Custard and a spot of tea

Reticence

For those of you who have read Gail Carriger’s Custard Protocol series before, this is the final book in the series, Reticence. We rejoin the crew of the Spotted Custard just as Quesnel and Rue are getting hitched. Rue is, at this point, very pregnant. About ready to pop, in fact, and Primrose will not allow the Spotted Custard to lift off from London without an actual doctor on board.

The problem is, every doctor they’ve interviewed so far has come over very old fashioned, and the crew of the Spotted Custard are very much…not. Then comes the unlikely named Dr. Arsenic Ruthven. Keen followers of Ms. Carriger’s delightful steampunk series and their various novellas might at this point recognize that last name. Arsenic is the daughter of Preshea (from the Finishing School series) and the lovely Scottish investigator Mr. Ruthven. Naturally, a poisoner named her daughter after a poison. 🙂 That tickled my fancy.

Arsenic isn’t much like, nor does she much like, her mother. Classic case of mothers and daughters not getting along. Arsenic, in her case, went as far from her mother as possible and became a doctor (a very rare thing in Victorian times). And it just so happened that she not only impressed Prim and Rue, but managed to fluster Percy as well. Win-win as far as Rue is concerned.

So Dr. Ruthven joins the crew and they head off to Egypt to see Rue’s mother and father, who had retired there a few books ago when Lord Maccon started losing his marbles, as happens with very old alpha werewolves. After a spot of tea with the parents, they’re off to Japan. There is, apparently, a new species of supernatural afoot there that several parties are interested in. Not to mention a missing intelligencer.

Along the way, Percy finds himself sharing not only his cat (Footnote) with Dr. Ruthven, but his library of all things. Imagine! Upon arriving in Japan, they discovered to their delight, the floating city of Edo (Tokyo) – here called the Paper City. This was the only place, in this universe, that non-Japanese people were allowed.

By this time, Percy was quite set on wooing Dr. Ruthven, but was at a loss as to how. The floating city, however, had to take precedence, as did the sickness of the consort of the man who ran the city, Lord Ryuunosuke. The officials of the Paper City were particularly keen to have Dr. Ruthven consult because she was, after all, a she. Lord Ryuunosuke wouldn’t allow male doctors to see to his consort. Indeed, the officials seemed not to want to allow any man off the ship.

Seeing as how the Spotted Custard couldn’t afford to lose the dear doctor only a few scant months after her hiring, they had Percy pretend to be her husband and insist on accompanying her. Propriety being what it was, they agreed, which was just as well because Percy was one of two people on board who could actually speak Japanese. Even still, he’s not actually allowed in the same room as Lady Sakura.

Some fast talking from Dr.Ruthven manages to get Lady Sakura out of the silver infused room she’s in and over to the swoon room (such a great name) in the Spotted Custard. Unfortunately, things go awry shortly thereafter, as things are wont to do with Rue’s crew (Heh, Rue’s crew) and Percy and Dr. Ruthven fall out of the Custard and the Paper City straight down to Tokyo.

After a staggeringly messy and dangerous adventure on the ground, Percy and Dr. Ruthven are reunited with the Custard and are well on their way to wooing. Things in Tokyo will never be the same.

I love the inter-connectivity between Gail Carriger’s novels, and yet you could still read any one of them and get the feel of her universe. She’s one of my favorite authors and I can’t wait to get whatever novel, novella or short story she has out next. I highly recommend that you give her a read. And a follow! She’s on Twitter and she’ll often times post a lot of Victorian couture and food.

Rating: A+. Percy is one of my favorite characters, probably because I identify with his social awkwardness and bookishness.

Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies and Conspiracies*SPOILERS* As you may have gathered from some previous posts, I do like me some steampunk. In particular, I love Gail Carriger. And her latest release in the finishing school series, Curtsies & Conspiracies, is another home run. This series focuses on the young girls of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Girls of Quality and protaganist Sophronia Temmennick.

