let’s go find some illegal gin and tonics to drink until we feel better!” which is fair enough, I suppose.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I reread Holly Black's fabulous decadent vampire novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown for BSpec book club! I adored it just as much the second time around and I particularly enjoyed being able to subject book club to my long rambly opinions about the meanings and evolution of the vampire myth. The original review is here.

And don't forget this bit of very important life advice from Bela Lugosi (as portrayed by Martin Landau): "If you vant to make out with a young lady, take her to see Dracula!"
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)
The latest installment of the Bane Chronicles that I’ve picked up is Cassandra Clare’s and Maureen Johnson’s The Fall of the Hotel Dumort, sequel of sorts to The Rise of the Hotel Dumort. It is, of course, about vampires, and specifically about the vampires of New York, and even more specifically about the NY clan that is led, at various times, by Camille and Raphael, and who live in the former Hotel Dumont, now the Hotel Dumort.
The Fall of the Hotel Dumort takes place in the seventies, which surprised me initially, because the vampires are still living in the hotel for decades afterwards, but I guess that’s vampires for you. We get a lot of Stuff About New York In The Seventies (another trend in Bane Chronicles authorship: the Maureen Johnson ones seem to be more… historically grounded? Like, they all tie into or at least reference the important historical events going on at the time, which follows in an esteemed tradition in fantasy of using immortal characters to Explore Interesting Time Periods. I am a huge sucker for this tradition), like that it totally sucked; nobody was picking up the garbage and the Son of Sam was murdering people in the face all the time and everyone was on coke.
This story is largely about cocaine. While it does involve some fairly serious discussion about addiction, it avoids after-school-specialness by largely being about vampires on coke. Now, vampires can’t actually do coke… but they can feed on people who are on coke, and then apparently all hell breaks loose, even by vampire standards.
One of the things I like about the vampires in the Shadowhunter world is that, while in most aspects they fit the modern literary vampire mold of being elegant, fashionable, worldly, usually well-travelled, seductive, etc. etc., they are also often really gross. From all accounts they seem to eat very messily, and they tend to live like the craziest, most dysfunctional kinds of rock stars, moving into lavish expensive apartments and completely trashing them, somehow miraculously managing to keep super stylin’ wardrobes at all times despite housing themselves and therefore, presumably, their clothes in utter squalor. Apparently the squalor and trashing-of-the-places gets ten times worse when all the vampires are on drugs.
This story is tense, with Magnus and a bunch of werewolves trying to rein in the vampires before the Shadowhunters realize how out of control they’ve gotten and taking care of it in their Shadowhuntery way; within that, Magnus, who still cares about Camille even though they’ve been broken  up for like a hundred years, tries to reason with Camille and get her to dry herself and her clan out, while the werewolves play bad cop and basically say that it’s war if the vampires don’t shape up pronto. The last chance for the vampires happens during the New York City blackout of 1977, where the widespread arson is used to cover up the last and most brutal spate of coked-up-vampire murders.
Overall, it was much more serious than I would have expected a story about “Magnus Bane and coked-out vampires” to be,  but that is probably a good thing. Not as tightly plotted as some of the other Maureen Johnson co-authored Bane Chronicles stories, but a good story all the same.
PS I am glad I did not live in New York City in the seventies; it sounds terrible.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I have been into vampires for a very long time. I started reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in eighth grade, which is way too young to be reading anything other than the first book in that series and I think it may have screwed me up for several years. I read horror vampire novels and paranormal romance vampire novels and ~classic~ vampire novels like Dracula, and I watched old terrible old vampire movies and terrible new vampire movies and parodies of vampire movies and this Eddie Izzard clip:



And then I read books on vampire folklore and the science and history behind vampire legends, from Father Montague Summers’ dense, old-world demonologies to Paul Barber’s gross but eminently readable Vampires, Burial, and Death.

