Victorian Addams Family? Yes, please!

Okay, I was just looking for something new to read, when I saw these two book covers and had to take a look. These are the first two (for there does seem to be more on the way. Charlotte E. English appears to be very prodigious) of the House of Werth series. The best way I can describe them is Victorian Addams Family. Yes, really.

The series revolves around Augusta “Gussie” Werth, as we’re introduced to her in Wyrde and Wayward. I have mentally pronounced that first word “weird” and not “word”, but I could be wrong. The Wyrde, in this case, is some sort of supernatural happening that occurs to people in general in this world, but to the Werth family more than most. And they embrace it lovingly, very much like the Addams Family.

Gussie, as we are introduced, is the only Werth in living memory to not get a Wyrde on her third birthday, when Werths traditionally get Wyrded. Examples of Wyrdes are her aunt who can control ice (and occasionally turns into an ice statue), her cousin who is a vampire who eats only rabbits (It just wouldn’t be done to savage the lovely, pale neck of some delicate lady) and her great, great uncle Sylvester who haunts a cathedral grotesque.

The action starts off when Gussie gets kidnapped by an old friend of her aunt (and, as per some sort of tradition with steampunk/Victorian writers, both of her parents are quite dead and her sister married off already) and whisked away to the sumptuous and slightly sinister Starminster, home of Lord Maundevyle (yes, the unmarried Lord Maundevyle) and his weird ass family. Much to his chagrin, because he had no idea that they had kidnapped the poor girl. They, too, are very Addams like, only they haven’t been Wyrded in ages.

Which brings us to why they kidnapped Gussie. Unbeknownest to her, she is not un-Wyrded. Her Wyrde is the bring on the Wyrde in those who have only a dormant Wyrde. Think of it kind of like Magneto’s contraption in X-Men, only without the unfortunate watery collapse. That being said, in the middle of a ball, she accidentally turns poor Lord Maundevyle into a dragon.

Surprised and not the least bit put out, Lord Maundevyle escapes, carrying Gussie away with him and to…a cave. Yes, I know, dragons, virgins and caves. All very cliche, but I think deliberately so here.

When Gussie figures out it was she who triggered the change, she grows very upset with her Aunt Werth, whom apparently long suspected Gussie’s hidden Wyrde, but never spoke to her about it. It takes a long time and an old family ritual, but eventually Lord Maundevyle learns to control his bedragoned state and switch between that and his human.

Book the second, Wyrde and Wicked follows closely on the heels of the first and concerns Gussie and her family (and the occasionally dragoned Lord Maundevyle) tracking some very demonic books, one of which belongs to her family. Shenanigans are rife on the ground, including dragon sized créme anglaise, raising the occasional dead family member and talk of engagements.

I can’t impress upon you enough: If you like steampunk/Victorian novels and the Addams Family, you will probably love this series. I’m still trying to make up my mind on whether or not I actually like the character of Gussie though. I feel she’s a bit of an idiot. There’s something to be said for dashing off where angels fear to tread, but it feels like she learns nothing at all.

That said, I will be reading the rest of the books when they’re released. I did so enjoy them. They’re quick reads too, so if you need something a little on the lighter side given the current atmosphere, I’d pick these up. Rating: B+. Not quite up to Gail Carriger’s humorous steampunk writing, but enjoyable all the same.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Courtesy of jim-butcher.comOne of my all time favorite authors wrote a steampunk story. I fan girled. I got to meet him and get an autographed copy of said book. I fan girled. Then I read the book…and I sighed. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass.

It isn’t what I would properly call steampunk. It had a lot of the same themes as steampunk: a highly stratified society, aeroships, aether, copper/brass doohickies. It was not clear whether this was some sort of alternate earth time line or some alternate planet. A no point were any recognizable human countries from the Victorian age mentioned.

All humans, and cats, live in these giant Borg cubes (and yes, that is straight from the horse’s mouth) called Spires. They are 10,000 feet high by two miles wide. Each level in the cube is 50 feet in height and referred to as a habble. The top habble occupied mostly by the top families, who are rather like the English nobility.

The main power source seems to be crystals rather than steam, which I thought was cool and not nearly as noisy. It doesn’t seem like women are at all treated like arm candy, which is pretty opposite of Victorian England, you must admit.

Cats can communicate, but only if the human is “smart” enough to realize that they’re talking. They’re also assholes but…so are real cats. There is also a caste (not really a caste system but the best word I can come up with at the moment) of humans called warriorborn. From what I can tell, they’re some sort of half-human, half-cat like creature as cats call them half-souls.

I think my favorite characters are the ethrealists, which are mad to a one. And by mad I mean Mad Hatter sort of mad.  They’re powerful but doofy. Master Ferus, one of the ethrealists, has a problem with door knobs. He can’t open them. It’s a nice little running gag.

