Blameless

Blameless by Gail Carriger

The Parasol Protectorate has become my new favorite series. I’ve said it before–I’ve steered clear of series books for a while, but I am completely taken with these. If I had to describe them in a sentence, I would say they are: Supernatural Victorian steampunk comedy romance with a dash of mystery and parasol proddings.

I’m sure my b-chan thinks I’ve become a bit barmy over this series 😛 , but even he has been intrigued by my willingness to drive for miles because I must have the next book now! (woe is me… the next part won’t be released until July 2011! It’s HP-type anticipation all over again.)

One of the things that I love about this series (and there are lots of things that I love about this series) is that while it is a supernatural steampunk romance, it is so much more than the sum of its parts. I like the idea of steampunk (I’m a techie, I’m a Victorian geek, steampunk just fits), but I’ve had trouble finishing some works because it seems like the author gets off on explaining how whatever gadget/contraption/element of society works, rather than developing plot and characters. I’ve not had this problem with Carriger’s series. From the Loontwills’ upper-class-twittery to Floote’s taciturn loyalty, Alexia & Co. arrive on the scene fully formed and armed with witty repartee.

These books make me laugh, and that’s not something that often happens when I read. I may be amused, but I don’t often get a fit of the giggles while reading at the uni’s library and/or coffee shop, thereby earning me evil glares from high-strung undergrads.

I’ll end this ramble here…

To avoid being Spoilerific, I’ve placed my synopsis under the cut tag… so read on if you don’t mind a few teensy spoilers.

Avast! There be SPOILERS ahead!

Continue reading

Changeless

Changeless by Gail Carriger

I generally try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but it can’t be helped when reviewing a series like The Parasol Protectorate… one book leads to another, so details are bound to be revealed that might spoil some readers. So this is a great, big SPOILER WARNING!

For those readers wishing to avoid spoilers, I will say that this has become my new favorite series, which is saying a lot as I tend to avoid series books in general unless they are complete… I am waiting for the next book with intense anticipation and feel thoroughly vexed at not being able to have more, more, now, now! Alexia is a wonderfully snarky character, and I love the supernatural elements in Carriger’s London–undead they may be, but they are entirely fresh and original.

Hark! There be SPOILERS AHEAD! Retreat now if you must!

Otherwise, proceed…

Soulless

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti, half-Italian, on-the-shelf, and soulless, finds she is under no obligation to observe all the niceties of Victorian society, so why should she hesitate to order tea in another’s home when a proper tea is not forthcoming? Never did she imagine that something as simple as a request for tea and treacle tart could lead to her becoming involved in unraveling a mysterious plot that threatens the order of Britain’s supernatural citizens. Or that she would suddenly find herself  in the company of alluring, Scottish, and infinitely infuriating Lord Maccon, Alpha werewolf and BUR agent. Vampires! Werewolves! and Deadly Creatures! abound, but Alexia is ready for them with her trusty, silver-tipped parasol.

After the surge in trendy vampire fiction, I experienced what I have termed vampire fatigue–a curious condition sparked by exposure to too many black, red, and white jacketed, Twilight-esque books, leading to much scoffing and arguing on the merits (or lack thereof) of damsel in distress heroines and their pretty-boy vampire counterparts. Oh yes, it brings out the worst of my snobby book reviewer personalities.

Soulless is not one of those books. I love Victorian-inspired fiction. The Victorians have always been my favorites, and those who know me put up with plenty of Victorianisms on my part. When I first saw a post on Soulless, I knew I wanted to read it–spinsters, vampires, and werewolves in a Steampunky, alternate Victorian London? Yep, my kind of story.

In many ways, Soulless reminded me of what I loved best about Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery and Cecilia books–witty banter and a no-nonsense heroine who defies convention. It was a fun romp, and I instantly wanted to grab a copy of Changeless, the second in the series. I’ve avoided series for a while, but I’m looking forward to following this one :).

