Glamour in Glass: Glamourist Histories, #2, by Mary Robinette Kowal
I loved Shades of Milk and Honey, the first book in Kowal's Regency era fantasy series, and I mostly loved this one, too. Like, 95% loved it.
I continue to adore the magic system: It's quiet and somewhat sedate, but in creative, inventive hands, allows for WICKED COOL USAGE.
I love that in addition to the fantasy, it works very much as historical fiction—Jane and Vincent are in Belgium for their honeymoon, and Napoleon figures in heavily—and as a romance.
More pluses: The language and the writing, the attention to detail and the pure, awesome geekery of the author. In the Author's Note—DO NOT MISS IT—Kowal talks about how she created a dictionary comprised of Jane Austen's books and ran her manuscript of Glamour and Glass against it. She researched the history of every single word that the dictionary didn't contain, and she lists some that surprised her (and some that she kept anyway). She also talks a bit about how her world diverges from our own, and about what anachronisms she knowingly included. (Which is so much cooler than a blanket "IT'S ALT-HISTORY, ANYTHING GOES!" attitude. Ahem. In my opinion, anyway.)
You know that storyline where the heroine gets deliriously happily married and everything is awesome and so on BUT THEN she starts thinking OH NOES, MAYBE HE DOESN'T ACTUALLY REALLY LOVE ME? It's one of my least favorite storylines, and that's much of what goes on with the romance thread in Glamour in Glass. To be fair, Vincent is EXTREMELY withdrawn and irritable and distracted—which is especially bad considering they're on their honeymoon—so it's understandable that Jane would have those feelings, but it's not my fave. That is, of course, MY STUFF, and it totally works in terms of characterization—even drawing on the first book, because for various reasons, Jane doesn't have loads of confidence in herself as A Lovable Person—so really, unless you also dislike that storyarc, it's not much of a Con at all.
Also, while I love that the cover art incorporates bubbles (there's a whole important thread about using spheres of glamour), I can't help but feel that the model is WAAAAAY more conventionally attractive than Jane. I loved the cover art on the first book because I felt that it really captured that. Her dress, though, is BEAUTIFUL, and I have no beef whatsoever with it. Except that I don't own one.
Fans of the first one, fantasy-loving fans of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, anyone who likes fantasy that really delves into the mechanics of magic systems, fans of any of the above who also have an interest in artists and their techniques.
Sapphique: Incarceron, #2, by Catherine Fisher
I finally, finally got around to the sequel to Incarceron! Finn is now outside the prison, but is not really any less of a prisoner: he's suddenly living in a world of strict social protocol and every misstep he makes acts to further convince everyone—including Claudia, who until now has been his strongest supporter—that he's an impostor, rather than a long-lost prince.
Meanwhile, Finn's allies within Incarceron are still searching for a way to escape: they're hunting for Sapphique's magic glove, which might not even exist... but the prison is working against them, and it wants to find a way to escape itself.
Like the first book, the world-building is HUGE and RICH and DARK and COMPLEX. The cultures on the inside and the outside of Incarceron are distinctly different, but it's always clear that regardless of what side of the wall each character resides on, every single one of them is a prisoner in some way. Including Incarceron itself, which is a mindbleep and a half.
In addition to the world-building, the storyline is exciting, and the characters are worth caring about, the pacing is, like, BREAKNECK, and the whole thing is BANANAS in the best kind of way. Incarceron was super, but Sapphique was even better.
Erm. None for me, though it's not going to be an across-the-board crowdpleaser: see above about the DARK and BANANAS.
Fans of the first one. I wouldn't recommend it as a stand-alone.
After all of the descriptions of Emily's 'red ropey hair' in the first book, the model on the cover doesn't really jive with the image of her in my mind. Ah, well. Anyway.
It could be argued that I was hard on the firsttwo books in Kady Cross' Steampunk Chronicles. So in the interest of being all fair-minded and whatnot, I will say that they do have some attractive qualities:
They're fast-paced and often quite exciting.
