Tag Archives: Victorian setting

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

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I wanted to read and review more YA and children’s books this year, so when this one caught my eye due to the interesting premise, I requested it and couldn’t be more pleased. It’s a delight…

When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, things don’t go as planned…

This steampunk adventure is huge fun that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the end. Emmeline is brought up a solitary child in a creepy house infested with all sorts of dangerous creatures and is more or less left to get on with it as her scientist parents have to do a lot of travelling. Until a fateful day when everything goes wrong… Do try to avoid reading the blurb which is far too chatty and gives away more of the plot than is necessary. That said, there is plenty of plot in this action-packed story brimful of interesting, likeable characters. Generally I am not a huge fan of stories where yet another set of new characters pop up in each scene, but somehow O’Hart manages to pull it off. Other than Emmeline, whose gritty self-assurance gets her through all sorts of tight spots, my favourite character has to be Thing, the vagabond boy she encounters on the liner. But there are plenty of other enjoyable, strong-minded characters to choose from as steampunk tends to roll along with lots of action and relatively little angst. It was when Thing had a wobble about his grim childhood that I bonded with him and felt that vulnerability gave him more reader-appeal.

There is also a pleasing number of unpleasant villains ranged against Emmeline and the people trying to prevent the impending apocalypse – my favourite is Doctor Siegfried Bauer as he is so magnificently horrible, especially to poor Emmeline. But the North Witch is also a thoroughly nasty character who poses all sorts of problems. Once the action really takes off, we have the two main protagonists, Emmeline and Thing alternating in telling the story, occasionally interspersed by other members of the supporting cast. O’Hart’s strong writing and deft handling of the rising tension makes this a really gripping read that didn’t want to let me go when I should have been up and about instead of finishing the book.

The denouement has to deliver after so much energy and tension has been expended during the rising action and in this case, it does, while all the dangling plotpoints are satisfactorily tidied up. I’m very much hoping that this book does well, because although I cannot see any sign of this being the first in a series, I’d love to read more about Emmeline and her family in another madcap adventure. Recommended for precocious readers from 10/11 years old onwards.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – Book 2 of The Curious Affair series by Lisa Tuttle

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My attention was snagged by this title and Lisa Tuttle is an author who is been on my radar for a while, so I requested it.

“Witch!” cries the young man after stumbling unexpectedly into the London address of the consulting-detective partnership of Mr. Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. He makes the startling accusation while pointing toward Miss Lane . . . then he drops dead. Thus begins the strangest case yet to land—quite literally—on the doorstep of Jesperson and Lane. According to the coroner, Charles Manning died of a heart attack—despite being in perfect health. Could he have been struck down by a witch’s spell? The late Mr. Manning’s address book leads Jesperson and Lane to the shrieking pits of Aylmerton, an ancient archaeological site reputed to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. There they sift through the local characters, each more suspicious than the last: Manning’s associate, Felix Ott, an English folklore enthusiast; Reverend Ringer, a fierce opponent of superstition; and the Bulstrode sisters, a trio of beauties with a reputation for witchcraft. But when an innocent child goes missing, suddenly Jesperson and Lane aren’t merely trying to solve one murder—they’re racing to prevent another.

I haven’t read the first book in this series, but while I have clearly missed a slice of the adventure, that didn’t hamper my understanding or enjoyment of this story. Tuttle doesn’t hang about – she tips us straight into the case which I appreciated. While this series has been compared with the Sherlock Holmes adventures, I don’t think that Miss Lane, the narrator of this case, is all that much like John Watson. She isn’t overly gushing about Jasper Jesperson’s detecting skills, for starters – indeed, there are times when she is quite sharp about him, which I enjoyed.

The other aspect that I hadn’t expected and very much liked – while both Jesperson and Lane are middle-class and reasonably comfortably off, that doesn’t prevent Tuttle from lifting the façade on apparent Victorian respectability by depicting a young serving girl’s plight after suffering a rape. The detective duo also uncover a shocking lack of respect towards women who have the temerity to refuse or thwart a couple of apparently eligible men, who portray themselves as perfectly reasonable, educated gentlemen. Miss Lane isn’t particularly happy about the state of affairs, but isn’t overly surprised. What it reinforced for me is how much women were simply not regarded as on a par with men. Not only did they not have the same protection in law, they were not felt to be capable of the same understanding or intellect as a man – so when a woman demonstrated any independence of spirit, she frequently incurred anger at her temerity – how dare she defy him!

That said, I don’t want you to go away thinking this entertaining, engrossing whodunit is focusing on the gender inequality of the time – it is a mere side issue in this adventure. An adventure full of twists and turns as Lane and Jesperson then find themselves desperately looking for a baby. And the resolution to that puzzle had my jaw dropping…

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will definitely be tracking down the first instalment in this series. Recommended for anyone who enjoys their historical crime series with a twist of fantasy.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – You have nice manners for a thief, and a LIAR!

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the one we prefer. This week the theme is dragons, so I’ve chosen Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

 

This cover, produced by Tor Fantasy in December 2004, is a rather splendid dragon. Definitely eye-catching and I like the fact that he is clearly expecting to be served. If I’m going to be picky, the backdrop looks like a generic fantasy landscape – and this book is set in an alternate Victorian England where dragons are vying with each other for power and influence after the style of Trollop. So the backdrop doesn’t line up very well with the content. Other than that, I think it’s a solidly good cover.

 

This offering was produced by Orb Books in January 2006. I have to say my first instinct is ‘how boring’. A WHITE cover… really? And that very generic dragon didn’t really take a lot of effort. There’s nothing innately wrong with it, but when I consider just what an awesomely sharp, funny and memorable book this is – the cover simply doesn’t measure up.

 

This cover from Corsair was published in February 2013 and is far more like it! The deep rich crimson and embossed gold lettering and wheeling dragon is both classy and eyecatching. This is the edition that I read, so that also may affect my reaction to it – but the reason I picked it up off the shelf was because the cover caught my eye…

 

Produced in September 2017, this French edition by Denoël also features gold lettering and decoration. The background is darker, but I suppose they are going for a classic Victorian feel. I also like the visual impact of this one, though I doubt it gives the reader much idea about the story or genre of this very quirky, entertaining book.

 

This edition, published in 2006 by Triton is my favourite. I love the wonderfully detailed illustration. The power and menace emanating from that dragon is palpable, while the lettering looks beautiful. And the fact this dragon is engrossed in a book gives a major clue about the story. What about you? Which one of these do you prefer?

 

AAAND… some of you may know that my debut novel, Running Out of Space was published this week. Today I am featuring in a guest blog at Second Run Reviews talking about growing up during the space race – and how I felt when it all came to a halt.

Review of Smoke by Dan Vyleta

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I picked this one off the shelves because I loved the look of the cover and the idea that this book filled a gap left by J.K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman appealed.

England. A century ago, give or take a few years. An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real. An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie – knowledge that could cost them their lives.

This book is set in a Dickensian England in an alternate time when any negative emotion appears as either soot or Smoke. The aristocracy and upper classes generally don’t show any signs of such debased behaviour, whereas the lower orders are steeped in it. London, with its factories and crowded living conditions, is a byword for degradation and filth as a perpetual cloud of Smoke infests its streets. We follow the fortunes of three youngsters – two boys who are pupils at the boarding school – Charlie and Thomas and a girl Livia.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way this book opened and found the initial tension and questions surrounding Smoke pulled me into the story. However, while it continued to be enjoyable and there was never any risk of my not finishing it, the readability factor that initially hooked me began to dissipate. Vyleta seemed to need to thoroughly explain his world and that was the factor that began to drive the story, rather than the other way around. It is, indeed, a fascinating premise. But I did find the continual addition of random characters who we never saw again giving us slices of their viewpoint rather jarring and it diluted the characterisation and strength of the initial protagonists, who became rather generic. The love triangle also seemed an oddity and didn’t sit at all well with me, given how it cuts right across the gothic atmosphere and managed to diminish the story into a will-they-won’t-they romance while also trying address some really big and interesting themes.

I’m conscious that it sounds as if I thought this was a bad book and it’s not. There premise is original – Vyleta handles the subsequent class divide really cleverly – and at times, the writing is wonderful. But I have a feeling that this book is trying to be a gothic, Dickensian read while having a wide YA appeal and in trying for both goals has managed to fall short of the original greatness this book promised. Having said that, I’m glad I’ve read it and would be interested in reading other works by this author – he certainly has a fertile, original imagination.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club – Book 1 of the Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries by Robert J. Harris

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I really liked the blurb for this children’s mystery based on the supposed adventures of the young Arthur Conan Doyle. Would the charm persist beyond the book’s description?

thegravediggersclubOne day Arthur Conan Doyle will create the greatest detective of all – Sherlock Holmes. But right now, Artie Conan Doyle is a twelve-year-old Edinburgh schoolboy with a mystery of his own to solve. While sneaking out to explore Greyfriars Kirkyard by night, Artie and his best friend Ham spot a ghostly lady in grey and discover the footprints of a gigantic hound. Could the two mysteries be connected?

We are immediately plunged right into the middle of this mystery as Artie and his friend and sidekick, Ham, have a spooky encounter in a churchyard, which persuades Artie that the young trainee doctor lodging at their house is up to no good. Harris has managed to layer the character rather effectively. While watching Artie in action, I’m forcibly reminded of a juvenile Benedict Cumberbatch – opinionated, bossy and invariably convinced he is superior to those around him. More endearingly, Artie is prone to make more mistakes and go blundering more haphazardly into situations than his supercilious sleuth.

The historical feel of the period is effectively depicted with the occasional old fashioned word, such as ‘kirk’ instead of church, for instance but reading the context, I think most young readers could work out what the word means. We also have a number of interesting characters. I like the fact that Artie’s family is rather dysfunctional, with a father suffering depression in a time when there is no sickness benefit or safety net for those struggling on the poverty line. Ham also has a difficult background, with a father who has died and a widowed mother trying to cope.

There is plenty of banter between the two boys, as Ham is reluctantly dragged along in Artie’s wake. Most of the time he goes along with it – but just occasionally his pointed remarks regarding Artie’s tendency to go crashing into a situation make him pause and reconsider. I was pleased it is Ham’s contribution to the adventure that is the major gamechanger during the climactic final flurry of action.

Any niggles? I could have done without Artie’s jabs about Ham’s size. This is particularly unfortunate, I feel, in a book aimed at the children’s market when there are now significant numbers of youngsters heavier than is healthy. Surely, in an escapist adventure overweight children are also entitled to be able to enjoy the fun without such reminders of their problems?

That apart, I enjoyed this romp and I think many youngsters will do, too. There is plenty of action and some creepy moments without slipping into anything too horrific for newly independent readers, or those having this one read to them.

While I obtained the arc of Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

My Outstanding Books of 2016

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Last year was an amazing year for reading. I cannot recall when I last read so many exciting, engrossing and well crafted books. Below are the ones which have left a niche in my inscape so they may not have initially got a 10/10, but nevertheless these are the ones that have stayed with me…

The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

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This amazing, thought provoking series is essentially examining Plato’s ideas for an ideal society striving towards excellence as propounded in The Republic. It’s quirky, imaginative and clever – vintage Walton in other words. She has to be one of the most exciting, talented writers of our age.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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This is a variation of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that is filled with mystery, magic and a strong sense of place. The isolation and brooding sense of being at the whim of someone who is perhaps not wholly stable permeates the book.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

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This hard science fiction tale of a shape-shifter is an extraordinary book, rich with techie detail and some of the most vivid sensory writing I’ve read. In addition, the story takes you in one direction – until you suddenly realise it is about something else altogether. Clever and original, this impressive debut novel marks Geen as One to Watch.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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The cover of this book is lushly beautiful – which is also an accurate description of the prose spinning this story into a classic tale that wouldn’t be out of place if it turned up as one of the tales of Scheherazade. What really sold it, though, was the carnivorous horse with smart mouth…

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

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Unlike the rest of this clever, readable series, this book is told in the viewpoint of Bob Howard’s wife, Mo. She has a bone violin as a weapon to battle the Lovecraftian monsters emerging from another dimension and threatening life on Earth as we know it. You won’t be surprised to learn that wielding such an instrument exacts a heavy cost. Stross has depicted a heartbreaking heroine who leaves a lump in my throat.

 

The House with No Rooms – Book 4 of The Detective’s Daughter series
by Lesley Thomson

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I love Thomson’s clever, layered writing that assumes her readers are capable of joining the dots and her leisurely pacing that steadily builds a creeping sense of wrongness. Stella’s quirky world view prevails and in amongst the tragedy and pain, there are welcome shafts of humour. I’ve dreamt about this book…

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

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This book, rightly, has garnered a huge amount of attention and I nearly didn’t read it because of the fuss. Which would have been a real shame, because the story is gripping, funny and painful and without an ounce of sentiment. I certainly didn’t think it would end the way it did.

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows

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This portal fantasy gripped me from the first page and still hasn’t let go. I was completely caught up in the adventure, which quickly took me out of my comfort zone and captivated me. I still find myself wondering what I’d do if confronted with the same circumstances and hope that Meadows writes quickly, because I badly want to know what happens next.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

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I love her Inheritance series, but blogging buddy Sara Letourneau kept banging on about this one, so I got hold of it. And I’m so very glad I did… The writing is extraordinary. Jemisin takes all the rules about writing by the scruff of the neck and gives them a thorough shaking. I stayed awake to read this one, caught up with Essun’s furious grief and felt bereft once I came to the end of it.

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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This clever, unsettling adventure takes the classic fantasy trope of the band of heroes and bounces it off the walls. The result is funny, creepy and poignant by turns – and absolutely engrossing. It also raises some tricky moral questions.

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

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This fantasy adventure vividly depicts a family where every one of them is lethally powerful such that it seriously gets in the way of their love for each other. The result is riveting and original – it has lodged itself in my brain like a burr, because if you have the power to level cities or predict your father’s death, then it’s probably going to make the inevitable family tiff somewhat tricky.

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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I’ve always enjoyed Hall’s writing – but this particular tale of abduction and slavery tugged at my heart from the first chapter and kept on doing so throughout. Her heroine is painfully fallible and yet doggedly courageous – and the writing is always so well crafted. It’s another one that won’t leave me in peace…

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

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This disturbing portal novel is about revenge and bloodshed – and how those that pay the price often are innocent. It grabbed me from the beginning as we learn about the three sisters and I read through the night to learn what befalls them – and I’m really hoping that Houghton is busy writing a sequel, for I want more of this savage, magical world.

 

A Natural History of DragonsBook 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series
by Marie Brennan

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What’s not to love? A dogged, adventuring Victorian lady who defies convention to go adventuring to learn more about dragons in their habitat. The book is written after the style of a 19th century novel and enchanted me – happily there are more in the series and I’m going to be plunging back into this world just as soon as I can.

 

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s
by Jodi Taylor

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This time travelling novel is set in a Government-run establishment that has the same feel I imagine Bletchley would have done during WW2 – though the attrition rate is definitely higher at St Mary’s. The time-travelling historians – or ‘disaster-magnets’ as they are described in this punchy, amusing adventure – tend to die rather a lot.

So there they are – my outstanding reads of 2016. I highly recommend each and every one of them as offering something special and unique. And if you insist on forcing me to choose only one of them, then you’re a cruel, unfeeling monster – but if I HAD to, then it would have to be N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. The intensity of the writing, the cool premise and the way she builds on the characters has this one etched into my mind.

Review of Shanghai Sparrow – Book 1 of the Gears of Empire series by Gaie Sebold

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I met up with Gaie at Bristolcon, who kindly gave me a copy of her book as it sounded right up my street. I’m already a fan of her writing – read my review of Babylon Steel here, which is memorably enjoyable adventure.

Eveline Duchen is a thief and con-artist, surviving day by day on the streets of London, where the glittering spires of progess rise on the straining backs of the poor and disenfranchised. Where the Folk, the otherworldly children of fairy tailes and legends, have all but withdrawn from the smoke of the furnaces and clamour of iron. But events overtake Eveline and as she is forced into someone else’s schemes, she begins to realise that her actions could affect everyone she knows and cares about…

shanghaisparrowI’ve tweaked the blurb somewhat – but this fantasy thriller set in an alternate Victorian England has all the classic steampunk ingredients. With an additional splash of Sebold magic. Eveline is a cracking protagonist – full of spirit and ingenuity, yet with sufficient vulnerability that I really cared what happened to her. And plenty already has… Eveline certainly has the family knack for getting sucked into life-threatening adventures – and as investigations into etheric science gather pace, Eveline draws down the unwelcome attention of powerful people who want results.

The supporting characters are also great fun – Uncle James bounces off the page with his smug arrogance and conviction that he should be the family inventor; Mr Holmforth is suitably menacing and driven; while the scatty and very likeable Beth who enjoys nothing more than fiddling around with the new-fangled steam engines, is a great foil for Eveline’s dare-devil nature. As well as producing a cast of strong characters, Sebold manages to make them all entirely plausible by providing strong motivating factors for each one without silting up the action, or lessening the pace. It’s a trick that is a whole lot harder to accomplish than Sebold makes it look. And for all the forward momentum and breeziness in this book that is characteristic of steampunk, Sebold doesn’t hesitate to show the darker side underbelly of her world, where the poor and sick are left to fend for themselves. Where children roam the streets begging or stealing. Where women can be bundled off to asylums if they annoy their male relatives by their ‘unwomanly’ behaviour. I’d like to say that aspect of Sebold’s story is pure fiction – but it isn’t.

The fantastic elements are also well handled – her otherworldly protagonist in many ways mirrors Eveline with his sharp wit, ability to think outside the box – and the fact that for all his cleverness and strong survival instincts, he is also trapped.

Sebold gives more than a nod to the likes of Dickens and Conan Doyle with some of the plot twists as this adventure unfolds – some I saw coming and some I didn’t… But with the energy crackling off the page, I just wanted to read on. In fact I finished off the book in three greedy gulps, staying up waaay too late to find out what happens to Eveline. Though I understand that this is the start of a series, so I shall be looking out for the sequel. And if you enjoy steampunk adventure tales with characters who ricochet off the page, then give this one a go – it’s a blast.
9/10

Review of Indie EBOOK Lady of Devices – Book 1 of Magnificent Devices by Shelley Adina

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I’ve a real soft spot for steampunk and Himself had downloaded this book onto his Kindle a while back, and reported enthusiastically on it after he’d finished it. In fact, I think he went out and bought the rest of the series…

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up.

ladyI’m not including the rest of the blurb on the grounds that it contains far too much of the story arc. But if you dip into the first couple of chapters and get the impression that this is a period romance with steampowered gismos lurking in the background, then grit your teeth and keep going… Of course, like me, you might have been completely snagged by Claire’s feisty personality since the first page. But if not, keep going – really. It’s worth it. Oh – and avoid the blurting blurb at all costs, or your pleasure will be significantly spoilt.

This incarnation of Victorian society has the upper classes divided into Bloods and Wits, where nobility whose lineage have entitled them to their lands and riches don’t mix socially with the Wits – those whose intellect and entrepreneurship have provided them with wealth, but not necessarily a position in the Best Society. Claire’s mother is a crushing snob, who refuses to have Peony Churchill to the house unless she is related to the correct branch of the family.

I skimmed some of the reviews on Amazon and was slightly taken aback to find so much critical head-shaking over terms like fall instead of autumn, accusing Adina for being sloppy in muddling her Victorian English with American English. Um… my reading of this book is that it is an alternate version of Victorian England – which is what steampunk does. I don’t think Adina has made a mistake – she several times refers to the Colonial Territories, meaning the Americas, which means that in her timeline they haven’t declared Independence from Britain. Therefore words and phrases from the Colonies would be far more likely to mix with UK English – she has the best ball gowns designed in America, for instance. Neither do I think Adina slipped up in having Prince Albert around when she sets her steampunk adventure – I think she has chosen to keep him alive in her world. However it would have been helpful if she’d actually flagged where she tinkered with historical fact in an appendix, as does C.J. Sansom in his alternate history Dominion.

