Beastly Bones (CBR8 #22)

I hate to say it, but William Ritter seems to have hit a sophomore slump with 2015’s Beastly Bones. I loved my experience reading Jackaby last year: it had so much of all the things that I love about books of the type. Much of that remains in book two, Abigail is still independent and self-assured, Jackaby is still his off-kilter self without being off-putting, we still have a live in ghost, and a shape shifter, and a relatively tightly paced mystery.

But… book two commits a sin that book one managed to avoid. Its main purpose seems to be setting up a larger story to be told in the next book (which is to be released later this year). Beastly Bones has a plot all its own – Abigail and Jackaby have been brought in to nearby Gad’s Valley, now home to the exiled New Fiddleham police detective Charlie Cane, dinosaur bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. There is also the problem of bodies turning up with weird puncture wounds on their necks, and shapeshifting creatures on the loose.

All of that is resolved (mostly), some new characters get introduced, and things proceed as one would expect for a book aimed at a YA audience. But… I have this nagging dissatisfaction. Was Abigail still awesome? Yes. Was she given great feminist advice which she then turned to her own way of doing things re: her love life and career? Yep. Was there a plausible end to the mystery? You bet. Were characters given enough time on page? Mostly. Jackaby’s landlady ghost, Jenny Cavanaugh, is necessarily out of sorts in order to set up the third book which will focus on her (as book one focused on the titular Jackaby and book two focused heavily on Abigail’s interests and history), and off page because Jackaby and Abigail are away from New Fiddleham. However Jackaby quite literally does an infodump at the end of the book to explain how we’re getting from the events of this book to the ones upcoming. We didn’t need it. The YA readers didn’t need it. And after a bumpy start of the book it made me round this down to 3 stars. It simply wasn’t as strong as some of the other 4 star books I’ve read this year.

Do I still suggest this series to you? Absolutely. They are fun, clever, and quick-witted and I remain enthusiastic for book three, Ghostly Echoes.

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

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.

Soulless (CBR4 #3)

Soulless by Gail Carriger sparked my interest when I saw a review of it over on io9.  I thought “hey that sounds like a fantasy/steampunk book I could get behind”. And that was great because we were working on Steampunk at work (I have a weird job) and I thought it would be a great place to jump in. Then I forgot all about it until several months later when a friend of a friend said she read it and enjoyed it. I subsequently begged to borrow said book and because she is a very nice person it was lent to me forthwith.

We meet Alexia Tarabotti right away, and I must say this character begins the story as she means to continue – with a healthy appetite and an ability to fight for herself, and I like that about her. The world Alexia inhabits is a re-imagined Victorian Era, if vampires and werewolves had been living openly in society for centuries. The author, Gail Carriger, does a great job of providing the ways in which this altered reality would affect the history of her new world (the pilgrims were leaving England for more than just religious reasons in this version of history).

Alexia is an odd creature even in this world. She introduces herself as an ugly spinster, on the shelf due to her ‘bad’ habits and Italian heritage. In fact, she harps on it so much you know the author is going to bring in someone who is of an opposing view (and she does). We also learn quite quickly that while vampires and werewolves are made from people with an excess of soul, Alexia is herself soulless.

This state makes her interactions with vampires and werewolves very different from regular humans. Skin to skin contact returns the supernatural to their human state. This also reasons to keep her identity a secret, since the soulless historically were supernatural hunters. But, needless to say, Alexia finds a way to be right in the middle of the supernatural set. And hi-jinks and mystery solving ensue.  I know I am leaving out the entire plot, and while the beginning of this novel is certainly an info dump, I wouldn’t want to spoil the story for anyone looking to read it, or its sequels for themselves (Soulless is the first in the Parasol Protectorate series, reviews for the rest of the books in the series will be following). There is a lot of great characterization here, characters who get stuck in your head and you wonder about, and I promise to talk about all of that more in my review of the next book, Changeless.