Sophronia has now been at the school for about six months. Its at this time that all new comers such as herself get tested on what they’ve learned. In pairs, her fellows are taken off and come back looking pale. Sophronia and best friend Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott go last and Sophronia, naturally, passes with flying colors. When the scores are announced, Professor LeFoux (Genvieve’s aunt) makes a point of letting them all know that Sophronia got the highest scores ever. This causes friction and ostracization between her and the rest of the girls in her class. At least for a while.

As much as it pains Sophronia that her friends (and even enemies Monique and Preshea) are ignoring her, there are things afoot at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s. Dimity nearly gets herself kidnapped, graduates that are active intelligencers are boarding in the middle of the night and a bunch of boys from Bunson’s (the men’s evil genius academy) are aboard. Why? Because they’re all going to London to see the arrival of a brand new dirigible that can cross the English Channel in less than an hour using aetheric currents high up in the atmosphere.

Of course, lessons are still occurring while all this is going on and Sophronia eventually gets her friends back talking with her. She also makes a deal with young Genvieve. Help get Genvieve into Bunson’s and get rid of Bunson’s Professor Shrimpdittle and Genvieve will leave Sophronia all of her tech gadgets, including the one that freezes all the mechanicals for short periods. You see, Shrimpdittle is an old friend of Professor LeFoux and knows that Genvieve (or Vieve as she’s commonly known) is a girl.

Sophronia’s attempts at character assassination are successful. Too successful. There are unintended consequences to a member of the school’s staff, Professor Braithwope, who is a vampire. And in the midst of all of this, Dimity and brother Pillover (aboard from Bunson’s) are still under threat. From whom? Read to find out! 🙂

The Finishing School books fall in the same universe as Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate (aka-Alexia Tarabotti) books, just 25 years earlier. You’ll recognize a few familiar characters in this and learn a bit of their back story. You don’t have to read any of the other books really, but I highly recommend you do. They’re entertaining as hell! Rating: A+.

The Gaslight Chronicles

The Gaslight Chronicles written by Cindy Spencer Pape are, in my opinion, steampunk on easy mode. Where as Whitechapel Gods is a hard slog to read, these books are very easy to get through. In fact, I read the book Photographs & Phantoms in under an hour at lunch today. These are short books that are a bit formulaic but are at least modestly entertaining.

They follow the Order of the Round Table, made up of the descendants of the original Knights of the Round Table. As in King Arthur and Merlin. While I have not yet seen one of the knights who is descended of Arthur himself, I have read of those who are descended of the other knights and Merlin himself.

The books follow one of the knights or his family members as they run into a supernatural problem of some sort. While pursuing this problem, they get introduced to the plucky female love interest. Both parties are insistent that they are either a) not attracted to the other party or b) looking for love/marriage. Inevitably, the supernatural problem brings the two people together, they realize their love (sometimes in days, sometimes in actual weeks or months!), get married and have little hellions of their own. I mean, children. 😉

This is the basic plot of every single one of these books, so you know what you’re getting in to. That said, it is a bit like a soap opera or reality TV show, a guilty pleasure. They’re Harlequin romance novels set in a steampunk era. I do think that Pape does a good job in steampunk. And I will probably keep reading these stories because they are cheap and easy. But if you are looking for a real awesome steampunk, go for Gail Carriger.

The books are as follows: Steam & SorceryPhotographs & Phantoms, Moonlight & MechanicalsKilts & Kraken and Cards & Caravans. Considering that they’ve only been published starting in March 2011, I’m certain there will be many more of these little steampunk stories. Overall, I think I’d rate them a C+/B-. Entertaining but not great. And I probably wouldn’t buy them if they didn’t average about 3 dollars a go.

Etiquette & Espionage

Oh Gail Carriger, how I love thee.  Set in the same universe as The Parasol Protectorate books, Etiquette & Espionage is set earlier. It introduces us, so far, to Genvieve LeFoux and Sidheag Kingair as kids though they are not the main characters. The main character is Miss Sophronia Temmennick, the youngest daughter of some wealthy country folks. She is constantly getting in trouble for being so very unladylike. Imagine a lady who climbs! At any rate, the young girl (fourteen in this book) is packed of by her mother to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

This finishing school is not your ordinary finishing school. There’s a rove vampire as a teacher and the attendees do indeed learn both etiquette and espionage. They teach you how to set a perfect party…and to poison any number of your guests! Sophronia gets into trouble almost constantly but as she tends to save the day or bring important information forward, she tends to get away with it.