The Belly of the Whale

Worlds collide aboard the Darwinist airship, Leviathan, a whale-like mashup of species fueled by the hydrogen produced in the beast’s innards. When Deryn Sharp decides to disguise herself as a boy and join the air service, she never expects that she will be drawn into the middle of a political battle. Joining the ranks as Dylan, she works hard to make sure she earns her place in the air. Meanwhile, young Alek, the disenfranchised heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire finds himself in a dangerous position, on the run to avoid becoming embroiled in a battle between the nations of Europe. A chance encounter brings these two together. Can a pair of Clankers and Darwinists work together to survive?

I so wanted to like this book. I was so excited when I first saw the book trailer and when I went to the author event at Books and Books, but while I found the concept intriguing, I just did not find myself caring for the characters or the retro-futuristic Steampunk Europe of the Clankers and the Darwinists.

Like I said, I wanted to enjoy this book, but there were certain elements that just turned me off the story. One was the idea of fabricated animals as weapons and vehicles. In theory, the concept sounded interesting, and the image that Westerfeld portrayed during his lecture was equally so, but reading about imaginary creatures being made to transport people into battle seemed unnecessarily cruel to me. I realize, yes, that horses and other animals were obviously driven into battle in the past, but the distinction between Darwinists and Clankers is specifically that they choose to fabricate creatures to perform these roles. The whale-thing is essentially an airship and that is it; that Deryn describes the creature as an intelligent being that knows what to do in order to serve its crew only adds to my inability to side with the Darwinists’ views on the rationality of choosing animals over machines as their main source of artillery and transport. Alek calls the fabrications “godless” several times in the novel; they’re the sort of creatures you would expect in a sci-fi B-movie about DNA experimentation gone wrong. I can’t explain it very well, but this whole scenario just didn’t seem quite right to me.

Another thing that bothered me about the story was the need to turn write Deryn as a girl. I generally like novels about girls who do things and dress up as boys and go to battle, but there is nothing to hide about Deryn so far as I can tell. Other than the few instances where some reference is made to her sex–Deryn pretends to shave, or Deryn must make sure the medics never disrobe her–Deryn could very well be a boy. Of course, it would throw a wrench into the very obvious feelings she seems to be developing for Alek, but it just seemed a bit gimmicky to me, like an effort to attract girls to the book.

And lastly, the illustrations. The images are wonderful, but the depictions of Deryn and Alek really do affect my interpretation of their characters. At first, I thought Alek was about 10 or 11; he seems so small and young. Turns out he’s 15. Then there’s Deryn, who I could not help but compare to Draco Malfoy, she always seems to be sneering in the illustrations; it might have added to my inability to really like her as a character.

I am not saying I did not enjoy the book at all–it certainly had its moments–but I don’t think I care enough about the story to read the next two installments in the series.

What a [Steam]punk

Scott Westerfeld came to Books & Books on Sunday afternoon to promote the first book in his new steampunk trilogy, Leviathan.

I have yet to read the Uglies series, though it has been on my “I will get around to it one day” list for a while, but after reading a blurb for Leviathan and seeing the wonderful book trailer, I knew I wanted to get to this one soon.

When I learned that Westerfeld was going to be making an appearance, I bought a copy and marked it down on my calendar.

The event was one of the most interesting ones I have attended, and they’ve had some interesting YA events. Mr. Westerfeld of the steampunk masterpiece presented a highly entertaining lecture on the history of illustrations in books and the idea of emergent technologies at the turn of the century… and deadly dart pooping birds. He was funny and informative and the images, many of which will be published in the companion guide to the series, were amazing.

Here are some pictures from the event (click to enlarge):

Leviathan cometh

Scott Westerfield is going to be reading from Leviathan at Books & Books this Sunday at 6 pm. I so want to go! I’ve never read Westerfield’s novels, but this book has really sparked my interest. Steampunk and a girl a disguised as a boy, this is definitely a book to add to my “to read” list.

If I get to go to the event, I’ll post pictures and such :).