Blameless (Parasol Protectorate, #3)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 3 stars

Picking up from where Changeless left off, this volume starts with Alexia having basically lost it all – she’s left her husband’s house, after being rejected by him upon finding out she’s pregnant; lost her royal appointment; and is forced to move back in with her family. Said family are all awful human beings (other than her stepfather who has no personality at all, other than hiding behind a newspaper) and she eventually resolves to leave and travel to Italy to find the mysterious Templars, who may be able to prove her innocent. Oh, and the vampires now also want her dead, and her friend Lord Akeldama has disappeared.

There’s a lot going on here, but the core is the relationship between Alexia and Conall. The former pulls together what’s left of her life and relationships, while the latter gets drunk for several weeks to get over himself. Is that supposed to be an attractive quality? And while Alexia starts to forgive him almost immediately, I can’t see how they can possibly go back to having the same relationship as they did before. Surely a vital trust has been breached now? The end of this book would suggest not, and I’m not sure if that makes me think less of Alexia. Or maybe that’s just love; I don’t know.

Beyond the confines of that relationship, we have a travelogue across Europe, in a variety of means of transport, in the company of the delightful Genevieve Lefoux and the mysterious Floote, who first appeared as butler to Alexia’s family, and who appears to be very much more than that. I love the character of Genevieve, so am delighted to spend more time with her, also being one of the few characters who have remained fairly steady throughout the series (so far, at least). Speaking of which, Ivy has a fairly small part here, having eloped at the end of the last book, but she appears to have had yet another personality transplant. She’s much less silly and frivolous than she was in the last book, having been put in charge of Genevieve’s hat shop, while the erstwhile inventor accompanies Alexia. I like this version of Ivy much more than the one in the previous book but don’t want to get too attached in case she changes again in the next one.

All in all, I’m not really sure what to make of it. I enjoyed the adventure romp, and the world-building, but I’m honestly not sure I believe in the central relationship of the series any more. That’s not going to stop me from reading the next book, of course.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841499734
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Changeless (Parasol Protectorate, #2)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 3 stars

The second book of the Parasol Protectorate series sees Alexia, now Lady Macoon, have to investigate a plague of humanity that affects London’s supernatural population. A quest that sees her follow her husband north to Scotland, and the pack of werewolves he once abandoned.

This was mostly fun, but I did have some issues with it that I didn’t have with the first book. Firstly, the whole Scot-bashing thing is wearing a bit thin. It was bad enough in the last book with just Lord Macoon in London, but much of this is set in the Highlands and I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes.

Secondly, Alexia’s relationship with her best friend Ivy is just weird. This was something that I’d seen mentioned in a review of the last book, but which I didn’t really agree with at the time (I put the whole “ugly hat” thing down to being an in-joke between old friends). Here, I honestly can’t see much of the way of affection between the two women, and their friendship is stated to only be four years old. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt since Alexia does go from crisis to crisis throughout the book, but it’s still odd, and doesn’t leave me thinking well of either woman.

And then there’s the treatment of empire. It’s an interesting and clever notion to use werewolves as the shock troops of the British empire, enabling it to conquer a quarter of the world. Here, a major plot driver is the return of the Kingair pack from active duty in India. There’s nobody here that even suggests that the imperial project is a bad thing, or acknowledges that atrocities that must have been carried out in its name. This might be something that I wouldn’t have noticed when I was younger, but I’ve become much more sensitive to it as I’ve got older, and although yes, the upper classes of the period especially would have had their wealth based on empire, I feel the author should have acknowledged the pain that it caused to the colonised nations.

On the plus side, it was fantastic to see Genevieve Lefoux and Sidheag Kingair make appearances, since they were characters I was very fond of in the Finishing School books. And it looks like Genevieve may well have a role to play in future books in the series.

The relationship between Alexia and Conall Macoon is genuinely wonderful, having a strong bond, and very healthy respect for each other that isn’t overly sentimental. Which makes the ending all the more shocking. I will be very disappointed if the next book turns into one of my least favourite tropes: that of misunderstandings caused by wilful lack of communication, but I’m going to get to it as soon as possible.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841499741
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

I came to this series after reading Carriger’s Finishing School series which I enjoyed a lot. This is set in the same universe, maybe a generation later. You can tell it was written earlier as some of the world that was fleshed out by the time of Finishing School was still a bit vague in this one, but Carriger already has a good sense of world-building, and her prose is a pleasure to read.