While the characters haven't moved beyond their basic trope-types (see my column about the first one for more on that), they are mostly quite likable and enjoyable to be around. (I could do without Finley and Griffin, but I suspect that that's more due to a personality conflict on my part than on anything objective.)
Cross' use of similes are generally entertainingly in keeping with the world and the genre: A sound like breaking ice followed as pressure from the outside pushed against the glass, demanding to get inside like a rowdy drunkard at a tavern door. (That one's a bit long for my tastes, but you get the drift.)
There are rapid and regular switches in perspective, which speak to some amount of confidence in the reader's ability to keep up.
Automatons are always cool, and there's a thread about What It Means To Be Human that will appeal to anyone who's spent far too much time combing through Data fanfic. (I ADMIT NOTHING.)
Fans of the first two books are likely to like this third installment which, as you've probably gathered by the cover art and the title, focuses mostly on Emily, the Girl Genius Who Can Control Automatons With Her Mind. She gets kidnapped by a Bad Robot (<--heh) who wants her to use her Mechanical Prowess to move the Machinist's brain out of his mostly-dead body and into a fancy new automaton-human hybrid.
It's an undertaking that, not-so-surprisingly, she has issues with beyond the whole abduction thing: bringing the Machinist back would be bad enough, but worse for soft-hearted Emily is the fact that the automaton-human hybrid is a sentient being whose mind, personality, and soul will be destroyed when her body is co-opted by the Machinist. (All of which also serves to allow Emily to come to terms with the sexual assault she survived back in Ireland.)
Yet again, for me, the major issue—beyond the lack of character development—is the repetitive language.
Emily continues to 'wee' this and 'wee' that, which is grating, but once again, it was the eyebrows that killed me. I read The Girl with the Iron Touch in review copy form, so I double-checked the following quotes against the Google Books preview and the Amazon preview, and it looks to me that they all made it into the finished copy:
Jack arched a brow at her bad manners. (p. 37)
Mr. Isley arched a brow but wisely remained silent. (p. 51)
She arched a brow, and didn't care that he saw it. (p. 149)
Jack raised a brow at Sam. (p. 157)
Jack raised one brow ever so slightly as his gaze locked with hers. (p. 161)
Emily's heart skipped a beat even as her brow gave a dubious lift. (p. 170)
She arched a brow. (p. 180)
Emily arched a brow. (p. 206)
He arched a brow. (p. 247)
She arched a brow. (p. 256)
Finley arched a brow. (p. 299)
He arched a brow. (p. 321)
Now she was the one whose brow rose. (p. 321)
Griffin swore—the kind of language that made Finley arch a brow. (p. 326)
And, of course, keep in mind that I didn't count any of the 'lowering' or 'pulling together' or 'shooting up'. All in all, these characters expend more energy waggling their eyebrows around than you or I would while working out to a Jillian Michaels DVD.
So, there you have it: if that sort of thing drives you bananas, I'd say give the series a miss and wait for the (hopefully inevitable) CW show.
Ten pages in, I was all, "HEY, COOL! THIS IS SO WICKER MAN-Y! I LIKE."
Then, I came to the end of the first part. And my eyes got all big and round and I was all (much more subdued, but no less blown away), "Oh, hey, this is VERY Wicker Man-y."
And then, partway through the second segment, I thought, "Wow. Hello, Cloud Atlas."
After that, I stopped thinking about anything except the story—stories—in front of me, and I read and read and read until there were no more pages to read. And I was crying.
I still feel dazed.
It's not going to be for everyone. I GUARANTEE that some readers are going to want to throw it at the wall. (Perhaps you have already done so?) But something about it resonated with me. It's not just that I'm impressed by the structure—I am—or that I love Sedgwick's writing and skillful atmosphere creation—I do—or that I was blown away by how each segment was so different, but how (even discounting the physical details: the names, the flowers, the hare) each one was also so clearly part of a larger whole.
All of those things are a part of why I loved it, but there was something... BIGGER, yet less tangible beyond that. I think it was that even though the premise doesn't jive with my own personal, in real life worldview—I'm one of those who can't wrap my mind around anything beyond conceived/born/live/die/dead*—that the idea of these two people finding each other over and over again was genuinely, heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
Even though [SPOILER] it was a tragedy almost every time.