I was hesitant at first to pick this up as the main character is fourteen. I was worried that I couldn’t get into the story with a character who is so much younger than myself. I shouldn’t have worried. Gail Carriger has a wonderful writing style and I love her steampunk-y world. I love Alexia and Sophronia because they’re a lot like me personality wise. I also love the ridiculous names that she comes up with, such as Pillover.

I really can’t wait for the next book to come out. Rating: A.

Blood Riders

Hmm. Where to begin with this one. I guess I’d call Blood Riders by Michael P. Spradlin an Old West Steampunk Fantasy. Usually the steampunk stuff I read takes place in England or at least has a focus in Europe. This book takes place in Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas. The main character is one Captain Jonas Hollister, US Cavalry. Captain Hollister and his patrol run into something they’ve never seen before when out on what they think is a routine Indian patrol in Wyoming, looking for a group that ambushed settlers (please don’t bother me about this word. I know the correct term is Native American, but back in this time period, where the characters are, they use that word so I am using that word).

They couldn’t be more wrong. It wasn’t Indians who took out the settlers. It was…well he doesn’t know. But I’ll tell you. VAMPIRES. Or well, something like vampires. See, these creatures are referred to by themselves as Archaics. Apparently they are similar to vampires but consider themselves beyond vampires. They have most of the same vulnerabilities, but not all. They feed off blood but Archaics consider it a major taboo to feed off human blood (or at least now they do).

Unfortunately for Captain Hollister, the US Army doesn’t believe his “ravings” of blood demons killing his troops and, since he shot at least one of his men (to kill kill him), he is sentenced to hard labor at Leavenworth. If you think that prison is bad now, you should look up what it was like back then. At any rate, he rots there for about four years and nothing much of interest really happens to him. Until one day, one of his fellow prisoners, a mixed descent sergeant named Chee, gets in a fight with one of the notorious yard toughs.

Hollister watches Chee fight. As you might have guessed from the name, Chee does some fancy kung fu on the dumb prisoner and gets “the box” for his troubles, even though he was defending himself. Hollister thought that was the most interesting thing about the last four years…until he’s brought into the warden’s office to speak to Allan Pinkerton. Yes, that Pinkerton. As in the famous detective.

Seems that there’s been another attack similar to what Hollister went through four years ago, this time in Colorado. Only the last survivor of this one just happens to be a senator’s son (and for you history buffs out there, this means that this book takes place in 1876 or later, since Colorado was a territory before then). So maaaaaaaaaybe they might believe that Hollister was telling the truth four years ago.

In exchange for a full pardon and reinstatement to the army (as a major this time), Hollister is to track down and kill these things. He will have access to all the finest and newest weapons and technology. And a little help from one Abraham Van Helsing. Of course. Well, at least he only makes a bit of an appearance. Just a “here’s what you’re facing” exposition sort of appearance.

I found the book to be interesting for the most part, but I wouldn’t quite call it steampunk. Sure it used steam trains, but so did the real world at this point in time. The only thing that I think was really, truly steampunk-y was a steampowered weapon the writer referred to as the Ass Kicker. It would fire a large round big enough to basically slice a tree or two in half. It really is more of a historical fantasy with a touch of steampunk. Still, it was good enough for a five dollar book. Rating B.

Gears of Wonderland

Oh yes, I wanted to share this one too. I am always on the look out for a good steampunk book. There seem to be so little out there to choose from that are really gripping and don’t rely on sex to move the story along. Well, do I have a treat for you!

Go out and buy Gears of Wonderland by Jason G. Anderson. It is just 2.99 for Kindle on Amazon! I had been a little wary about getting the sample for that book because the cheaper books never seem to be quite as good as the more regularly priced, more ‘mainstream’ novels. I was so pleasantly surprised by this.