Our protagonist is Alexia Tarabotti, a young woman with the ability to cancel out the powers of supernatural creatures, such as vampires and werewolves, by touching them. The polite term of this is preternatural, but the less polite call her soulless (as opposed to the supernatural, who have a surfeit of soul). At the start of the book, she’s attacked by a vampire (without even introducing himself!) and she’s forced to kill him. This leads her into contact with Lord Maccon of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, and himself a powerful werewolf, who has to investigate. As Alexia investigates further, she gets sucked into a plot that could shake the Empire to its core.

That sounds quite dense, but the book is really readable and a lot of fun to read. It’s as much comedy of manners as it is investigative thriller. And it’s also really rather sensual, and quite sexy too, which I wasn’t expecting, after the very chaste Finishing School books. Alexia and Lord Maccon share a mutual attraction and there’s quite detailed descriptions of Alexia discovering the joys of kissing. And the thing about attraction to a werewolf is, that when he changes back from wolf to human, he’s naked. And, oh, Alexia has to hold on to him to use her powers to keep him in human form. How awful. Let’s just say she doesn’t stop her hands from roving.

There’s a lot of scope to explore the world that Carriger has constructed here, and I’m looking forward to following Alexia as she steps into that wider world. I just hope that, after a lot of Scots-bashing in the first book (Lord Maccon is Scottish and there’s a lot of jokes about how uncouth the Scots are), there’s less of that in future.

Book details

Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890-1940

By Melissa Edmundson

Rating: 3 stars

I picked this anthology up mostly off the back of the idea of stories from unappreciated women. I didn’t think too hard on the kind of stories, or really what “weird” fiction is. And what it is is darker and more horror-tinged than I usually like. Many of the stories definitely descend into the sort of creepy, psychological horror that I really feel uncomfortable with. These include Let Loose by Mary Cholmondeley, about an architect who delves into a country church crypt and lets something out; Kerfol by Edith Wharton, about a young woman and the lengths to which her husband went to keep her isolated; and particularly Where Their Fire is not Quenched about a woman who has an affair and is doomed to spend eternity repeating it.

These are all great examples of the genre, and I tip my hat to the editor for finding all these stories and airing these examples of women writing in what could often be considered purely a man’s world, but the genre isn’t one that I particularly enjoy, even if I appreciated the form of the the stories. Of all the collection, I think The Haunted Saucepan by Margery Lawrence is probably the one I enjoyed the most. I liked the way it took an everyday object and made it scary, but also the scientific way that the protagonist and his friend went about deducing the cause of the mischief.

So an interesting collection, and certainly of note, but not one for me, personally.

Book details

ISBN: 9781912766246
Publisher: Handheld Press
Year of publication: 2019

Rivers Of London: Deadly Ever After (Graphic Novel)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 3 stars

This tenth (tenth!) graphic novel in Aaronovitch’s long-running Rivers of London series moves the focus to a couple of side-characters we’ve not seen much of until now – Mama Thames’ twin daughters, Chelsea and Olympia. They accidentally undo the enchantment on a mulberry tree which releases something that had been trapped for over a hundred years. And as the Folly are too busy with ghosts in the Underground, the twins have to investigate themselves.

I didn’t think this was one of the stronger instalments of this series. The twins are supposed to be insipid layabouts, but they acquit themselves quite well, I thought. And I never entirely believed Jeter’s transformation from loving father to evil fairy-tale master. We didn’t really spend enough time around the people affected by the fairy-tale magic to care about them either, and I didn’t think the Little Mermaid metaphor worked at all.

We only get cameos of Peter and Nightingale, although the excellent Abigail gets a slightly bigger role. The narrative knows what it’s talking about when it calls her a fan-favourite (along with the brilliant military foxes).

They’ve got the same artist as the last few volumes and I’ve definitely enjoyed that style, so was happy to see them back.

I’ll continue to read these, but I hope the next one goes back to the main cast. Or maybe a Molly special. Can’t ever have enough Molly.

Book details

ISBN: 9781787738591

Around the World in Eighty Days

By Jules Verne

Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this tale of Phileas Fogg and his wager to travel around the world in 80 days. I found the pacing good, the action enjoyable and the characters engaging, although I can’t help wondering if Mr Fogg has a form of autism that led to his complete exactitude and lack of deviance from schedules.

