Ironskin

 

Ironskin

By: Tina Connolly

(http://tinaconnolly.com/)

Published by: Tor (2012)

A young adult steampunk fantasy review

 

Ironskin-cover

 

The Great War blasted Jane Eliot’s life apart, just as the fey blasted her cheek with their curse.  Now she is ironskin, forced to cover her face with an iron mask to keep others safe.  When Mr. Rochart advertises for a governess to care for a girl in a “delicate situation,” Jane knows she can help this fellow victim.  Yet, a lot more greets Jane at her new position than a difficult child.  Jane finds there are more curses than she knows, and learns about masks more burdensome than iron.

The framework of Jane Eyre brings this novel a natural sinking point for the reader to dive in and let themselves go.  We already know the basis for this romance, for these main characters’ traits, so we are free to splash through the vivid colors of the war with the fey, the steampunk world details, and the new barriers that this Jane faces right away.  Knowing the strengths to expect from this Jane could have been disastrous if she didn’t match up, but the fact that she so resoundingly does makes the story of what this Jane remembers and how she chooses that much more endearing than if she’d had no one to live up to.  Similarly, knowing we will eventually reach certain turning points in the story makes the building parts more purely intriguing rather than tense.  Jane’s charge, Dorie, plays a much larger role in this book and we learn a lot through interacting with her.  Jane’s dynamic with Mr. Rochart leans heavily on audience foreknowledge for the romance, but he allows us to see new angles of this Jane and how she sees herself.  Jane Eliot’s identity rests between visions of herself where she has various levels of opportunity, personal connections, and beauty.  Exploring the ties between these things among all her characters, Connolly pulls on chords familiar to us all while grounding her fantastic society.

The new details and mysteries swirling through this world keep the pace swift as we long to know not just what will happen next but what has already happened.  Each character in here is Connolly’s own and indelibly set within this strange world, so even those who can’t bear the thought of an impure Jane Eyre should be able to read it without flinching.  The prose engages and surrounds with firm moments and beautiful imagery.  The only issue I had was that the ending is rushed.  After such lovely delving and swooping through this gothic tale I was suddenly crashed right through the center of things, with no opportunity to get my bearings or start to breathe again.  It lacks that last chapter, where loose ends are tied up and you can feel the satisfaction of knowing how things have turned out.  I still have some questions that I doubt the sequel, from Helen’s point of view, will answer.  Basically, I needed more!  And I still do, so I’m relieved there is a sequel.  I loved reading Ironskin.

 

Questions I Still Have (BEWARE SPOILERS):

-So, where WAS all Rochart’s money going??  I mean, it’s implied that he’s paying off his ex-wife’s father, but the guy’s a village shop owner and no one is saying he’s living it up, so he can hardly be using up all of Edward’s vast fees.  What happened to the rest of it?  Is Poule sending a bundle back to her clan?

-Wait, so if the curses and things are all parts of actual fey being punished by separation, then if whoever takes charge over the fey next decides to pull their forces together or end some punishments, or time just runs out, people’s FACES could just FLY OFF??  I do not think people are concerned enough about this possibility.

-Why were blue tendrils trying to keep Rochart in the forest that time if the queen’s plan was for him to keep coming back and giving people fey faces, anyway?

-So, if Dorie can see people she cares about through walls, does that mean that all the fey can just see through anything but iron?

-If it was Edward’s fey gift that meant he could remove people’s faces, then how can he reverse the procedure now it’s gone?  Is Jane going to make Dorie do it?

-Can all fey just feel everyone’s feelings and where they are if they care about them?

-Shouldn’t it matter that Jane’s current face came from a mask with a forehead chip?  Is it just going to look like there’s a birthmark up there or what?

 

Please tell me if you’ve ideas about these!

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The Iron Queen (Daughters of Zeus #3)

The Iron Queen (Daughters of Zeus #3)

By: Kaitlin Bevis

(http://kaitlinbevis.com/)

Published by: Euterpe (2013)

A young adult fantasy review

 

(Reviews of Daughters of Zeus #1 here: https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/persephone-daughters-of-zeus-1/

and Daughters of Zeus #2 here: https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/daughter-of-earth-and-sky-daughters-of-zeus-2/)

 

Finally, Zeus’s endgame is nigh, in all its horror.  The remaining gods cluster together to try and outwit him, while Persephone simply tries to hold on to herself.  The longer she lives under Zeus’s power, the less clear her mind becomes.  Yet, Persephone must keep some rules clear, or all the realms will fall to the mercy of this divine madman.

