“Everything is splendid, everything is just so!” // Review of “The Dark Unwinding” by Sharon Cameron

Title: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Audio Book Narrator: Fiona Hardinham
Genre:
Historical fiction/steampunk(?)/YA
Date Read: 17/01/2017 – 26/01/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

A wonderful piece of historical fiction, with plenty of fabulous characters to get attached to. I will say at the outset though, that while it sells itself as steampunk, I wouldn’t put it in that category. Yes, clocks and clockwork automata play a role, but the aesthetic that comes with steampunk is absent. If anything, I’d call it a gothic mystery.

When her cruel aunt feels that her son’s inheritance is in peril, she sends Katherine Tulman to her uncle’s (the aunt’s brother-in-law) estate to see if he can’t be committed to an asylum, ensuring the safety of the family fortune. As Katharine depends on her aunt and cousin to survive, she is willing to all she can. That is, until she arrives at Stranwyne Keep and discovers that her uncle is a brilliant eccentric who employs 900 people on the estate who would otherwise be trapped in workhouses their whole working lives. And the more time she spends there, the more torn she becomes between protecting the people she comes to care for and protecting her only means of a future.

Let’s talk about Uncle Tully first. While the word is never mentioned – and would be anachronistic if it were, given the time period – it’s fairly clear that Uncle Tully is autistic. As far as I can tell (my experience is limited, admittedly), it is a very tender representation, too; from the moment you meet him, you curse Aunt Alice for wanting him anywhere near an asylum.  His excitement about his clockwork figures is so endearing, and you just know that there is the brain of a genius hidden in there, even if it isn’t always on show.

Katharine is also a well-constructed character. Her evolution from simply wanting to get the unpleasant business over and done with to caring deeply for those at Stranwyne and the torture of knowing that the truth will come out eventually, even if she lies for them, is well done.

My other favourite character was Lane Moreau, Mr Tully’s closest servant (more friend/family than servant, really) and also Katharine’s eventual love interest. Unlike a lot of male love interests in YA, he actually had a reason to be dark and brooding when Katharine first arrived, namely, he thought she was going to betray them all. I’m a sucker for the hate-to-love trope and it’s done wonderfully here. Lane comes to care for Katharine, too, especially after seeing how quickly Mr Tully takes to her. And the banter! There was so much banter, they were so playful when they were pretending they weren’t supposed to be on opposite sides of the situation. It was wonderful!

There are other great side characters as well. The ensemble cast is very colourful, but we would be here all night if I mentioned everyone. I also don’t want to mention certain other characters and give things away. .

The plot moves slowly, particularly in the first half of the book. The characters really are the focus, and the setting of Stranwyne Keep is also really well developed and described after Katherine’s original arrival. The lay of the land is quite important in the climax of the novel, so pay attention to all of that! Sometimes  I did find the descriptions of all the tunnels and secret doors and rooms a little confusing, probably not helped by the fact that I was listening to the audio book, so couldn’t just duck back a couple of pages or chapters to check things.

The climax itself is very exciting, though I did think the resolution of the situation with Aunt Alice and Cousin Robert was a little bit deus-ex-machina-y. Still, I was glad how things panned out. The book is definitely not a standalone, while many loose ends are tied up, some are not, and we are definitely left with questions. i plan to get to the sequel sometime in the very near future and revisit all these characters that I also came to really love.


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Book Review: “The Pickpocket” by Celine Jeanjean

Title: The Pickpocket (Viper and the Urchin prequel)
Author: Celine Jeanjean
Genre: Steampunk
Date Read: 26/09/2016 – 29/09/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is a fairly short review, as the book itself is also very short. As the cover says, this is the origin story for Rory, the central character in Celine Jeanjean’s Viper and the Urchin series.

Rory is seven  or eight years old and begging for scraps of food when she meets Daria, a teenager who teaches her to pick pockets. To Rory, Daria seems perfect, but she soon discovers not all is as it seems with Daria, and what she discovers will set her course for the next several years of her life.

Once again, the world-building of Damsport is fantastic. Jeanjean puts a lot of time into little details such as the bazaar, and the rooftop where Rory hides the money she saves up, and sleeps.

I wanted to give little Rory so many hugs. She just seemed so small and pathetic, and the way she changed for the better when Daria comes into her life made me smile so much. Daria was a great character, too; she was all bravado and heroics at first, and it was easy to see why Rory latched onto her, but her issues and scars were constructed really well and I felt so sad for her by the end.

While this story could probably stand alone without having read The Bloodless Assassin and The Black Orchid, I would probably recommend reading those first, as there are little nods to characters and aspects of Rory’s life in those books throughout this one. And really, if you haven’t already read those two books, why not? They’re awesome!

“My best guess, You Majesty, is that it’s breakfast, but I can’t be sure until we taste it.” // Review of Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor

Title: Seeing Redd (Looking Glass Wars #2)
Author: Frank Beddor
Audio Book Narrator: Gerard Doyle
Genre: YA/fantasy(/steampunk?)
Date Read: 30/05/2016 – 02/06/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:
seeingreddcoverThis series continues to be nothing especially mind-blowing, but still a great deal of fun. However, I felt this installment had a little too much focus on the villains and not enough on Alyss and her court.

Alyss is barely back on the throne of Wonderland when attacks at border outposts start happening at alarming speed. Alyss is distrustful of the King of the neighbouring country, King Arch, but cannot pin anything on him directly, and if the Caterpillars’ visions are anything to go by, Redd is back in Wonderland.

