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steampunk

REVIEW:  The Falconer by Elizabeth May

REVIEW: The Falconer by Elizabeth May

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Dear Ms. May,

I admit it. I’m jaded on the speculative fiction genre. It’s not that I’ve seen it all because I don’t think that’s the case. How is that even possible? I just think that a lot of what’s currently out there fits into a certain type, and that’s what I’m tired of. Your debut, The Falconer, brought enough different to keep me interested but it also brought a couple of my least favorite YA tropes.

Set in a 19th century steampunk Scotland, The Falconer tells the story of Aileana Kameron. One year ago, Aileana was your perfect society miss, thinking of nothing more than her next beautiful gown and future as a wife and mother. Then her mother was murdered before her eyes — murdered by a fae.

The murder destroyed Aileana’s life. Because she couldn’t tell the truth about the killer — no one believes in faeries in this enlightened age — a shadow lingers over her. No one dares accuse her of murdering her mother but almost everyone thinks it. Consumed by rage, Aileana began to hunt faeries, searching for her mother’s killer. Her first hunt very nearly ends in her death but she is saved by Kiaran, a powerful faerie lord who is hunting his own kind. Kiaran takes her under his wing and begins to train her how to kill his own people.

Now Scotland is on the verge of disaster. The number of faerie attacks is increasing, and Aileana learns it is because a seal that traps the fae has begun to weaken. Unless the seal can be recharged, the fae will break free and all of humanity will fall under their onslaught.

In many ways, this actually reminded me of Colleen Gleason’s The Gardella Chronicles, except the YA version and with faeries instead of vampires. I don’t think this is a bad thing because I still think of that original series fondly. But I do like the struggle Aileana faces between trying to be a perfect lady and realizing she can’t be because her mother’s violent death forever changed her.

Aileana left me feeling torn. I liked her rage. On the other hand, I wish we’d seen more repercussions involving her inability to assume the “perfect lady” facade. We never actually saw any. Oh sure, we saw her almost being caught killing faeries or being found in suspicious circumstances but I’m talking about the little things. Like her saying awkward things at balls or ignoring potential suitors. What about her just snapping at all the debutantes who spread nasty rumors at her? For someone who has anger management issues, she conveniently seems able to control it except when the plot calls for it.

I also admit the genius inventor angle stretched my suspension of disbelief. It’s not the fact that she’s an inventor. I loved that. But I think I would have had an easier time if her inventing had been focused on gadgets and weapons. I found that well within the realm of belief, especially if it’s something she shared with her mother. I even could have let the mini-helicopter go if it’d been less perfect an invention and had its flaws — maybe rickety or had dubious wings. What made me scoff was her somehow building a steampunk driven secret entrance that leads from her bedroom to the outside. How do you keep that a secret? Because that’s not just engineering; that’s architecture and hoping that a support wall wouldn’t be destroyed in the process. I didn’t see why it was necessary to make her the best inventor/engineer ever. She’s 18. There’s nothing wrong with her being good and gifted.

The romantic subplot is muddled. There’s Kiaran, Aileana’s fae mentor. Vampires or faeries, apparently my reaction is the same: save me from the sexy-dangerous, centuries old love interest. The older I get, the more I see all these near-immortals being interested in teenagers and wonder why they’re all so creepy. It also doesn’t help that I thought the chemistry between Kiaran and Aileana was forced. Then we meet Derrick, the older brother of Aileana’s best friend and who she once had a crush on. A love triangle? Oh no! But because I’m contrary, I found myself cheering for Derrick even though I knew the story wouldn’t favor him. And indeed, the romance becomes crystal clear by the end of the book and I was less than impressed.

As I said earlier, the setting is steampunk Scotland. I don’t know if this actually added anything to the book. It did make it different but as far as I could tell, the only change was the technology. It didn’t change the society or the people, which I find a bit hard to believe.