Now, I have to admit something right now. I have never read Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I know, I know. Surely some of you out there will think it sacrilege on my part but I just couldn’t get into. I might try again. Perhaps I would have gotten into it if my parents had read it to me as a child. Or if I hadn’t been just totally and completely CREEPED OUT by the animated Disney movie. Dear god that’s frightening to a six year old.

At any rate, I don’t have as much knowledge of the Alice universe as some might. This may be part of the reason I liked this book, since I had a fairly open mind about the universe. So the story starts with innocent British schlub James Riggs getting the metaphorical shaft from both his job and his (total bitch) fiancee. Heading to his best friend’s flat, James’s world is turned upside down by the friend’s murder and James’ subsequent fleeing of the scene.

Someone pushes James into Wonderland through a gate of some sort. James gets picked up by Mad Hatter’s daughter. Your first question might be “why”. Well, because apparently all the Wonderlandians have a mark on their arms denoting their kingdom and their rank in society. For instance, the Queen of Hearts (dead now thanks to assassination) would have a Queen of Hearts playing card on her arm. Her son would be the Knave (or Jack to us Americans). James’s mark is a white knight and a red knight crossed over each other. This is apparently tres weird and prompts the not-so-mad Little Hatter into taking him to meet the very much alive and still quite Mad Hatter.

From there, things just seem to go down hill from there. The Heart Guard is after him on the order of the King (formerly the Knave) of Hearts. Apparently outsiders such as James and the original Alice are considered dangerous. James and Kara the Little Hatter go on the run, searching for Caterpillar (the Oracle) and the reason behind James’s strange mark. On their journey, they meet White Rabbit (not an actual Rabbit, but a mercenary), Grphon (a freedom fighter) and of course the infamous Cheshire Cat among others.

I hope not to give too much away but the premise is that outsiders have the ability to change Wonderland simply through their thoughts. Because of this, the Wonderland that James falls into is very steampunk and almost-but-not-quite Victorian. There are air ships that run on aether, steam carriages, and guns that are reminiscent of the Teslas from Warehouse 13. James influence so far seems to be a bit more subtle in changing the way people talk.

So James goes on an adventure that he never imagined he could in his life. He’s surprised left, right and center but he learns and grows with it. He makes friends, though they might be just as surprised at that as he was, and he finds a place where he belongs.

This is a grand adventure in steampunk and it might, just might, induce me to try and re-read Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland. And (SPOILER ALERT!!!) while Anderson gave a happy ending, he also left it open for a sequel. I really hope he writes one! Rating A+

Whitechapel Gods

Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters. It is very steampunk. But it’s not a comedic steampunk like I’m used to reading. I’d say it’s more like a 40s pulp or film noir type steampunk. So, some spoilers below I’m sure.

The area of Whitechapel (where Jack the Ripper wen on his infamous rampage) in London has been cut off from the rest of Britain by a wall and two mechanical gods, Grandfather Clock and Mama Engine. I don’t think Peters ever said for sure how these creatures came to Whitechapel or what exactly their purpose was. Other than making the residents of Whitechapel miserable that is.

The book focuses on the rebellion against Grandfather Clock and Mama Engine. The humans that aren’t cowed and whipped into submission (for whatever reason), are trying to destroy the two so-called gods. There are severe health problems among the residents of Whitechapel that includes lung disease (from breathing the severely sooty air) and a condition called the Clacks, where humans are invaded by mechanics because of the two Gods. Humans are also, apparently, the fuel for Mama Engine. Yum.

At any rate, the book follows various groups of rebels and collaborators as they attempt to either bring down one or both of the gods. Peters tends to jump around from group to group but he does fairly well in keeping it from getting confusing, which I appreciate. Not every writer can do that.

Over all, I rather enjoyed the book. I think the grittiness and seriousness of the story was very much in tune with how the lives of Victorian industrial workers would be. Some steampunk books ignore the fact that Victorian England was a gritty, sooty place where fog turned yellow from coal dust and where there was a severely huge gap between the haves and the have nots. Peters didn’t do this.

