Thursday, June 10, 2010

Twin Reviews: ALTERNATE WORLD SLEUTHS



CHANGELESS (Parasol Protectorate Book #2) by Gail Carriger Steampunk Paranormal 2010

A LOCAL HABITATION (October Daye Book #2) by Seanan McGuire Urban Fantasy 2010

Premise
1. In a Victorian Britain where supernaturals are integrated into society and government makes use of superhuman gifts, preternatural Lady Maccon investigates a baffling outbreak of forced mortality among vampires, werewolves, and ghosts.

2. Half human, half fae Toby Daye travels to a politically disputed Fairie duchy and becomes embroiled in serial murder investigation.

Cover
1. Title: perfect twin to Book#1's 'Soulless' and bullseye hit on content. Art: The good - dirigible in stormy weather, blue toned banner script, top hot and 'glassicals' (as eyewear is called). The not quite as good - in contrast to Book#1 where heroine's parasol and pose were jaunty and intriguing, here she looks stiff and unnatural, with odd facial expression and overplucked eyebrows. Hopefully Book#3 will return to an edgy profile. Overall: would make AW stop in a bookstore for a closer look.

2. Title: becomes clear late in the story why this is relevant to content; personally, AW would have preferred another botanical title similar to the unusual and memorable Book#1 title (Rosemary and Rue). Art: menacing figure is 100% false advertising, Toby's grumpy, pinched and hungry looking appearance 100% accurate. Overall: AW would walk right by in a bookstore.

What Works
1. As was the case in Book#1, this sequel is rollicking good fun. Stuffy, rigid etiquette coupled with antiquated, persnickety language in absurd contrast with the extraordinary characters, events and at times action-adventure feel make for much entertainment. Language is also noteworthy in other respects; this author rises to the heights of J.K. Rowling in terms of amusing names (servants Floote and Rumpet, business Shersky & Droop) and she has a way with vivid description:

"Lady Maccon declined with horror. Brussels sprouts were nothing more than underdeveloped cabbages."

"The handle (of the parasol) looked like something that might top an ancient Egyptian column, carved with lotus flowers - or a very enthusiastic pineapple."

"...she pulled out a small vial.
'Poison?' 'Certainly not. Something far more important: perfume. We cannot very well have you fighting crime unscented, now, can we?' 'Oh.' Alexia nodded gravely. After all, Madame Lafoux was French. 'Certainly not.' "

"This was the kind of woman who took her tea black, smoked cigars after midnight, played a mean game of cribbage, and kept a bevy of repulsive little dogs. Alexia liked her immediately.
The woman shouldered a rifle with consummate skill and pointed it at Lord Macon. Alexia liked her less."

"The color scheme and general appearance (of the bedroom) reminded Lady Maccon of nothing so much as a damp, malcontented squirrel."


In their review of Book#1, Apprentice Writer's esteemed colleagues The Booksmugglers were dismayed on two levels; that one dirigible mention did not a steampunk novel make (if AW understood correctly), and that Alexia and Connall were too close in physical similarity to another literary Victorian couple, Amelia Peabody & Radcliffe Emerson (of Elizabeth Peters' superb Egyptian historical suspense series). As premier reviewers of speculative fiction, the Booksmugglers are much more knowledgable than AW about that oh-so-difficult-to-define beast, 'Steampunk' . Perhaps this was a good thing, as AW had no purist qualms about the novel's classification. But for those who read for the gadgetry, AW is pleased to say that there is much more present, applied, and sometimes copiously explained in 'Changeless'. The gadgets were all very cool and AW loved how Alexia became engrossed in how they all worked.

In terms of Alexia/Connall vs. Amelia/Emerson - if the Smugglers had not pointed it out, AW is not sure she would have spotted the potential for comparison in 'Soulless'. But with introduction of an Egyptological element and Alexia's use of a custom parasol in the way Amelia uses her many-pocketed acrchaeological clothes, it is impossible not to see this supernatural couple as an homage to Peters' iconic sleuths. AW had no problem with it, except for one detail (see below).


2. As in Book#1, the worldbuilding and diversity of fae subcultures and abilities was excellent - highly imaginative and convincing. By far the most compelling characteristic of this series.

The author also has a way with one-liners:

"I was under the impression that things were stable. That could change at any time, of course, and there's always a risk of small-scale civil war in Faerie - it's something to do when you're bored and immortal."

"....'You even scare the landscape.'
'It probably remembers us from yesterday and doesn't want to be enchanted again. The inanimate can have a surprisingly long memory.' "

"...We could probably have done without our (human) disguises...(if) the desk clerk saw us undisguised, he'd think he was looking at a kid playing Star Trek games and a giant Tinkerbell knockoff with PMS."

