Who Cares? Adult Steampunk (Victorian Era Alternate History)
Not-So-Short Bio: There is no good short bio of this book out in the interwebs . . . probably because the plot is so quirky that it doesn’t distill well into a blurb! So, I’ll give it a shot myself: Milady de Winter (of Dumas fame) serves the “Quiet Council” of the French underworld as a secret agent in an alternate Victorian era full of familiar literary figures (Viktor Frankenstein and Quasimodo to name a few) as well as characters who are rather unfamiliar (unless you’ve read Tidhar’s previous novel, The Bookman). Milady’s directive is to track down a murderer and locate an object stolen from the scene of the crime. She quickly realizes that the Council must not be telling her the entire story as other factions begin to gather in Paris who hold the same objective. Milady must ultimately decide whether to fulfill her own personal quest for vengeance or complete the task set before her by the Council.
Eyewitness Account: So, personal caveat: this is my first “steampunk” novel – if you’re new to the genre, it describes a mesh of fantasy and historical fiction (usually set in Victorian-era industrial age) with the key element of including machines/automatons/robots that rival humans. Camera Obscura is actually the sequel to The Bookman, but it can be read as a stand-alone (it took me about half the book to realize that Vespuccia was the alternate name for America, which was probably introduced in the The Bookman.)
Added to the coolness factor: strong and mysterious female protagonist, literary characters galore, alternate history revisions, eastern oriental secret societies, and nuns with guns.
Didn’t quite float my boat: female protagonist didn’t sound or act female (most male writers seem to struggle with this, especially in action/adventure stories), most characters felt shallow/underdeveloped, and plot was too slow at the beginning and too fast at the end (now don’t I sound picky?).
This was a pickle of a review for me to write. For all the clever and creative pieces of the story I liked, there were an almost equal number of things that either annoyed me or just fell flat. Ironically, the closest books I can compare them to are not steampunk at all – Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. Fforde also writes a female protagonist in an alternate history with a plot full of literary characters. However, where Fforde’s books are chock full of wit and whimsy in addition to evil villains and mass mayhem, Tidhar’s writing relies heavily on plot while skimping on dialogue and characterization.
So, if what you love is a good action film where lots of things get blown up and the superhero defeats all odds to save the day – definitely grab this book! You’ll be astounded by the unusual mix of plot elements that Tidhar throws at you, and he should really try to market it as a film script. If characters and writing style are really your thing, you should probably pick up The Eyre Affair instead.
“The corridor was dark. As she ran ghostly figures materialised at the end.
Nuns with guns.”
Other Books Read by This Author: None.
★★★☆☆ Plot Development
★★★☆☆ Writing Style
★★★★☆ Original Idea
★★★☆☆ Page Turner
Just the Facts: by Pamela Freeman. 528 p. To be published May 1, 2011 by Orbit (Hachette Books Group). Advanced copy provided in electronic copy, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.
Who Cares? YA / Adult Fantasy
Short Bio: Fire has unexpectedly shown Himself – and demanded a dangerous task of Ember, daughter of warlord Arvid. Together with small group of Arvid’s trusted family and soldiers, Ember embarks on a journey to bring fire back to her people before they perish from winter. Along the way, she and her traveling mates are confronted with the Great Powers that had, until now, remained aloof from the “new blooded” descendents of Acton. At the end of her journey, she faces an impossible choice – a future for herself with the one she loves, or a future of peace and prosperity for her people.
Eyewitness Account: Pamela Freeman can definitely spin a tale! Fantasy can be hit or miss – it’s usually either very clever or a cheap knockoff of some other popular idea. Ember and Ash was definitely in the former category. It was a little slow to get into at first, but that’s probably because I hadn’t read her Castings Trilogy, which precedes Ember and Ash and appears to cover events about 20 years prior to it.
I loved Ember – someone who not only had flaws, but also didn’t know her own mind half of the time! Her journey to the Fire Mountain is also her own personal journey to finding out who she is and what her place/purpose in the Eleven Domains is. I loved how she found herself out of her element at times, how she depended on her companions for their expertise, and how she boldly stepped up to take the consequences of tough decisions that she had to make. Ember makes some very wise observations through her journey – one of my favorite was the distinction between lust/desire and love. Most of all, I loved that the decision she made at the end of the book seemed true to who she was.
I also appreciated the way Freeman wove together so many people’s stories in with Ember’s – Ash, finding his own purpose and identity, Arvid and Martine dealing with the breach in their marriage, and Nyr looking for a better life for his people. I found that even the secondary characters who didn’t get much stage time were full of personality – of dreams, aspirations, emotions, and complicated motives. Lastly, the story of the Powers themselves was purely delightful – not at all predictable, and very clever.
Themes of unity, identity, and honesty are well-developed throughout the story. One of my favorite passages is listed below, as it talks about how we have a tendency to reject change – but that the growth that change brings is well worth it. It’s a book I’d love to give to teenagers, except for the overly graphic love scene at the end. Well done, Ms. Freeman!
“Heavy, inimical, a brooding presence envious of and hating everything the braid contained: life, love, warmth, fellowship. Difference. She . . . understood what it was He wanted, could feel His desire for the unchanged, unchangeable permanence of Ice. For ice which never melted, for form which stayed, immutable. For an eternity of sameness, safe and solid and forever.
She knew that feeling. Every mother knew the feeling of wanting time to stop, wanting the child to stay a baby, wanting the youth to stay a child, wanting the moment when the little arms came around your neck to last forever. Every human knew that feeling, of wanting tomorrow to be the same as today, so that you could just go on being who you were, without the pains that age brought.
But as a mother, as a human, she knew the stupidity of that. Knew that the child could give more joy than the baby, as well as more grief; knew that age had its compensations; knew that growth always hurt.”
“. . .all he had was himself, the center of himself, which was, after all, just a single arrow in flight.”
Other Books Read by This Author: None, but I might eventually pick up Blood Ties (first in The Castings Trilogy), as I enjoyed Ms. Freeman’s writing so much.
★★★★★ Plot Development
★★★★☆ Writing Style
★★★★☆ Original Idea
★★★★☆ Page Turner