In tenth grade I wrote a research paper on the development of the vampire in stories, noting their periodic booms in mainstream popularity, and I wondered if the next vampire revival would happen in my lifetime. It happened just a few years later, kicking into high gear sometime around my sophomore year in college.

(Overall this has made me as happy as a vampire in a Red Cross donation facility, although I would like to rant for a moment: it is tiresome as shit when people insist on comparing every single fucking vampire story ever directly to Twilight, immediately, as if there are only two, monolithic kinds of vampire story, Twilights and anti-Twilights. The two fastest ways to turn me off a vampire story are to promise me it’s just like Twilight, and to promise me it’s nothing like Twilight. If you’re too stupid to even tell me about the story you are supposedly telling me about, I’m not taking your book recommendations. And if Twilight is your only fucking reference point for vampire stories, you don’t know enough about vampire stories to be telling me anything about vampire stories.)

The point here is, I have read A LOT of vampire stories. So I was very, very excited to learn that Holly Black, fabulous modern Gothic YA writer extraordinaire, was writing a vampire story, because if there’s anyone I would trust to write an absolutely awesome one, it would be Holly Black. I got a gorgeous little “teaser” of it last year at her book signing with Libba Bray and Sarah Rees Brennan, when she read to us from the first chapter of what was at the time her work-in-progress, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. In this snippet, a girl named Tana wakes up in a bathtub after a party, and finds out that everyone else in the house is dead.

Then I spent a year anxiously keeping an eye on all the news for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown—release dates, cover art, etc. And the book signing tour. The book signing tour included an event at the Cambridge Public Library, two days after the book’s release. I went with a bunch of people from my writing group, and we listened to Holly Black talk to us about how she almost didn’t write the book because she wondered if it was really a good time for another vampire story (thankfully, she concluded that it is ALWAYS a good time for another vampire story), and how she used to pretend her Barbies were good vampire Barbies who could defend her from the evil non-Barbie vampires outside, and all the different vampire stories in varying degrees of melodramatic trashiness that she read when she was younger—Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Les Daniels. (I had somehow never heard of Les Daniels but it sounds like I ought to go check him out IMMEDIATELY.)  I also got a shiny signed book!

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is every bit as awesome as I would expect from Holly Black. Like her other YA books, it draws heavily on old stories—and you can tell she really knows her stuff—but it’s also thoroughly contemporary.

The thing that really intrigued me about the worldbuilding in this book was that the development of vampires in society is basically backwards from the way the idea of the vampire has developed through time. In old vampire legends, vampirism was usually a plague—a vampire would be created in a town or village, and it would come back at night and feed off of other townspeople and turn them into vampires, and if you didn’t dig up and kill all the vampires quickly, the next thing you knew, the whole town would be dead. As the vampire moved from a folklore monster into a literary one, and the world moved forward, getting smaller and smaller so it became harder to explain how a creature could hide if it caused mass death like that, and as our fear of plagues dwindled and newer, more modern fears took its place—fear of venereal disease, fear of loneliness and alienation, fear of the world changing too fast, and, in the case of heterosexual women living in a patriarchal society, fear of being attracted to predatory beings with power over you—the vampire became a figure that hid, that went to great lengths to space out the deaths it caused, or make them unsuspicious or unmemorable; in the most modern incarnations, even to feed without killing.

In Holly Black's world, the vampires used to be like that—hidden, nearly unknown. They kept their numbers carefully low so that they wouldn’t come into public view. They had a tightly controlled hierarchical secret governance thing. The process for making new vampires involved the progeny drinking its maker’s blood. It was all very twentieth-century-vampire-novel-y.

Then, about ten years before the book opens… vampirism went viral. A baby vamp with no idea what he was doing went around biting people without killing them. These people would then go Cold—basically, they had an infection that made them crave human blood. It took almost three months for the infection to wear off. If they actually drink human blood in that time, when they’re infected, they turn into vampires. (Weaker vampires than ones that had been fed a vampire’s blood before their full transformation, but still vampires.) In this way, vampirism came into public knowledge, and became a widespread, deadly plague—like in the old vampire folk legends.