Since the book only came out about a week or so ago, I’ll just give a brief overview. So possible SPOILERS here.

This book features five people other than the ethrealist Master Ferus: Captain Francis Madison Grimm (often called the grim captain by Ferus), Gwendolyn Lancaster of House Lancaster (who control the crystal vatteries in Spire Albion), her cousin Benedict Sorellin-Lancaster, Bridget Tagwynn (who speaks cat) and Folly (apprentice ethrealist).

Gwen and Bridget are new inductees into the Spirearch Guard of Spire Albion (there are several Spires, not just this one). The Spirearch is like the king and the guard are his, well, guard. They’re the police force and the fighting force  for the spire. Benedict has been a guard for two years already and is enjoying being one up on his cousin on the reg.

Grimm is the aeronaut with a bad past. He was drummed out of Fleet for cowardice, even though it clearly wasn’t him. He was the patsy. Still, he has his own ship, The Predator, no matter how badly damaged so he’s his own man.

Due to a surprise attack from Spire Aurora, our unlikely allies are gathered together by the Spirearch as the only people he can really trust. Mostly because they’ve all given them lip at some point, I think. At any rate, he has a mission for them to Habble Landing, where the majority of the Spire’s commerce takes place. Habble Landing, naturally enough, houses the docks and is the likely place for any further Auroran attacks.

The writing is good. If I didn’t know who had written it, I probably would have guessed Jim Butcher. But. It wasn’t what I would term a good steampunk novel. I would really classify this as just a fantasy novel. I think that’s where my disappointment stems from. I’ve read and enjoyed so much steampunk that I have an expectation of what it should be like, and this book isn’t it.

I would say that if you want to read this one, go into it thinking of it as a fantasy novel and not a steampunk novel. Don’t box yourself into a set of expectations. However, I would also say, wait until it comes down a little in price if you want to buy it. Rating: B-. I’ll probably read any follow up books, but I’m not sure if I’ll read this one again.

Sherlock Revisited

So I’ve been on this total Sherlock Holmes and Great Britain kick lately. I’m a total Anglophile, though not so bad that I stayed up for the royal wedding a few months ago. 🙂 At any rate, I got started on this by watching BBC’s new Sherlock series. If you haven’t watched it, Netflix it. Now. I’ll wait.

Done? Fantastic! And so is that show. So sad I don’t get BBC America, but I digress. I’m here to pick up an anthology called The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This was a collection of short stories featuring the worlds greatest detective as written by fantasy authors. There are well known authors such as Steven King and Neil Gaiman, as well as a bunch of folks I hadn’t heard of.

Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist and as such, he worked some of his beliefs into his Holmes stories, such as The Hound of the Baskervilles, which featured the mystery of a demonic hound. Holmes himself wasn’t a spiritualist and indeed proved the hound to be nothing more than a violently trained dog covered in a phosphoric substance. Inevitably in the Holmes stories, there is always a reasonable and logical explanation.

This anthology was based on the premise: What if there wasn’t a logical explanation? What if some of the things Holmes investigated turned out to be truly inexplicable? Or what if the world Holmes lived in featured the supernatural in every day life. This was a chance to go to town with Holmes.

The book started out promisingly enough with a short by Stephen King. Normally I’m not a Stephen King fan. An ex-boyfriend of mine gave me a collection of King’s short stories, telling me that they were creepy and horrifying. I used them to get to sleep at night. It wasn’t that I didn’t get what King was going for. I did. I just found his writing a bit too trite and predictable for me. I’m the type of person who figured out that Bruce Willis was ghost half way through The Sixth Sense, so the short Trucks didn’t do it for me.

At any rate, Stephen King wrote a refreshingly subtle and original Holmes short. It wasn’t too different than something that Doyle would write I feel (and yes, I have read the original Holmes. All of them. I love them) but with just a little bit of a spiritual twist.  I was a feeling better about having spent 15 bucks on the book.

The next story (or perhaps the third, can’t remember the order at the moment) featured a mirror universe. Being a Trek fan, I know that alternate or mirror universes are often used in sci-fi/fantasy stories. I like them because you can see the what if but you can get the original that you love back.  Haven’t you ever wondered with an evil Holmes or a good Moriarty would be like? Well, read the book! 😀

I was a little disappointed however by some of the later stories. Some of them didn’t really seem to have anything to do with science fiction or fantasy at all. That’s not to say that they weren’t entertaining or well written, but I was expecting a bit more fantasy in a book I found in the fantasy section of the book store.

All in all it was worth the read. The writing was very well done (B/B+). However, I have to give it an overall rating of C+ simply because there could have been much more fantasy involved in some of these stories. And man, they should have let Jim Butcher have a crack at one of those stories!