I will start out by saying that this isn’t usually the type of novel that I would pick to read. For starters, the very first chapter really bored me and made it to where I kept putting it off. Secondly, I can’t get a good feel on what genre this novel would/could be classified as. […]
Category Archives: Book Review
Dead Magic is the fourth novel in Jorgensen’s Ingenious Mechanical Devices series and is the second novel to feature the characters of Emmeline and Immanuel. Although Dead Magic is a sequel, it is not necessary to read The Winter Garden first. (Although you absolutely should read all of the novels in this series! They are excellent.) Jorgensen provides enough details in the narrative to catch a reader up to the plot line of the new novel.
I have one slight confusion over this book – the title. And it isn’t for the usual reasons since the book itself explains the origins of the phrase ‘scientific romance’ very clearly. No, I’m just confused that when I searched for it on various websites it didn’t appear under that title but had been expanded […]
Now, I am going to come right out and say that I am a fan of Angela Slatter’s work and so I may be a tad biased in this review. However, I will also try to capture some of the magic and wonder that she traps withing her prose, so that you will appreciate why I am such a fan. To make things easier to express myself, I will dedicate my opinions to the successes or failures of her setting, her characters, her plot, her themes, and her style. I will also try very hard not give away any spoilers.
Setting: Brisvegas, better known as Brisbane, is one of the stars of this narrative. Angela Slatter lives and works in Brisbane, and it shows in the authenticity of her descriptions of various locations used in her book. She has turned our city – as I have lived and worked in inner Brisbane myself and still live in a satellite city – into a place where the phantasmagorical creatures of myths and legends mix with the Normals (the non-magical humans, the muggles) of the city. She evokes the atmosphere of each of her locations with a fine eye for detail, inserting just enough fantasy to transform the real-life locations into something new and strange. Her love poem to the Shingle Inn was worth the ticket money alone.
Her use of an ordinary city reminded me of the work of Charles de Lint, and in particular his Newford book cycle. He sets many of his books in the urban setting of his generic North American/Canadian city of Newford, and – like Slatter – peoples the city with the Fey and the Fantastic. By setting her narrative within the restrictions of a real and familiar city, Angela Slatter is able to increase the verisimilitude of her characters and action; she also manages to make Brisbane seem exotic to a local like myself.
Characters: I fell in love with the main protagonist right from the start, as she is supernaturally strong, while remaining very human in her basic nature. Verity is also impulsive and has a well-tuned shit-detector, which gets Verity into and out of trouble. My only nit-pick is that her romantic interest is just a little too perfect. He needs a flaw or two, because I tend to suspect such a lovely person of having a hidden agenda.
All the human and supernatural characters are well delineated, even though some the supernatural folk had dreadful-to-pronounce traditional names. I admired the way the personalities of the mythological folk actually suited their legendary roles … I believe I can mention that the sirens are flighty without giving anything away. Angela Slatter uses their traditional roles as major plot points withing the narrative, so you have to stay alert. You can’t compare her characterisations to anyone else, because she uses such an original voice. The closest I could suggest would be Diana Wynne Jones; Verity reminds me of a grown-up version of Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle; they both have a can-do attitude while working with such secretive friends and enemies.
Plot: This is a whodunnit, with the protagonist and her team trying to juggle several cases at once. It reminded of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, with all the multiple story-lines kept apart and creating tension with the various mysteries running parallel to each other. There is plenty of action and excitement, while at the same time we explore Verity’s unique position as a Halfling who works within the fractures between the supernatural and the ‘Normal’ worlds. ( I read the book in a day, by simply not doing anything else.)
Themes: Surprisingly, the main theme I took away from this book is how your family and friends are what makes you who you are. I wasn’t expecting a whodunnit to have such a profound underlying discourse, but then, Angela Slatter never works on just one level.
Style: Angela’s prose is always quite lyrical, but in this, her first novel, she has toned down the poet without losing her ability to toss away clever, clever sentences. I tend to grunt with approval whenever I read something clever, and my family must have thought I had a major gut ache with the amount of grunting I did while reading this book. One or two sentences made me punch the air and then quietly howl because I want to be that clever. I am not using the word ‘clever’ in the trite sense either, but in the sense that Angela Slatter is a mistress of the written word and it shows.
I can recommend this book to anyone who loves a gripping story with or without supernatural creatures to leaven the story.