"...sometimes the best way to deal with the Luidaeg (was to) just keep saying the same thing over and over until she gets fed up and gives you what you want. All preschoolers have an instinctive grasp of this concept , but most don't practice it on immoral water demons. That's probably why there are so few disembowelments in your average preschool."


AW's favorite character from Book#1 - Tybalt, King of the Cats - showed up again to her delight, but not enough to satisfy. Hopefully he'll have more presence in the next installment. AW liked him not only for himself, but because she got a good laugh out of the inversion of the stereotype. One of the most cliche yet ongoingly, frequently used metaphors used in romance novels of all persuasions is to liken the hero's graceful/muscular/silent/deadly/(insert adjective) movement and/or appearance to that of a big cat. It struck AW as funny to have a character flat out be one.

What Doesn't
1. One of AW's most pet of all peeves is for dialogue of characters whose first language is not English to be written 'in accent'. Her reasons:
- puzzling out what they're saying rips her out of the story,
- it is NEVER successful, as AW has never heard French/German/Italian/etc. people speak precisely in the cliched manner accepted for those language groups,
- it is lazy, because a person speaking English as a second language usually doesn't just pronounce words differently but uses different sentence structure and conventions as well, and more often than not this isn't reflected in their literary speech when the 'shortcut' of abysmal accent cliches are applied,
- the ONLY reason that AW can come up with for an author to choose to have a character speak in language accent cliche is to make that character look slightly ridiculous, and/or to have a recurring opportunity to emphasize their 'differentness' from the protagonist. The underlying motivation for both potential reasons have an ugly xenophobic feel to this reader. No matter how good the book, inclusion of accent-speak automatically lowers AW's Goodreads grade by at least half a star, even if the non-accent-speaking characters are, for the purposes of the story, xenophobic.

How to handle a non-native speaker character instead, then, the Gentle Reader may ask?
Simple: The first time the character is introduced, describe him or her as having a (insert language) accent, and then either remark that the character's sentence structure otherwise follows English patterns, or else write the characters subsequent dialogue in the applicable sentence patterns. For an example done well, look at Joanna Bourne's 'The Spymaster's Lady'

//general rant over

It was AW's unpleasure to find accent speak not only for French, but with an occasional dollop of Scottish as well. In the case of the French characters, the icing on the cake was its complete redundancy since almost every (!) mention of the two characters involved included an explicit reference to their nationality. This endless repetition of defining attributes and adjectives occured in matters of dress, personality, and speech patterns as well (i.e. not just the speech pattern in natural dialogue [which is fine] but the protagonist remarking upon the particular speech pattern). It reached the point where this reader seriously asked herself if the author truly felt her audience had memory deficiency problems and needed to be 'helped' along like this. If it weren't or the at times intricate machinery explanations, this style would have felt too close to insulting reader intelligence for comfort.

Finally, there was a disconnect between the secret strategist role assigned to the heroine and her poor performance as a sleuth. Repeated assassination attempts are made with almost no effort made to investigate who would have had the means or motive and who could be excluded from suspicion, and went against the image built up of the heroine being unusually intelligent.

2. Toby, likewise, did not impress this reader with her sleuthing abilities this time around. She enters a closed community, and does not figure out what is going as bodies pile up left and right until there are a total of 3 of the original group left. Apprentice Writer thinks that even with her complete lack of detective ability, she would probably have been able to figure out the culprit once only that few remained. It was not a good reflection on the competence of someone designated a Knight and sent on the mission specifically due to supposed investigative skill.

But this reader believes there an extenuating circumstance, if somewhat dubious. The Gentle Reader who saw AW's review of Book#1 will recall her credulity being strained by Toby performing all kinds of physical feats (including bleeding vast quantities) while eating a total of two marshmallow sandwiches over the course of about three days. Toby's eating disorder appears even more pronounced this time around; though practically every page seems to mention her drinking coffee, her actual ingestion of food was, IIRC, one donut. If AW's total caloric intake over several days consisted of coffee and one donut, she' be grumpy and not her best at making logical deductions either.

Overall
Sequels to highly original debuts both show continued author skill at worldbuilding and deft turns of phrase, while leaving room to hope that protagonist sleuthing skill will rise with experience.


/m

4 comments:

estherme said...

笑口常開~~天天開心........................................

Rachel said...

Whoa! Your blog changed clothes! Nice digs. :)

Whilst reading your most pet of all peeves I thought, oh I must recommend THE SPYMASTER'S LADY but then I saw that, as usual, you're way ahead of me. :)

M. said...

Rachel - so good to see you out and about again. I've been worried.

Rachel said...

Thanks so much for your kind words and thoughts! It's nice to be back around. I'll be traveling again soon to spend some time with my brother but I expect to get more internet time.