There was a lot of time spent on Redd and King Arch, and I have to admit, they are both somewhat cartoonish in their villainy (especially in the audio book, where the voices used by Gerard Doyle really emphasise this). Having said that, Alyss and her team weren’t really doing much. A lot of their time was spent observing various attacks from a security centre within the Palace, and Alyss then trying to use her Imagination to remotely assist where possible. There were some cute moments between Alyss and Dodge; their relationship is definitely a romance now, but it’s not an all-consuming passion like so many YA romances are. It’s sweet and unassuming and doesn’t overpower the main plot.

Hatter Madigan and Homberg Molly both end up in Borderland, and we do learn some interesting things about Hatter’s past, some of which I had predicted in the previous book, but we got more detail than my theories went into. A lot of the action sequences were thanks to events in Borderland, and I continued to enjoy learning about the various weapons of the Millinery. There was one fairly major character death and it bothered me that it happened, even though I saw it coming a mile away. It would have been nice for an author to not take that route for once.

The world-building continues to be one of the highlights of the series, though not much is really added to in this book. We did learn more about the Caterpillars, though, which was fun. Thanks to Gerard Doyle, I can’t help but imagine them as the Beatles, though, because he voices them with Liverpudlian accents.

There is some good setup for an epic showdown in the third book, and I must admit that I am looking forward to seeing exactly what alliances form in that one and how the various characters deal with the fallout from the ending of this one.


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Book Review: The Dead Isle by Sam Starbuck

Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be many book reviews here on my blog. My plan is for these to go up every second Friday, though since my Wednesday post went up on Thursday this week, I decided to give it a day. Also, I need to make myself sit still because my housemate moved out yesterday and I keep intending to move things into my new bedroom but then I end up just walking from room to room and making myself dizzy. Anyway, without further ado:

Title: The Dead Isle
Author: Sam Starbuck
Genre: Steampunk/alternate history
Format: E-book, available from Extribulum
Date Read: ohhh… some time back in July or August 2013 – 03/01/2014
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review:

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I really,  really loved this book.  Y’all should read it. That is all.

Oh, some incoherent rambling and three sentences do not a book review make? Sorry, my bad. Let’s start again.

Have you ever read a book that is so good that you can’t immediately start another one (even if you’re in the airport for five hours and have a very long flight ahead of you) because you’ve gotten so involved in that book’s world you’re not quite ready to let it go yet? Or one where you’ve said, “Yes, this is the quality of writing I want to produce”?

deadisleThe Dead Isle was both of these for me. It is set in a steampunk world of Creationists, who can Create objects out of thin air (though said objects are not permanent) and Engineers, who… well, study and build machines. Clare Fields is the former, Jack Baker the latter, but the two of them are as close as two friends can be. Jack studies Engineering while Clare studies Creation,  until Jack’s immense talent is spotted by Ellis Graveworthy, a somewhat mysterious Englishman who wants to commission Jack to build him an airship so he can travel to Australia, “the Dead Isle”, where Creationists lose their power. Some are born immune to the Dead Isle’s curse, but they are quickly expatriated to England or America.

The story moves quite slowly and is quite long, but somehow it keeps you interested the whole way. It does take a little while go get into; I had read the first 8% of it ages ago, but got distracted and didn’t come back to it until I needed something to read on the Tube while I was in London and figured I ought to give it another look. I was very quickly hooked, and will freely admit there were a few days where I begrudged having to go out and do touristy things because I just wanted to stay in and keep reading! The main plot is interspersed with this world’s versions of well-known fairytales, as well as transcripts from letters and lectures given by the characters after the events of the book.

The plot deals with themes of gender, race, religion and class. Sam Starbuck is not Australian, but he does a very good job of portraying the divide between the Colonials and the Indigenous Australians (they are referred to as “Tribals” by the white people, which made me cringe; to my [admittedly limited] knowledge that term has never been in common usage in Australia,  and though you could argue it was part of the alternate universe world-building, it was one of the things that knocked the half-star off my rating). There are an equal number of male and female characters,  and it is particularly interesting watching the white male characters realise what their female friends (not white in one instance and in the other… well, that’s rather a big spoiler so I won’t mention it) are going through. Clare also struggles to reconcile her religious beliefs with what she is required to do to resolve an awful situation. There are shades of grey everywhere, and Starbuck does not necessarily set out to solve every problem, but to highlight them and show how a solution can be worked towards.

Sometimes the world-building got a bit confusing – there was quite a lot of talk about Australia before I finally figured out what the “curse” entailed – but for the most part it is incredibly detailed and beautiful.  Whether it’s Jack examining an engine he’s never seen before (and his excessive enthusiasm for machines is so very endearing) or Clare watching a young Indigenous girl Create something that will exist permanently, the language is just wonderful and draws you in completely. The four main characters are all interesting and unique,  and they develop a great dynamic with each other.  It probably won’t surprise you to know that romances do develop over the course of the book but they are slow-building and gentle. As a hater of any kind of love-at-first-sight kind of plots, this appealed to me greatly.

As I said earlier,  when I got to the end, I wanted more of this world, and not only because it’s partially set in Canberra, where I live, and no one ever sets books in Canberra (it was even pretty easy to ignore the fact that the book is set about thirty years before Canberra existed 😛 ) While it ends in a very good spot, the characters have all come a long way and are all moving into new chapters in their lives and it would be wonderful to see them handle those. I think, however, that I will have to be content with what I got, as after such a long, theme-heavy first book, a sequel would be a difficult thing to manage.

~*~

Coming soon: reviews of novels by fellow bloggers Elaine Jeremiah and Shah Warton, as well as some other popular novels and a few classics thrown in.

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