The areas with the worst outbreaks were quarantined and walled up. These quarantine cities were called Coldtowns, and the first, biggest, and most famous of them was in what used to be Springfield, Massachusetts. Outside of the Coldtowns, vampires were hunted, and if they were caught, were either killed or sent to Coldtown. Infected humans would be sent to Coldtown if they were found out by law enforcement. Inside the Coldtowns, vampires hunted freely, preying on the population of humans walled in with them, and the seemingly endless supply of humans who voluntarily migrated to the Coldtowns, hoping to get turned into vampires. They also threw ridiculously decadent parties, and filmed them, and put them online. Some vampires basically became reality TV stars.

The most famous reality TV star Coldtown vampires is Lucien Morales, who fits into the fine tradition of batshit crazy, spotlight-hugging blond vampires who revel in being vampires, like Eric from the Sookie Stackhouse books and Lestat in the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles (alright, so Lestat goes through phases of reveling and being broody/guilty, but he’s introduced as a reveler), and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer—that is the Blond vampire archetype, and Lucien is a Blond. Holly Black describes him as “slick” and having “a face like a pre-Raphaelite painting,” although I’m not sure what that second part means, as I tried Googling “pre-Raphaelite paintings” and they are 99.9% pictures of ladies, but at any rate, there is a fine old tradition of describing vampires by what school of art they look like they belong to, so I’m going to go with it. Lucien throws the bangin’est parties in Coldtown, and he’s batshit nuts, but very charming.

In an interesting break with tradition, the Dark vampire character is even more batshit crazy than Lucien! The Dark vampire is the brunet male vampire who is the love interest and has more of the broody/guilty/missing-his-humanity thing going on. Bill Compton, Louis du Point du Lac, Angel, and Matthew Clairmont are all Darks. The Dark and the Blond are sometimes friends and sometimes enemies, but usually it’s more complicated than that; they are invariable foils for each other. In this book, they are actually described as “frenemies.” Our Dark is named Gavriel, there are about five different plot twists involving reveals of various aspects of his identity throughout the story, and he is actually mad, as in, he’s been tortured so badly that his mind is sort of fragmented, and he says and does a lot of really weird stuff, because staying coherent is very taxing for him. He is an amazing character.

Our main human girl is a high school student named Tana. When Tana was little, her mother went Cold and attacked her, and her father had to kill her mother. Tana now lives with her little sister Pearl and her extremely depressed father. As mentioned earlier, one day, she goes to a party, and wakes up in the bathtub, and everybody is dead—except for her amazingly obnoxious attention-whoring jerkface ex-boyfriend, Aiden, who is infected and quickly going Cold, and the vampire Gavriel, who is chained up and apparently being hunted by other vampires. Tana is almost-maybe-bitten by one of the other vampires in the process of getting them all out of the house, and doesn’t know if she’s infected or not. The three of the head towards Coldtown, where they pick up a brother-and-sister pair of blue-haired teenagers who go by the names Midnight and Winter, and are seeking to get turned into vampires. When they get into Coldtown, things start to get even more out of control.

The pacing in this story is a little odd in terms of page count—they don’t even get to Coldtown until nearly halfway through the book; what the real plotline is going to be—who is the bad guy and why, what is the evil plan they have to stop, etc.—doesn’t become clear until pretty late in the book—but it doesn’t feel weirdly paced when reading it. The story is deeply rooted in the idea of decadence that permeates so many of the older Gothic novels: much of Coldtown is falling apart, post-apocalyptic, insufficiently maintained since the walls went up ten years ago and with a death rate much higher than that of anywhere in the civilized outside world. It’s also bloody as all get-out: although this is a teen book, I think if they made it into a movie, it would be so far into an R rating that it couldn’t be marketed as a teen movie.