While The Falconer didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I did finish it and found it immensely readable despite my misgivings over certain elements. That said, I must warn potential readers that there is a terrible cliffhanger at the end — quite possibly the worst cliffhanger I’ve read in years. So if cliffhangers bother you, I’d recommend waiting for the sequel to come out. B-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  The Kraken King Part V-VIII by Meljean Brook

REVIEW: The Kraken King Part V-VIII by Meljean Brook

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Dear Ms. Brook,

The journey we started weeks ago has reached its end, and even after weeks of waiting for this moment, I’m having a hard time saying goodbye. But alas, I’m not a Kraken, so I have to let go, but not before I tell you that, as you can see, this serial was so good that it put me in a cheesy mood.

Anyway, let’s get Kraken (no more puns, I promise!).

I want to be as vague as possible about events from the previous parts as well as what happens in the final four, but I do want to mention that part V opens with a heartbreaking moment of loss for Zenobia that, together with the events of the previous installments, truly sets the course of the story. She realizes that she has to rescue herself regardless of how much she trusts that Ariq or her brother will eventually save her. But she’s unwilling to be a tool to manipulate those who love her, and she wants the choice to be hers. The recklessness of her act doesn’t go unnoticed, but this is ultimately about agency. Besides, she’s so smart and clever, that there’s never a doubt that she will make it. And these things: taking action, fulfilling her dreams of adventure, and seeing the world, are the main part of a character arc in which the romance plays a key role, but it’s not vitally linked to it. Needless to say, Zenobia was my favorite part of the serial.

All the other non-Zenobia things that I liked but that I was too lazy to organize in a more cohesive, traditional review:

  • Ariq is a fabulous hero who complements Zenobia and also shines on his own. His character arc is subtle (perhaps too subtle for my taste) and entirely linked to the romance. Falling in love changes his priorities and shows him things about himself that are good and bad. But love was already a vital part of his character; the love for his brother, his mother, his people, his country, and his new home, are relationships that shaped the man he is and made him a hero worthy of a great heroine.

 

  • They fall in love fast, but Ariq and Zenobia come from different parts of the world and spend most of the time in danger. The cultural differences inform their characters and trigger believable conflict and misunderstandings that are resolved through mature communication. But their complicated and unusual situation makes Zenobia, who is, above all, incredibly pragmatic, particularly cautious, so even if she is irrevocably in love, that doesn’t stop her from having a plan B in case things don’t work out.

 

 

  • And speaking of culture, I love that not only are most of the characters POC, but they are the dominant culture. There is a lot of work put into the history and world of these people, and neither the text nor Zenobia fetishize Ariq’s –or anyone else’s– features. She finds him super hot, of course, because he is big, strong and all-around swoony, but there’s no mention of how exotic he looks, how different he is, or any other charged and problematic language. There are a couple of words in Mongolian, but no long phrases that could end in disaster and send the author to Google Translate jail. Instead, we are told the language they are speaking at the moment and that’s it. I thought that, from my white reader POV, the representation was very well done.

 

  • So. Many. Women. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I kept being surprised by how many characters that I was assuming would be men when first mentioned, turned out to be women. First we have The Twins, two wicked minor characters that delighted me for the short time I got to meet them. And then there’s the Empress and her general, the two most intimidating and fabulous sources of conflict and delicious tension I’ve read in a while. None of them clearly fit the enemy or friend categories, something that speaks more about layered characterization and storytelling than about rigid roles. This brings me to…

 

 

  • …the villains! The Kraken King has two of them, and they have motivations and backgrounds that raise the emotional impact they have on our leads. These are, by far, the best villains this series has seen, and even better, the stakes are actually high. What’s at play here goes beyond the romantic HEA, and even if we can trust that the outcome will be a good one, at times it feels like getting there will be impossible. Seriously, anyone who thinks the promised happy ending makes the genre predictable should read this book.

 

  • And last but not least, The Kraken King is an all-you-can-eat buffet of action, adventure, giant monsters and even bigger robots (kind of, this ain’t Pacific Rim http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Rim_(film)), that somehow manage to not get in the way of the main relationship or the political intrigue, because yes, this is about wit as well as strength, and they all come together beautifully during the final climax.

Best,

Brie http://romance-around-the-corner.blogspot.com/.

P.S. I still don’t like serials, but I didn’t have a hard time following yours. I thought the letters at the beginning of each part were a clever “previously on” reminder, and in a way, I’m glad I got to stretch the reading experience.

 

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