There’s a good mix of good and bad fortune that Fogg and crew encounter and the scheming Inspector Fix of the Yard keeps changing his colours, always trying to apprehend Fogg, who he suspects of a bank robbery. A highly enjoyable read.

UPDATE 2022-12-06: reread after being gifted a beautiful Folio Society edition, complete with gorgeous map tucked into a pocket at the back. This time round, I read Fogg more as being Verne’s pastiche of an Englishman – mechanically minded and with an upper lip so stiff that no emotion dare passes. The loyal Passepartout, on the other hand, is the everyman, the sensible French antithesis to this, always wearing his emotion on his sleeve. They make a fun duo, in their own ways.

The book is obviously dated in other ways, the sections interacting with Indians and Native Americans in particular left me wincing in their stereotypes. But there’s no doubting Verne’s glee at the shrinking of the globe and the joy he takes in describing both the lands that the travellers go through, and the various modes of transport that take them, including trains, boats, sledges, even and elephant. But no hot air balloon, despite what the various media adaptations would have us believe. So I retain my original conclusion that this is a highly enjoyable read (even if you do have to put on your Product-of-its-Time rose-tinted specs at times).

Book details

Publisher: The Folio Society
Year of publication: 2021

Envy of Angels (Sin du Jour, #1)

By Matt Wallace

Rating: 4 stars

This book manages to fit an awful lot of plot into a short novella, starting with the supernatural catering outfit that hires Darren and Lena, just when they’ve been blackballed in New York and are desperate for work. From there we have a story that encompasses catering a demon peace deal, severed limbs, angels, dogs, creepy clowns, fast food corporations and much more.

I don’t necessarily feel I got to know any of the characters, but with so much plot going on, I barely had time to notice. I’ve still got no idea what’s going on with the sous-chef with the attitude, but I certainly intend to read more of Sin de Jour’s adventures and hopefully get more characterisation along the way.

Book details

Year of publication: 2015

Keeper of Enchanted Rooms (Whimbrel House, #1)

By Charlie N. Holmberg

Rating: 4 stars

This is a delightfully comforting read, which I enjoyed a lot. The book tells the story of Merritt Fernsby, who inherits a haunted house, and Hulda Larkin, of the Boston Institute for the Keeping of Enchanted Rooms who’s been trained in taming such houses. She comes to keep house for him while learning the mysteries of the house and the two slowly start falling in love. And in the meantime, there might be a greater threat out there than a house that can trap you in the cellar.

I love a story of found family, and the staff who come to work Whimbrel House start to become more than just co-workers. It’s especially poignant for Merritt, whose biological family are estranged from him. There’s a rather soapy twist later, although it does work in the context of the story and what we know of the characters.

The magic system is quite interesting, with multiple distinct school of magic, and the idea that magic is genetically recessive has become diluted over the centuries, so now there’s an organisation that tries to match people with magic together to try and increase the amount available. But this doesn’t entirely sit well with the idea that there are loads of magical devices around – from communication stones to magic-propelled boats. Surely if magic were that rare and diluted, such items would be incredibly rare, and not used in municipal transport!

Also, there’s the idea of each school of magic having a negative affect on the caster – where shapeshifting can result in (temporary) physical mutation when returning to your own shape; or psychokinesis can result in physical stiffness etc, but it’s never really played through and never really seems to affect the plot, even during a magical duel. But this is a fairly minor point that didn’t really bother me that much.

This book is happily standalone, but there is a sequel coming, which I’m quite looking forward to. It was a lot of fun and a nice, easy read.

Book details

Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 9

By Kamome Shirahama

Rating: 4 stars

Hoo boy, things have suddenly got tense in Coco’s world. Everybody is gathering for Silver Eve, a great festival, celebrated by witches and common folk alike. Coco and friends are travelling to help Nolnoa and Tartah with their shop and we see their joy and astonishment at the festival; as well as this there’s the politics that the Wise get involved with alongside the monarchs of the lands; and a side story about the Knights Moralis and a really sleazy creep with glasses that let you see through clothes. And then we have an ending that brings back Custas, the boy with the damaged legs from last time, and things are starting to really heat up.

There’s some really nice artistic flourishes this time round, like a little game of the apprentices running around the fair before arriving at their destination, and a panel where they’re looking at it in awe, holding on to the edges of the panel. It’s little things like that that make this series continue to be a joy to the eyes. Can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

Book details

ISBN: 9781646514472
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 2022

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