However, I would have liked to know where these two so-called gods came from, what it was they were working toward and what the British government’s response was to suddenly losing a portion of it’s city. So Whitechapel Gods is certainly worth the read but don’t go expecting those sorts of answers. B-

Dead Iron

Thanks to a suggestion on my blog (yay!), I took a chance on this novel, Dead Iron by Devon Monk.  This is an interesting steampunk novel. Instead of taking place in England (or Europe in general) this one takes place in America. It’s an interesting blend of steampunk, fantasy and western. Oh, not to mention that one character turns into a zombie. Good times.

So…plot. The plot is that in a little town named Hallelujah somewhere near or in the Oregon Territories, a fae creature is searching for a way home. As soon as I read the name Shard LeFel, I realized this guy was destined to be 1) the bad guy and 2) a fae creature. Yeah, LeFel, LeFay (as in Morgana from the Arthur legend), pretty obvious. But not really the bad kind of obvious. LeFel has a servant of some sort called a Strange, named Mr. Shunt. Near as I can tell, Stranges are some sort of vile, shadowy creature without a natural body of their own. So they build and enchant bodies using a combination of steam tech and magic. They’re very hard to kill and they’re nasty fighters.

On the good side, we have lone wolf Cedar Hunt. And this is meant literally. Cedar, at some point in his ‘mysterious past’, was cursed by an ancient Pawnee god with lycanthropy. As was his brother, whom Cedar presumes is dead. Unfortunately, Monk never explains why the brothers were cursed. Generally speaking, people don’t just get cursed ‘just because’. If there is a sequel, I’d like to see the reason behind it.

Cedar is the protagonist of the book and as such, you’re supposed to feel sympathy for him bearing up with this curse. I suppose he’s likeable in a tough, Chris Larabee sort of way but I felt there was a little bit of doubt as to just how good a man he was. There was allusions to him losing a wife and child (or children) but we never found out if this was due to the curse or if it occurred before the curse.

The other good guys in the book are witch Mae Lindstrom, odd child Rose Small and the Madder Brothers. The Madders are not human. I think they are some sort of dwarf-based creature. They aren’t small in stature but they come from Wales and they speak to and control (to a degree at least) stone. The Madders are trying to stop LeFel’s nefarious scheme (to get home and kill his brother, a fae king). Mae Lindstrom is one of the catalysts for LeFel to open his door to home. Rose Small is a foundling child who can see the Strange.

Together, they have to fight LeFel and prevent the door from opening. It’s an interesting premise and it’s fun to read about steampunk in America. I’d love to read more steampunk in the US if anyone has any suggestions. Overall, I’d say the book is a B. It was worth the read.

Looking for Steampunk

Okay, so I’ve read a few steampunk books and color me intrigued. I am, however, at a loss for some good books to read. I know a lot of you out there will probably say Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and to that I say…something else please. I’ve tried a couple of times to read that book and I just can’t do it. I’m not sure if it’s the writing style of the author or the completely BORING first chapters. I’d like to believe it gets better but I just can’t spend 10 bucks on a book that I find I have to slog through. So I’m hoping for some suggestions based on the following:

-I read The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook not too long ago and I rather enjoyed it. It was well written even if it did have entire chapters about sex that didn’t push the plot along. But the idea of zombies being creatures controlled by little nanite-type things is awesomely original. Or at least original to me.

-I love, love, LOVE Sherlock Holmes. While this isn’t technically steampunk, it is set in Victorian times (obviously). So Victorian era plus a good mystery plus a bit of snark equals win.

-A couple weeks ago I read a book called Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurances novel by Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine. Originally I wasn’t too sure about it but it turned out to be a surprisingly good read. I’m looking forward to a sequel or three. I will post a review eventually I’m sure. 🙂

-The Parasol Protectorate books. Of course. I love Alexia Terrabotti. I also love how Gail Carriger has mixed steampunk with vamps, werewolves and other supernaturals. Mixing steampunk, Victorian times and urban fantasy equals big win.

So if anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. And as always, I am ever searching for more urban fantasy suggestions.