Gosh, it’s been forever since I’ve done one of these lists. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.
I like steampunk and I’ve heard good things about Dryden’s Steam and Seduction series, so I decided to give Gilded Lily a try. The premise of the story is that the aristocratic heroine, Frederique aka Freddie, has a secret identity as a mechanic of sorts, and her butler masquerades alongside her to make sure she doesn’t come to harm.
Barnabas, our hero, hails from North America which in this world is an extension of Britain. Barnabas’ brother was a spy for Freddie’s father, a spymaster, and he disappeared. Rumor has it that was due to addiction issues, but Barnabas does not believe this rumor, so he volunteers to do espionage work for Freddie’s father as well.Unfortunately, the spymaster wants Barnabas to first prove himself—by following Freddie and reporting on what she gets up to.
Barnabas tries, but Freddie realizes immediately what he’s doing. They strike a deal—she’ll allow him to tag along if he doesn’t interfere with whatever she wants to do. Meanwhile, there are mysterious goings on involving other disappearances, a submersible, and a dangerous gangster, who may or may not be involved with Barnabas’ brother.
The characters are likable and the world fairly well-developed. I was also glad there was no instalust, but rather, that Freddie and Barnabas only gradually discovered their attraction. But I’ve been stuck at the 24% mark and I don’t feel compelled to read on. The reason is an absence of romantic conflict.
What I mean by this is that there’s no hint of anything that will keep these characters apart down the line, or even cause bumps in their road to romance. There’s external plot conflict aplenty, but at this point it affects Barnabas’ relationship with his brother, and Freddie’s relationship with her father, far more than their own relationship. Without a romantic conflict, the relationship feels perfectly nice, but not that interesting to read about. I may continue, or it may stay a DNF.
Jane recently reviewed this paranormal romance, in which marine and werewolf DJ Torres (a hero who happens to be Filipino) is captured by a secret government group and held in their hidden facility in the middle of the desert. The agency wants to study DJ and threaten him into acting as their assassin. DJ’s wounded friend Roy is held elsewhere and he will be killed if DJ doesn’t cooperate.
The agency already has one assassin, Echo, whom they use in a similar way. Echo was genetically engineered by the organization as was her sister Charlie. But Charlie is being kept alive by medical treatments the secret organization provides and if Echo ceases to cooperate the agency will withhold Charlie’s treatments.
For this reason, Echo foils DJ’s escape attempt. But although she has tried to harden her heart and numb her feelings to survive her situation, she can’t help liking DJ. The organization is a common enemy to them both, but one that has the power to set them at cross purposes, so Echo fears trusting DJ and becoming involved with him.
As a werewolf, DJ needs to be touched and to feel connected, and he is attracted to Echo. Neither of them realizes the other’s feelings for a long time, and I liked the slow build up. I also really appreciated the absence of fated mates from the worldbuilding. And while DJ’s need for physical contact is nothing new in werewolf romance, I liked that the emphasis here wasn’t on sexual need, but on trust and affection.
Echo’s character was a little less well-developed. Her childhood sounded sterile, and there was little information given on which adults raised her and Charlie. Considering the people who ran the program were creepy and cold, it was amazing (and a little less than fully believable) that she and Charlie turned out as well as they did. Still, I enjoyed this romance, and the nice meta-humor that was sprinkled through the book via Charlie’s hobby of romance reading.
Prisoner is only part one of a three-part storyline, but I give it a B-.
Night’s Slow Poison by Ann Leckie
Night’s Slow Poison, a short story available free of charge on Tor.com, provides another angle into Leckie’s world of the Imperial Radch. The science fiction story is written in third person and narrated by Inarakhat Kels, a security guard aboard a ship from the planet of Ghaon which is crossing a part of space known as the Crawl, which only the Ghaonians know how to navigate. The navigation techniques are a closely guarded secret which protects the planet from colonization.
Boarding the ship at the story’s beginning is Awt Emnys from the Gerentate, the grandson of an important Ghaonish matriarch who seeks to meet his illustrious grandmother. The Ghanoians aboard the ship, Kels included, know that the matriarch isn’t likely to give her non-Ghaonish grandson the time of day. Kels himself has been rejected by the upper classes of his world, to which he once belonged. Complicating the situation are Kels’ feelings for Awt Emnys, feelings driven by Awt Emnys’ resemblance to a girl Kels once loved.
For such a short story (around 6000 words), Night’s Slow Poison packs in a lot of elements. The worldbuilding includes ethnographic, sociological and mythic elements, and even a hint of romanticism and sentiment. It’s not a feel-good story though, and I’m not sure if readers who haven’t read Ancillary Justice will understand all the implications of the ending. Still, Leckie’s command of the short form is good, even if not at the stellar heights of the novel writing virtuosity she showed with Ancillary Justice. As short stories go, I’d give this one a B.
And now, moving on to what has been on my TV screen:
So, after multiple recommendations from a good friend, I finally decided to start watching Game of Thrones. Hold my hand, readers, I’m scared! In the first episode alone we have murder by way of dismemberment, execution by way of decapitation, conspiracy by way of incest, acquiring an army by way of forcing your young sister to marry against her wishes and be raped on her wedding night, and getting rid of an eyewitness by way of shoving a small child from a tall tower.
I’m not yet terribly taken with any merits this show might have, but I’ve heard from a couple people that it will get much better (yet worse) if I keep watching.
Now this show is more like it, at least the first episode. In this early 1980s-set series, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play a seemingly all-American suburban DC married couple named Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. In reality they are deep cover Soviet operatives, but even their two kids don’t realize this, nor do Philip and Elizabeth know each other’s real names and backstories, even after a decade and a half in America.
Philip is in love with his wife, likes the US, and dreams of defecting, but Elizabeth is deeply loyal to the USSR and doesn’t return Philip’s feelings. This conflict comes to a head when they capture a Kremlin operative who defected and whom a disguised Elizabeth seduced as part of the capture assignment, but fail to deliver him to the ship that was to take him to Russia on time. Now the government is on alert, so Elizabeth and Philip hide this man in the trunk of their car.
The captured man offers them millions if they free him, defect, and reveal all they know about secret Soviet operations in the US. Philip is tempted, but Elizabeth would rather kill the man. Philip doesn’t know it, but long ago, when she was a cadet in Russia, the man raped her.
I will not reveal what happens, but despite the fact that we know there would be no show if they were exposed or if they defected in this first episode, “Comrades” manages to be taut and suspenseful, as well as romantic. The acting is strong and so is the plotting. The 1980s soundtrack is also a nice touch. I’m interested in seeing where this show goes.
I must be one of the few in Romancelandia who was not a fan of the book (I quit around page 750) , but I decided to give the first episode a chance because I did like some of writer-producer Ron Moore’s earlier work, most notably on Battlestar Galactica.
What I liked:
(1) Catriona Balfe as Claire. I felt that the actress captured Claire’s better qualities, like her interest in medicine and her desire to make her marriage to Frank work, while minimizing the knowing smugness of the book’s Claire. The English accent and period clothing also helped make Claire a more persuasive character—I never bought her as a 1940s Englishwoman in the book, and I still don’t entirely, but she convinced me a bit better here.
(2) The cinematography. The show had a great look partly due to the landscape of Scotland, where it was filmed. The only scene that looked cheesy to me was the one where the druids danced at the standing stones.
The jury is still out on:
(1) Whether the show can make me care about its eighteenth century Scottish world—because honestly Claire’s relationship with Frank was interesting enough that I’d rather it stayed in the 1940s.
(2) Sam Heughan as Jamie. To be fair to Heughan, he doesn’t have that much screen time in“Sassenach.” He looks the part (gorgeous), but so far the character doesn’t have much in the way of complexity. Eye candy is nice but not enough by itself to sustain my interest. I’m hoping for some added depth from the writing and Heughan’s performance as the series continues.
My conclusion after watching the first episode is that while I still don’t love the storyline, I’ll probably tune in to the second episode.