Monday, November 14, 2016
Imprudence by Gail Carriger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is book two of the “Custard Protocol” series by Gail Carriger. The book is set in the same universe as the “Parasol Protectorate” series and the “Finishing School” series. You don’t need to have read any of those books to enjoy this one, though the PP series is pretty much the foundation for all the other series, and if you’ve read it, you will get a bit more out of the other series. You will want to have read the first book in the series (Prudence), however, as events in that first book lead directly to events in this one.
As with all books set in this universe, there is lots of steampunk technology, plenty of detailed descriptions of attire and food (oh, the food!!), and vampires and werewolves and ghosts. And tea, one cannot forget the tea! And lots of light-hearted humor. I found the dialog in this book to be particularly sparkling, laughing out loud at several points. The action moves along quite well, and there is just enough romance to keep it interesting.
This book continues the adventure of Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (AKA “Rue”), the daughter of a werewolf, a soulless human, and a vampire. (It’s complicated.) She is the proud “Lady Captain” of The Spotted Custard, a dirigible painted like a lady bug. She and her intrepid crew have just returned from a harrowing trip to India, and events in this book send them off to Egypt and points south.
The character development continues in this book, and we learn much more about many of the other crew members. Even the secondary characters are not given short shrift - Spoo, the former sootie and now deckie, is my favorite, and I suspect I’m not alone. Even Percy, the prissy brother of Rue’s best friend, manages to develop a spine. And, of course, the romance between Rue and Quesnel, is finally acknowledged and acted upon. Oh my! (Still quite PG-13.)
For me, this book is even better than Prudence. This is Carriger at her best: witty and fun, with crisp dialog, a smattering of action, and a bit of romance. And tea. Always, tea. :-)
Friday, November 4, 2016
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Quick review summary:
Part historical novel (antebellum South), part time travel mystery, Kindred is a powerful - sometimes painful - book about race, identity, and family. Masterfully written, highly recommended.
In this book, Butler tackles slavery and race relations, cleverly woven into a time travel story. It follows the life of Dana, a young black writer, as she bewilderingly and repeatedly finds herself back in the South during the time of slavery. She gradually determines that each time she is pulled into the past, it is because a white boy (and later, a grown man) named Rufus is in danger. Somehow, she is snatched back to rescue him. The problem is, she is trapped there for an unknown length of time, and must survive at a time when most blacks were slaves. Butler gives an unflinching account of life as a slave, including several beatings and whippings. But we also see the relationships between slaves, between slave and owner, and among whites. Nothing is black and white (pardon the pun) - but there are many shades of gray in all these relationships. It is a complex society, but one that is obviously ill. Butler gives us no “Gone with the Wind” happy-go-lucky “darkies” - instead we see the physical and emotional cost of being owned by someone else, and having no ability to direct one’s life. It is a harrowing account, on all levels.
The time travel is never explained, which is fine in this story. It is clear that the link is between Dana and Rufus, and we eventually learn what ties them together. But throughout the story, Dana is at the mercy of whatever it is that pulls her back into history. She has to cope with the jarring dissonance of being a slave one moment and then being back in modern America the next. She learns to prepare for her next journey, by keeping a bag of essentials (such as aspirin) with her at all times. Her husband is also drawn into the journeys, further complicating matters. I liked that Butler never goes into the “science” of the time travel, or how it happens. It just is.
The parts of the story that take place in the past are obviously quite well researched, with many details of life as a slave, and life in general during that time period. Obviously, because slavery is involved, many of the scenes that take place in the past are difficult to read, because of the physical and emotional cruelty. But these do not overwhelm the narrative, which really focuses on the people and their relationships. It is not a simple novel, yet it reads as such, which is a credit to Butler’s skills as a storyteller.
For anyone interested in the topic of slavery and the antebellum South, this would be an essential read. I would also highly recommend it for those who enjoy time travel and the conundrums therein, as long as they don’t want to know the science behind the time travel.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
A great addition to vampire lore, with a believable type of vampire, still very sexy. Great story, fascinating characters, but bogged down slightly toward the end, which dropped it from what would have been a 5 star rating. Nevertheless, highly recommended!
This book tells the story of Shori, a 53- year old vampire (still considered a child by other vampires), who looks like a pre-adolescent black girl. It begins with Shori awakening in a cave, horribly injured, with no memory of who she is or how she came to be injured. She begins to heal, and ventures out to find out who she is and what happened to her. A young man finds her wandering along the road, and Shori is drawn to him. She feeds briefly on his blood, and we see how very sexual this act is, both for Shori and the man. She moves in with him, and they begin to unravel the mystery of her past. The reader discovers the facts along with Shori, which makes for interesting reading. She eventually finds some of her relatives, and discovers why she is black, and what happened to her. This entire portion of the book is fast-paced, and the gradual reveal of what is going on draws the reader inexorably on. It was only in the latter third of the book, where we get into a sort of trial, that the story bogged down for me. It wasn’t terribly slow, but it was a lot of exposition, and not much action, compared to the beginning section. For this reason, it lost one star in my rating. Up until that point, it was undeniably a 5-star book.
The twist that Butler brings to vampire lore is quite interesting, and quite believable (assuming one can believe in vampires.) In this world, vampires are an ancient race, who evolved along with humans (or possibly an alien race - the vampires aren’t sure), and who have a symbiotic relationship with humans. They do not kill humans when they feed (though they could), but they gather a group of humans together and live much like a commune. The vampire feeds on a different human each night, so as not to take too much blood. The humans benefit from the vampire feedings by receiving near perfect health and a much extended life span (200 years) because of the vampire venom. Additionally, there is a psychological bond between vampire and symbiont, based on the sexual feelings aroused by feeding. Vampire and symbiont become a “family” with extremely strong bonds. The sexual nature of the relationship was done very well by Butler, along with how the “family” forms. I really like this kind of vampire, and am so sorry that Butler died before she could write any more books in what was clearly going to be a series.
This being a book by Butler, race and gender play a crucial role. By making Shori black, when all other vampires are white, brings our own racial conflict into the narrative, giving us another perspective, as all good literature should do. Giving her the appearance of a young girl brings gender and age/power roles into the mix. It’s quite a mental image to have of a pre-teen girl having sex and behaving like a grown woman. It’s a little uncomfortable, even, which I’m sure was part of what Butler wanted to achieve. The reader is forced to look at her own views on age, race, and gender.
Overall, this is a great addition to the vampire genre, and a book that any fan of the genre should read. Spectacularly well done!