As anyone who has read this blog will know, I am a huge fan of the suffragette movement of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I have been looking forward with anticipation to the graphic novel, Suffrajitsu, written by Tony Wolf (originally from New Zealand, go the Antipodes) and illustrated by João Viera. It is with great delight I can write a review about Issue One of the trilogy, as published by Jet City Comics.
Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room … yes, a man has written a graphic novel about the suffragettes. I write about male historical characters. It is what writers do, and I personally think Tony Wolf has one an amazing job in recreating the pressures and problems the suffragettes faced historically, while still writing an alternative history adventure. This just isn’t a historical retelling of the suffragette movement … it is an alternative history, a might have been.
This is a Steampunk narrative because it had several the major genre markers. The Steampunk literary genre embraces the use of alternative histories, and often uses historical people as characters … but the characters in the fiction are only inspired by these real people. The Steampunk genre includes anachronistic technology, such as the train the Amazons use to travel to Glasgow; this train is a “suspension railway” monorail. The technology for that type of transportation did exist in 1914, but there were no actual cross-country suspension railway lines at that time.
The suffragettes are using innovative techniques to defend themselves, breaking the stereotype of the frail, helpless and hysterical Victorian female, and replacing her with intelligent and determined women who know how to handle the physical assault of an assailant. This type of woman did show up from time to time, but she was an exception rather than the rule in most Victorian and Edwardian media.
The illustrator, Viera, has made each character quite distinct. He uses a rich pallet of colours, which is an excellent choice. Popular culture tends to believe that the Victorian era was dull thanks to the B&W photos of the era. The bright colours are much more realistic, as the Victorian actually were quite lavish in their use of colour. Viera adds historically authentic details to his artwork, such as the violet, green and white ribbons and sashes used by the suffragettes. The action scenes are realistic. I’ve read a lot of graphic novels, and getting the artwork to match the writing seamlessly is a hard slog. The text and the illustrations are working together and not pulling in different directions, with the writer and illustrator well matched.
Main character is Persephone Wright: her uncle is Edward W. Barton-Wright, and she is a master of Bartitsu, the martial art that he developed and taught. She is a staunch supporter of Mrs Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel. Her characterisation is complex, as she is also a bit of a ‘wild child’, enjoying tobacco and cocaine – in an era when both were freely available. She reminds me slightly of Doctor Grace from Murdoch Mysteries, intelligent, determined, and not afraid to try new things.
The secondary characters haven’t been left as two dimensional personalities and have their own distinct styles. I like that Flossie is from New Zealand, as New Zealand and Australia certainly had their own contingent of suffragettes. These real life touches give the whole story its verisimilitude. The forced feeding of suffragettes is mentioned. The suffragette movement is forced to use ‘amazons’ to protect the speakers at rallies. The ‘amazons’ are highly trained, but they don’t rely on brute force alone.
In this first issue, we get few hints as to the identities of the true villains of this narrative. But – rest assured – there is plenty of conflict and action provided by the clashes between the suffragettes and constabulary, and between the suffragettes and the establishment. I recommend this graphic novel to fellow Steampunk enthusiasts, feminists, and anyone who enjoys a finely made story.
When you’re a young adult, feeling safe and accepted is often a rare sensation. Australia claims to valorise and celebrate diversity, but the reality is very different during puberty and for the decade afterwards. Being different makes you are target, often creating friction when you long to be accepted.
What is worse, you have few role models. Our books and televisions and movies seem to be awash with pretty, straight, non-ethnic people. Kaleidoscope fights this trend, and mostly succeeds. Speculative fiction is the perfect genre for exploring the concept of the tension between difference and conformity. None of the stories in the collection introduced completely new concepts, but most gave an old idea a new twist.
I was touched by tragedy of ‘End of Service’ by Gabriela Lee. Garth Nix’s ‘Happy Go Lucky’ was a little gem of science fiction horror. To be honest, I was excited to be introduced to the word ‘maritorious’ in Ken Liu story, ‘The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon’; writers should introduce new words, new ideas and new concepts when exploring diversity.
I would recommend this book to any young person walking the lonely road of ‘being unique’. If you know a young person who feels isolated, this is the book for them. There is a story in this anthology to cover every type of diversity. Kudos to Twelfth Planet Press, and the anthology’s editors Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, for supplying a much needed fun factor to the arsenal of the outcast.