The major moral theme in this story is, as Gavriel puts it, the sin of mercy. I found this both fascinating and unexpected, because one of the more frequently-used endeepening subjects of the modern vampire novel is that killing is always inherently bad, and therefore the good vampires feel guilty about this, and they can take steps to try and mitigate it (only killing bad people like murderers and child molestors, etc.), but it’s still bad. Wrestling with whether acting as a vigilante rather than just giving in and eating babies is enough to make one good or if that’s all just rationalization is a classic way to give vampires, and particularly Darks, moral depth. Even Twilight sort of gets into this, with Edward having a broody confessional fit about how he ate a serial killer once in the twenties and that’s why he’s a monster and Bella shouldn’t be with him, and Bella is like “Who cares, you probably saved lives actually” and Edward’s like “It’s nice of you to say that but NO I AM TERRIBLE” and there’s really no follow-up to that, it’s just part of their eternal difference of opinion about which one of them sucks and which one of them is perfection incarnate.

In The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the idea is that doing the right thing can be hard, and sometimes this is because you are not a sociopath who enjoys killing people, therefore killing someone might be hard, but sometimes killing is the right thing to do. Holly Black takes the old Catholic idea that infects so much of Western culture about worrying about the purity of your own soul over paying attention to the actual consequences of your actions, and throws it out the window, then jumps out the window after it and stomps it into the dirt. There some science talk about accumulated toxins, but mostly, there are a lot of cases in which some entity or other is goddamn dangerous to others and is better off removed from the picture. Tana’s big moral quandaries tend to be variants on: Can she kill without hesitation if she has to? Can she resist the temptation to take pity on the concrete, begging entity immediately in front of her, and save the lives of the nebulous, faceless, not-present, other people that will die if the danger isn’t removed? When is saving somebody a good idea, and when is it stupid? The trouble at the core of the plot all started with one act of badly judged mercy. I found this line of thought particularly interesting because there are a number of really manipulative characters here, most obviously Aidan and Lucien, and it reminded me of discussions over at Captain Awkward about how manipulative people are able to get smart, nice, good people into bad situations by playing directly on their good qualities—loyalty, sympathy, empathy, niceness, sense of fairness, desire to help, desire for inclusiveness, etc.—and the only way to get out of or defend yourself from these kinds of people is to develop the ability to put your good impulses on hold.

There is also a bunch of stuff about reality TV and the romanticization of vampires and death and violence and all that. Particularly involving Midnight the blue-haired runaway, and twelve-year-old Pearl, who likes watching both Coldtown feeds and vampire-hunting shows.

If any of this makes it sound like this book is a deep philosophical meditation on moral quandaries… don’t worry, it mostly isn’t. There some thought-provoking themes there, at least if you find the same stuff thought-provoking that I do, but mostly the book is a fast-paced, decadent, bloody adventure. A lot of authors have been trying to modernize the vampire story lately, the way Anne Rice did in the eighties, but Holly Black has officially succeeded in reinventing the vampire story for the early twenty-first century. I mean, there are gifs. Gifs!

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bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So far, Saving Raphael Santiago may be my favorite installment of the Bane Chronicles.

In this one, Magnus, styling himself as a private eye sometime in the fifties, gets an assignment from a woman who says that her son disappeared when he went off with his gang to hunt vampires, and she wants Magnus to find him and save him. Magnus finds the boy, who has already been turned into a vampire and is really unhappy about it (ß that is what we literary types call understatement), and helps him train to control his vampire weaknesses (allergy to religion, etc.) enough to fool his mother into thinking he’s human.