But, compared to the love that began—and ultimately ended—their story, the tragedy that followed them felt inconsequential. [/SPOILER]
As the footnote below explains, I have a hard time with the metaphysical.
It's just a gorgeous, gorgeous book.
So good that it has apparently made my brain implode.
*Which reminds me of a conversation I had years ago:
Family Friend Who Is Way Into Astrology: And so since you have so much Libra in your chart, that means that etc., etc....
Me: I dunno. I just have a hard time buying the idea that I am who I am because of where the planets were when I was born.
FFWIWIA: Oh, that's just because you're a Gemini. You're all about the intellectually concrete.
Me: So I don't believe in astrology because... I'm a Gemini?
My mother's a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind. She's actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.
Seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine doesn't want to follow in her mother's footsteps. She's known that for years, and even though she still works at the same brothel as her mother—cleaning rooms, mind you—and even though she's on good terms with Willie Woodley, the woman who owns it, she's independent enough that she's kept her own apartment since she was eleven years old.
She works part-time at the bookstore below it, and she dreams of going to college. But when Josie dreams, she dreams big: she wants out of New Orleans, to start over somewhere up North, somewhere where she can reinvent herself—where no one knows who she is or what her mother does.
LOVE: THE DIALOGUE. Out of the Easy is set in 1950, and Sepetys' characters sling slang without sounding phony or overblown, and the dialogue zings back-and-forth like in an old movie. The characters speak in distinctive voices, and unlike in Strands of Bronze and Gold, those differences in vocabulary, rhythm, and diction are affected by economic class, vocation, and education, rather than being purely dictated by the color of one's skin.
LOVE: JOSIE. Her narration has a touch of the noir hero: deadpan, world-weary, and with an understanding of ironic humor. Unlike a noir hero, though, she is open about being emotionally affected by... things that are emotionally affecting. She's smart, she's canny, and rather than blushing and wanting to melt into the ground in embarrassing situations, she treats them as opportunities—I cheered out loud when she turned one around by becoming an impromptu blackmailer, and I swooned during another when she threw herself into a cute boy's lap to save herself (and him, to a degree) from some catty mean girls.
LOVE: HER MOTHER. Well, no, actually, I loathed her mother. But I loved that she wasn't the Pretty-Woman-hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, I loved that she wasn't secretly sympathetic, or selfless or particularly smart. She was completely self-absorbed, and while her behavior makes her come off as rotten and somewhat stupid, it's important to remember who's telling the story: Josie isn't exactly an objective party. The other women who work for Willie are a mixed bag of funny/serious/witty/quiet/ruthless/rude/mothering/mean/sensitive and everything in between, and it's easy to imagine that if another person had told the story, Louise would have come off as more human. Maybe. Then again, SOME PEOPLE ARE JUST TERRIBLE.
LOVE: THE BOOKS. Josie works in a bookstore, and she and her best friend Patrick have an ongoing game where they predict what sort of book customers will want. There are references to Dickens and Keats, Capote and even L'Engle. And, tangentially, Poe: Josie ends up with a dead man's watch—THAT'S RIGHT, ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE, SHE INVESTIGATES A MURDER—under her floorboards, and she swears she can hear it ticking, ticking, ticking. Which, of course, evokes The Tell-Tale Heart.
LOVE: EVERYTHING ELSE. Sepetys is true to the era and her characters in how Patrick's story plays out; the romance is sweet and heartfelt; the details about 1950s life and culture work themselves in fluidly; Josie wants what she wants so badly that I was never quite sure about how far she'd go to get it; and while the ending certainly has some fairy-tale elements, there's enough bitter in the sweet to keep cynics (like me) from getting all up on their high horses.
Oh, I loved this book. As it's got the same combination of fantastically-rendered historical atmosphere—the dialogue is TO DIE FOR—and mystery elements, I highly, HIGHLY recommend it to fans of Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied.