Waistcoats &Weaponry (CBR7 #43)

Sophronia and her friends have grown on me. Waistcoats & Weaponry, the third book in Carriger’s prequel Finishing School series, is much more in line with the early Alexia Tarabotti Parasol Protectorate books (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, etc.) than the previous two books in this series. What we have in Waistcoats & Weaponry is a good old fashioned caper story. I was delighted.

Waistcoats& Weaponry picks up several months after Curtsies & Conspiracies. Our girls are continuing with their lessons at Madam Geraldine’s and Sophronia and Dimity are awaiting the chance to get off-dirigible to attend Sophronia’s brother’s masquerade engagement party (you can’t accuse Carriger of not giving a crazy level of detail to everything she writes).  Before they go we are treated to lessons with my favorite teachers – checking in with Professor Braithwope the vampire and Captain Niall the werewolf (did I not mention that Carriger’s Steampunk novels include vampires and werewolves and they play a major role in the politics of this alt-history? Because they both do.) However, before Captain Niall’s lesson on bladed fans (I want one) Sidheag is called away because of a letter from home.

What happens next is a series of events that lead to the caper. I don’t want to give much away, so know that *any* event that Sophronia attends *something* goes absolutely haywire. Sophronia, Dimity, Lord Felix Mersey, and Soap (with some help from Dimity’s brother) take off into the night to get Sidheag to Scotland. And hijinks ensue.

I loved this book because there was a mystery as part of the plot that isn’t straight forward, but pulls the world that Carriger is creating more clearly into focus while simultaneously setting up the world we find in the Parasol Protectorate books. It is tightly paced and fun. What more could you want from a Y.A. Steampunk book? The series has gotten stronger as it continues and I’ve gone from feeling “meh” about completing it to being quite excited to eventually borrow book the fourth from Crystal Clear (who graciously lent me her copy of this book as well).

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

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Curtsies & Conspiracies (CBR7 #30)

I admit that I had no immediate plans of reading the rest of the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger when I finished Etiquette & Espionage. Sure, the book contained all of the wit and witticism one would expect from a Carrier steampunk novel, but it just didn’t grab me the same way Soulless had a few years ago. Well, my friend Crystal Clear had the book the second ready and waiting and dropped it off for me to read. I’m really rather glad she did.

Curtsies & Conspiracies picks up almost immediately after E&E. Sophronia and her friends are in the middle of their first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, and it’s time for exams. Some do very well, some less well, but all are being put to further tests. These various plot threads all come to a head when Sophronia learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. There is a conspiracy afoot-(as the title of the book would have you be ready for) However, this conspiracy may have dire implications for both supernaturals and humans.

It’s this part of Carriger’s novels that I really enjoy, the solving of plots. Carriger weaves in old standbys from the novels of manners and overlays them with the idea that since so much of a woman’s life was and is about subterfuge; wouldn’t they make the best possible spies? Sophronia is certainly proving herself up to the task, but being a girl of 14, there are certain consequences she doesn’t foresee and Carriger doesn’t shy away from them. This was certainly an improvement in tone from the first outing in this series.

I find myself looking forward to the third book, Waistcoats & Weaponry whenever it finds its way to my door.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Etiquette & Espionage (CBR6 #48)

I was granted an ARC of this book via NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.

This book is currently available at your local bookseller.

I am a noted enjoyer of books that Gail Carriger writes. I read all of her Parasol Protectorate books for CBR IV way back in 2012. While I felt the series eventually ran out of steam and books four and five should’ve been one book with extraneous story removed, it was a respectable series and a nice entry point for me for some Steampunky reading.

Fast forward and Ms. Carriger is continuing to write in the world of Parasol Protectorate, an alternate Steampunk and fantasy reality were werewolves and vampires are a thing and technology is more advanced. The Finishing School series serves as a prequel of sorts to the Parasol Protectorate books and the upcoming The Custard Protocol books which are set in the same universe a generation after the Parasol Protectorate books.

Etiquette & Espionage  is the first in a series of four books surrounding Sophronia Temminick, and I don’t know if I’ll keep reading them, but I have a feeling I’ll pick them up whenever I feel like I need a bit of whimsy and an easily solvable mystery. Here’s the description from Goodreads:

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is the bane of her mother’s existence. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper etiquette at tea–and god forbid anyone see her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. She enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But little do Sophronia or her mother know that this is a school where ingenious young girls learn to finish, all right–but it’s a different kind of finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s certainly trains young ladies in the finer arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also in the other kinds of finishing: the fine arts of death, diversion, deceit, espionage, and the modern weaponries. Sophronia and her friends are going to have a rousing first year at school.

The main reason that this book received a three star rating instead of two and a half is that Ms. Carriger knows how to write a funny protagonist who does not rely on making fun of others to be amusing. This is a perfectly serviceable Steampunk infused mystery, and clearly aimed at a YA audience. Unfortunately it lacks the nuance of Carriger’s previous work, which in and of itself is irritating and I fear a result of her deciding to write for the YA crowd. There were things to be enjoyed as well – the best parts of this book were seeing characters you know from the Parasol Protectorate books (Genevieve LeFoux! Lady Sighead Maccon!) And the weakest parts are the unwieldy names (Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott) and distorted timelines (some of the technology available in these prequels does not match what I remember from the Parasol Protectorate books, but that could just be my faulty memory).  The pacing was a bit off throughout; it took a long time, probably forty percent of the book, to really get to the heart of the plot. Correspondingly, the book wrapped up too quickly. We have the big moment where the various sides come together and its over in ten pages. Not my favorite Carriger, I would suggest Soulless or Blameless instead.

This book was read and reviewed for the Cannonball Read.

Timeless (CBR4 #38)

At long last I made it to book 5 of the Parasol Protectorate series. We find Lady Alexia Maccon, formerly Tarabotti, ensconced in married life to Lord Maccon, alpha of the now London Pack. At the conclusion of book four, Heartless, the pack had been forced to move into town to accommodate swarming vampires and Timeless finds the pack and their alphas two years later dealing with their daughter Prudence and her adoptive father Lord Akeldama. All of it is very complicated and perhaps the reason why book four was my least favorite of the series. But Timeless does not serve its purpose as the final chapter in the Parasol Protectorate series.

This go around Alexia receives a summons from Matakara, Queen of the Alexandria hive and the oldest living vampire. The Maccons, along with the Tunstells and their acting troupe, whom they take along as cover, set out for Egypt where, inevitably, they encounter adversity, mystery and adventure.  The entire first part of this book is a retread and filler, with the author re-visiting some of the more memorable places and characters from the previous books – the hat shop now run by Biffy, the Woolsey Hive (with notable appearances from Countess Nadasdy and Mabel Dair), the fleeting return of Felicity Loontwill in a flurry of spite, the sudden reappearance of Lady Kingair and a single appearance of Guatve Trouve, in order to deliver a replacement parasol after the two intervening years to name just a few.

After the lazy intro, the meat of the plot and the wrap up were rushed and left this reader feeling emotionally manipulated. But the most disappointing thing of all is that the main mysteries of the books – the Order of the Brass Octopus, the nature of the soulless/soulstealers – remain unanswered pretty much completely, unless you count the fact that Alexia’s abilities are discovered to be cancelled out when she is submerged in water. We also spend no time further investigating the BUR or the Shadow Council, or any other aspects of the supernatural world in Carriger’s universe.

Noting all that, there is one storyline in the book that kept me from giving up on it entirely.  The relationship between Biffy and Lyall. It was nice to have a homosexual relationship which was genuinely sweet and not reduced to stereotypes. I also appreciated the elegant solution introduced by Carriger to deal with Connall’s immortality and that our protagonist never voices any concern about becoming more aged than her love. But the thing I like most is Alexia’s personality remains very much her own, with her own separate interests, friends and responsibilities.  I am however ready to be done with Alexia and her world.

Blameless (CBR4 #5)

Everyone who I spoke to about the Parasol Protectorate series was absolutely right, book three of the series – Blameless – is better than book two.

But is that the best thing I can say about it? No, I can say better things.

The series is, quite rightly, set up around Lady Alexia Maccon the sometimes La Diva Tarrabotti. Alexia is a fun character to follow around, but by the third book (and over 900 pages together) she has begun to wear on this reader. So, it a turn of events which completely answers my previous whining on the subject, we get more of everyone else this go around. Carriger has finally fleshed out the characterization of her supporting cast of characters in this novel. We met wonderful caricatures of these characters in the first and second book, but it certainly took until the third for characters like Ivy, Professor Lyall, Madam Lefoux, and Floote to really come into their own.

Plot wise we have a new big bad, a new problem for Alexia to deal with (why does EVERYONE want this poor girl dead?), and new terrain to explore (hello Italy!), and a seeming impossibility to wrangle with.  I appreciate how much Carriger works to explain the world in which Alexia lives. In Soulless we learn that England is a highly integrated society both for the supernatural set and the scientific community, and that the United States does not work in the same way, being a highly conservative place.  In Blameless we also get a small glimpse into France (science seems  all the fashion) and a larger look at Italy. Italy in the Parasol Protectorate universe in a highly religious, anti-supernatural place teeming with Templars on the hunt, and not necessarily the safest place for Alexia. But, with the disappearance of her would-be hero Lord Akeldama, she is a girl on a mission.

While I can find the descriptive language Carriger uses,  at times, repetitive (how many times does Alexia really need to tell us that the Templars’ outfits look like nightgowns?) I do think this is a good book, particularly if you are looking for a quick fun read. And can make it past book two, which I suggest you do.

Changeless (CBR4 #4)

 

I would like to start out by saying that if you have not yet read this series and would like to read Changeless by  Gail Carriger without knowing  plot details, please skip the rest of the review and know that I quite enjoyed the book: it was a nice easy read with plenty of plot and some great characterization. If you like crime/mystery solving, steampunk or think you might this is a good read and enjoy. Now off you go.

For the rest of us, who have read the first book Soulless, in the Parasol Protectorate series and fell as in love with certain characters, namely Lord Akeldama, Floote, and Prof. Lyall, as I did, you will be a little sad as they do not see much “on camera” time this book.  Where Soulless spent much of its time building the world of alexia’s London and didn’t get to the meat and potatoes of the mystery part of the plot until about half way through we are hit with the mystery up front in this novel. In the first lines of the book we are made aware that something is not right in London and Conall is off to figure it out, leaving his wife, Lady Alexia Maccon, behind.

But not for long, as is the standard Alexia move. She is rapidly using her connections and new position as muhjah in Queen Victoria’s shadow government to piece together why werewolves and vampires are returned to their human state (in essence they are change-less) and why ghosts exorcisms have occured. One of the problems I had with this book is that there are too many issues going on all at the same time and none seemed fully realized. But that may just be a sign of a small sophomoric slump.

For example: we are reintroduced to Ivy (and Ivy’s hats), find out she has a fiancé whom Alexia has never met and an increasing flirtations with the claviger Tunstell – who’s an actor (gasp!), Alexia’s sister Felicity is having trouble with dear old mama and has been foisted off on her sister, the rest of the Woolsey pack has arrived back from the Indian subcontinent and brought with them their human counterparts for a post deployment camp out on the castle lawns, Major Channing the Gamma of the pack makes an ass out of himself immediately upon meeting Alexia but may become useful at some point and we meet the male clothes wearing Madam Lefoux who is working as a hat shopkeeper and an underground scientist and the creator of Alexia’s newest parasol as ordered by Conall, who’s gone off to Scotland to attend to his former pack’s lack of an alpha.

This is all in the first three chapters.  No lie.

The mystery is solved; there is a trip through the aether on a dirigible, our heroine escapes from certain death. But it just wasn’t as fun as the first.  This is because I enjoyed reading the world building more than I enjoyed the mystery solving, particularly as this book didn’t have a satisfying big bad like the Hypocras Club from Soulless.

Would I tell you to read this book? Yes. Because in all honesty it was a fun enjoyable read, and I am just a little cranky about the ending and the fact that it is raining outside as I write this. But, I am looking forward to the next book.