Once I pulled my head out of my arse and remembered what joke goes with what story, I was able to have Thoughts on this story, and my Thoughts are that so far this is the best balance of for-realz story and funny jokes. It has a solid plot, and is well structured and well paced, and it gives us some very insightful background into a character we are already familiar with—it doesn’t leave us at loose ends, since we pretty much know what happens to Raphael in the next fifty years or so. The bits about Guadaloupe’s fear for her son and Raphael’s absolute determination to see his mother again—and to hide her transformation from him—are poignant. The ending is sweet in a fucked-up way, as Raphael returns to his family and successfully fools them into thinking he’s alive with an enormous pack of lies.

However, this story also doesn’t give up on pure Magnus hilarity. The opening paragraphs, about Magnus’ decision to become a private eye, are perfection; and the dynamic between Magnus and Raphael—who are both enormously judgy in polar opposite ways—is wittily antagonistic. Things get even funnier when the green, ever-cranky warlock Ragnor Fell shows up, and strikes up a sort of friendship with Raphael that seems to consist entirely of bonding over making fun of Magnus. Magnus does not appreciate this. Everyone’s banter and snotty comments are as fabulous as Magnus’ wardrobe. There are a lot of allusions to things that happen in the future—at one point, Magnus vows that as soon as he’s rid of Raphael he is going to get a cat and throw it a birthday party every year—and some adorable drunk vampires that Raphael speechifies at.

Overall, both Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan are in very good form in this one.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I done fallen behind in my Bane Chronicles reading! But yesterday I finally was able to read The Rise of the Hotel Dumort, which I had purchased immediately prior to my Kindle shitting the bed.

This one is by Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson, whose stuff I still really need to get around to reading. It is a properly structured short story, rather than a set of vignettes or a weird prologuey thing, taking place at the tail end of the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan. Magnus has been taking a well-deserved break from Downworlder politics and is having a grand old time running a speakeasy, because of course. This all goes swimmingly until Magnus gets a visit from the police, who smash up his bar, and also a visit from a little flapper vampire, who tells him something vaguely portentous, and then a third visit, this time from a batty, ancient warlock who is also saying vaguely portentous things.

Magnus, attempting to get away from all the random people crashing at his hotel room now that he doesn’t have a bar anymore, investigates, and discovers that the batty old warlock is holed up in the shiny new Hotel Dumont, where he entertains some rich mundanes who are trying to summon a demon or something ill-advised like that. It is around this time that the stock market crashes and all the mundanes freak out, and also when the demons show up, and therefore the Shadowhunters as well, and there is general mass chaos and panic. It’s fun.

This installment stood alone better than the last one, and while it wasn’t quite as funny as some of the others, it still had a fair amount of Magnus being Magnus, and his dry, judgmental commentary on everything fills my decadent Gothy heart with glee, as always. The story kicks off with some jokes about Magnus deciding to become a private eye, and I am not sure the rest of the jokes ever quite top the opening two or three paragraphs, but that is okay, as they are quite excellent paragraphs. EDIT: This is the next Bane Chronicles story. That's what I get for reading them both in one sitting. Jesus, I have not misremembered something I've read this badly since I forgot about Nick going shirtless in The Demon's Lexicon. What is happening to my close reading skillz?! Anyway, if I am not still totally misremembering, I think this means that this installment is generally just more serious and its humor is much more dry and understated than some of the other ones.

It was also fun to read this in a fancy historic hotel and I think if I ever get around to writing an urban fantasy something, 88 Exeter Street will have to feature in it prominently.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
More cool stuff from my People I Saw At Readercon list! I will be doing this for a long time, y’all.

Anyway, the people in question is Alaya Dawn Johnson, who I saw speak on… uh… four panels, I think, but who I was not able to meet in person, which is a bummer, because she was pretty awesome on all her panels. Her newest book, and first YA book, is The Summer Prince, which I was sort of intending to buy until I saw she wrote vampire books as well, so I bought those instead for now, because I am predictable. (I fully intend to read The Summer Prince too, hopefully sooner rather than later; I have heard nothing but good things about it.)

Moonshine takes place in Prohibition-era Manhattan, which is always a fun time, in a universe where vampires and various other forms of nonhumans, known as “Others”, are openly known to exist, but generally denied most rights like the vote and a living wage. Our protagonist is Zephyr Hollis, a night school teacher for immigrants and Others and chronic social-justice activist—often to the detriment of her own health—and the daughter of a famous Other-hunter from Montana. The plot happens when Zephyr, short on money, agrees to find notorious mob boss, bootlegger, and suspected vampire Rinaldo, for a very handsome Other of unspecified kind named Amir, who is one of her night school students. Amir turns out to be a djinn, and the main love interest, which is pretty cool; I don’t believe I’ve ever read a djinn romance before.

Secondary characters include a just-turned vampire boy named Judah with no memory of who he was before he was turned, Amir’s ponderously djinn-y older brother, a gang of teenage mobster vampires called the Turn Boys, Zephyr’s Irish roommate Aileen who may or may not be a Seer, and a lady reporter called Lily who is (a) a fabulous lady reporter and (b) also kind of an upper-class twit at the same time. Lily is possibly the most interesting character, to me. Amir is somewhat less so; the djinn thing is cool and it is nice to have a mixed-race lead couple (Amir is clearly Arab when he is not a pillar of smoke, apparently), but he’s kind of got the “feckless bad boy” thing going on and generally I don’t care that much about his personality.

The plot gets plottier when a new street drug made from cloned pig’s blood and ergot hits the streets, resulting in a rash of blood-mad, drugged-up vampires running around doing stupid things like mobbing the blood bank and staying out past daybreak. Rinaldo is trafficking the drug, so figuring out the drug situations becomes important for finding Rinaldo. Also, Zephyr’s bigoted Other-hunting daddy shows up with a contract on the Turn Boys, at this point Zephyr’s most important sources of information, so then there is family conflict and daddy issues and stuff.

This book may not have been a deep work of literature but it was a ton of fun, and it was aware of and sensitive to both the social issues of the 1920s and with the current issues about diversity in fantasy, and seriously GANGSTER VAMPIRES IN PROHIBITION NEW YORK WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT.
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).
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So, the third Bane Chronicles story came out, and I forgot to review it, because I am a genius like that. I read it a few weeks ago, while in the middle of reading Snuff, so we'll see what I remember.

Vampires, Scones, and Edmund Herondale is the third installment of the Bane Chronicles, by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. In this one, Magnus is in London for the negotiations surrounding the Accords, the peace treaty between the Shadowhunters and the Downworlders. Magnus is bored by the treaties, annoyed at the condescension from the Shadowhunters, and makes lots of fabulous snarky comments about how stuck up they are. He also meets the lovely vampire Camille Belcourt, who is one of my favorite characters in the novels.

Besides the Accords stuff and the beginnings of Magnus' romance with Camille, the main plotline in this novella concerns Magnus befriending and going out clubbing (nineteenth-century style) with a young Shadowhunter named Edmund Herondale. Edmund is blond and handsome and likes excitement and gambling. He saves a lovely Welsh lady from a demon (while heavily intoxicated); when the lady takes it all very much in stride because, despite being a "mundane", she is a badass, Edmund falls in love with her.

So, Magnus' flirting with the lovely blonde Camille Belcourt covers the "Vampires" part of the title, and his hijiinks-ridden brief friendship and subsequent Deep Thoughts about the lovely blond Edmund Herondale cover the "Edmund Herondale" part, but where, you may be asking, do the scones fit into it? Basically, the scones are a running joke in which the only Shadowhunter who seems to be making any effort at all not to totally offend the Downworlders keeps breaking up the most awkward moments by offering tea and scones. The scones, apparently, are quite good. Even the mermaid liked them.