So, having established that Adina is obeying the best conventions of steampunk, rather than being a sloppy writer – does she go on to produce a story sufficiently filled with the magnificent devices promised in the series title? Oh yes, she certainly does. I love the scene where Claire finds herself at the Great Exhibition, looking at some of the cutting edge technologies of the time and discussing whether electronick weapons will work. The other defining genre convention is pace – steampunk tends to bounce along with the throttle fully open, with all sorts of madcap OTT adventures along the way. Adina also provides these in spades – in fact the only grizzle I have is that the book ended far too soon, by dint of being only fifty-something thousand words long. But, as I picked it up on Kindle for less than a pound, it still provided me with excellent value – and a determination to get hold of the second book in the series.
9/10

Review of Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

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I’d had a slight dry spell regarding my reading – two books in a row that I hadn’t cared about enough to write a review. In fact one of them still makes me cross whenever I think about the sloppy, offhand ending… So I was relieved when Himself suggested I give this a go, with the comment, “It’s really good – I’ve never read anything else quite like it…” Given how many books Himself gets through in a year, means it must be something special. And, as ever, he’s right.

tooth and clawA family of dragons gathers on the occasion of the death of their father, the elder Bon Agornin. As is custom, they must eat the body. But even as Bon’s last remains are polished off, his sons and daughters must all jostle for a position in the new hierarchy. While the youngest son seeks greedy remuneration through the courts of law, the eldest son – a dragon of the cloth – agonises over his father’s deathbed confession. While one daughter is caught between loyalty to her family by blood and her family by marriage, another daughter follows her heart – only to discover the great cost of true love… Here is a Victorian story of political intrigue, family ties and political intrigue, set in a world of dragons – a world, quite literally, red in tooth and claw.

If you thoroughly enjoy Fantasy, particularly depictions of dragons along the lines of Anne McCaffrey and Robin Hobbs – but also like Victorian novels, especially those by Anthony Trollope, then Tooth and Claw is sheer delight. It could so easily been a tale of offbeat whimsy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Walton has given us a few extra twists. Dragons in her world are obsessed with social position in a strictly hierarchical society. But, in order to ‘get on’, you need to be able to defend your position. With force. So females need protection as they don’t possess claws or breathe fire, like large, powerful males. And it is all about size. Dragons are constantly comparing their size – and will devour sickly children, elderly servants that have outlived their usefulness, and the bodies of their parents. For nothing nourishes and increases a dragon’s size like dragon flesh. So servants – who have bound wings to stop them flying off and escaping – rarely grow beyond seven or eight feet long because they simply don’t have access to dragon flesh.

Another interesting kink in this tale, is that female dragons are carefully protected because if they get too close to a male, they turn a bridal pink. If the proprieties have all been observed, this is fine – but if a male manages to corner a young female against her will and she flushes pink, she is ruined if he doesn’t marry her. So we have an interesting parallel with the Victorian obsession of keeping unmarried girls pure – and how fragile their reputations are if they encounter an unscrupulous male.

There is also a fascinating sub-plot about religion, where a more socially acceptable version has superseded an older and a more troubling account of how dragonkind managed to prevail against a race that sounds uncannily like humans. Pockets of high-born dragons still worship the older sect, but have to do so in secret and risk social disgrace, even though theoretically, there is no religious discrimination… It’s all very well done.

By adopting the viewpoint of the omniscient narrator, and providing details of each character’s social class and standing, Walton manages to give us the same cosy feel-good atmosphere we get from Austen and Trollope’s books. Which reads very enjoyably when set against the inevitable explosions of visceral violence that underpins dragon society…

Of course, Walton is not just discussing dragon priorities – Trollope’s books are all about power and ambition. Who has it, who wants it and how far they are prepared to go to achieve it. And how the romantic heroine will cope in a world where her appearance and wit are all she has to offer, when respectable employment is out of the question. Walton could have so very easily made a real mess of this conceit – but in handling all her characters with such humour and adroitness, she presents us with another mirror to our own natures – one red in tooth and claw.
10/10