Overall, I do feel like the story itself, while having some interesting things to say about interspecies bigotry and the downsides of institutions that put a higher premium on duty than anything else, largely serves as a vehicle for jokes, which is something I am A-OK with in shorter pieces (my definition of a shorter piece being something that can be read, viewed, or performed in under three hours). The jokes are very good, even the ones that are not all that original are played really well (there's an instance of the old "Awesome Thing X doesn't fall out of the sky!" *X falls out of sky* "...Even More Awesome Thing Y doesn't fall out of the sky!" bit in there; I generally think that one's always funny but this was particularly so), and it's fun to play Guess Which Joke Is Cassie's And Which Is Sarah's (well, it's fun if you don't care that you'll never find out the answers). I would list more of my favorite jokes but since I feel like the point of the piece is jokes, they would all be spoilers. I will note that I think one joke is lifted directly from the Hunger Games; I do hope this was done purposely as an allusion/pop culture reference, and will assume that it was, since it is a very well-known line.

Anyway: Yay Magnus!
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
So, when I heard that there was a steampunk prequel trilogy to the Mortal Instruments series, my initial reaction was roughly what any sane person's reaction is to the phrase "prequel trilogy"--"AHAHAHAHA THAT'S GOING TO SUCK." Then I heard that it was actually quite good, and I was curious. So then I decided to actually read what is known as the Infernal Devices series, which is going to be a trilogy but is currently only two books, Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince.

Verdict: So far, not sucky! Series successfully combines all our favorite stuff about Shadowhunters with Victorian period goodness and some funky robots. Plus, lots of references to awesome Victorian novels, including ones that were super popular in the day but are not necessarily still household names to anybody except English students with a particular interest in Gothic novels and/or Victorian literature! (Yet another way that pretty much every other YA fantasy novel currently available is superior to Twilight. But I digress.)

My biggest complaint about this series is that it parallels The Mortal Instruments a little too closely. ...Okay, at times, way too closely. There are reasons that many of the less original tropes used in this series are classics, but still.

Our main character is Tessa Gray, the Unlikely Hero Who Thinks She Is Normal But Turns Out Not To Be. Tessa's parents are tragically dead (duh). When Tessa migrates to England to live with her brother Nathaniel, she is instead kidnapped by two warlocks called the Dark Sisters and mercilessly trained in the use of a power she didn't know she had--when she touches people's personal objects, she can shape-shift into them, and has access to their thoughts and memories. She escapes from the Dark Sisters with the help of two teenage Shadowhunters named Jem and Will. Jem and Will are parabatai, which of course means that they are Pretty Much Opposites In Every Way. Jem is the nice one. Will is a classic "Jackass on the Outside, Pile of Miserable Feelings Due To Tragic Backstory on the Inside" epic-romance love interest. Jem and Will actually both have tragic backstories, and I will say that at least their tragic backstories are pretty non-cliche! (In fact, Will's rather weird Tragic Backstory is as such that I think he will not end up with Tessa until he actually stops being an asshole, even on the outside. So that may be a plus.) Shortly after we meet Will he makes an awesome joke about Lady Audley's Secret and for that alone I like him slightly better than Jace.

Tessa hides out with the London Institute of Shadowhunters, which is run by an awesome lady named Charlotte and her goofy inventor husband Henry, although mostly Charlotte. There is a buttload of Shadowhunter politicking, this time with extra Victorian sexism. Poor Charlotte. They keep getting attacked by robots that are apparently being made by someone called The Magister who we don't know anything about except that he runs a sketchy club for Downworlders and stupid rich mundanes called The Pandemonium Club, and also that he wants to marry Tessa, presumably so that he can control her power. Tessa wants to find out what the hell her Tragic Backstory really is and if she is a human or a warlock or what, and also rescue her useless brother. There is an obligatory love triangle between Tessa and Jem and Will. Tessa makes fun of The Castle of Otranto. Magnus Bane shows up again, which is pretty much the best thing in the series, because Magnus Bane is more awesome than everything.

PS Magnus Bane is getting his own stories soon, yay! Sarah Rees Brennan will be helping write them, DOUBLE YAY!

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