The Iron Queen differs from its predecessors by switching from Persephone’s perspective to those of Aphrodite and Hades in order to keep the reader apprised of all the action.  This ensemble approach quickens the pace and intensity with a variety of emotions and plans, making it more difficult to predict the outcome.  With her own voice, Aphrodite recasts her history so neatly that she nearly steals the book.  The new deities introduced in this work interact plausibly in modern roles while still maintaining their mythic essences and ferocity.  All of Bevis’s rules for divine interactions and abilities play together naturally, renewing these characters and drawing the reader into this world by removing the usual distance between the ordinary and divine.  This last work really is the culmination of all Bevis’s ploys to convince readers that the Greek gods truly belong in modern times.

The Iron Queen is the climax of battle between desperate, frightened gods, and as such it is filled with cruelty, confusion, bitterness, and vulnerability.  This book offers more suspense and action than the previous two, with less romance.  This is definitely the darkest of the series and feels heavier, but that brutality shores up Persephone’s world by balancing the supernatural nature of her story with equally harsh consequences.  It brings this story home to the reader and makes the aftermath that much more cathartic, as all Greek tales should be.  It’s engrossing.

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The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

By: Tom Reiss

(http://www.tomreiss.com/)

Broadway Books; Reprint edition (May 14, 2013)

A history nonfiction review

 

BLACK-COUNT-COVER

 

Simply put, The Black Count is my new favorite history book.  Reiss reveals the story of General Alex Dumas, father of famed Alexandre Dumas, in many ways.  The investigation includes the tale of Alex’s renegade aristocrat father and what’s known of his beautiful slave mother.  Reiss also explains details about his own search for information, the unique racial relations in early Haiti and revolutionary France, and several of Alexandre Dumas’ own quotes about his father.  With the premise that Alex Dumas was the true “Count of Monte Cristo,” this book includes enough swashbuckling and political analysis to inspire a film quite similar to something based on Dumas.

Reiss matches his grand premise and literary inclusions with a passionate and memorable writing style.  Napoleon treats conquered societies like medieval Lego sets he can dismantle and rebuild as he pleases and “France didn’t have a regular government, it had a bunch of caffeinated intellectuals holding all-day screaming matches in the old royal riding hall.”  It’s great fun.  Marinated in adventure, rather than a dry textbook, you can still tell that Reiss trusts his audience because of his thorough exploration of tangents.  The central figure has no competition, but Reiss realizes that there are side-stories that we want to know, like more about this mulatto master-swordsman of Europe and the backstory of one of the early French slaves to win his freedom in court.  Whereas many authors simply note such side things and leave it to the readers to look them up later, The Black Count fits it all in, without slowing down or drying up.  The swings between detail and the overall picture make the timeline slightly harder to follow, but this is a book, not a timeline, and you won’t regret it.  Even the footnotes are delightful!  They tell the truly glancing tales like the reason it’s called the “Marseillaise” and the man who pioneered vegetarianism in the west.

I can’t recommend it enough.  Go forth and find out the story behind Alexandre Dumas’ novels.

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Civilizing Frances (The Mad Hatterlys #3)

Civilizing Frances (The Mad Hatterlys #3)

By: Marguerite Butler

(http://www.amazon.com/Marguerite-Butler/e/B004SUR0FG/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1)

Musa Publishing October 2011

A regency romance novel review

 

(Reviews of The Mad Hatterlys #1 here: https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/compromising-prudence-the-mad-hatterlys/

And of The Mad Hatterlys #2 here: https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/becoming-mr-brooking-the-mad-hatterlys/)

 

Every girl’s first London season is nerve-wracking.  For a girl raised in the country with the same pursuits and athleticism as five brothers, it’s stifling.  When that country girl is one of the “Mad Hatterlys,” it’s downright disastrous.  Used to going her own way, Frances finds herself both at war with the Duke of Ainsley, and compromised by him.  The scandal must end in her marriage or her exile from society.  A man of honor, Ainsley surrounds Frances with eligible suitors…So why do they constantly seem drawn to each other?

With daggers drawn right from the start, Frances and Ainsley make a stickier pairing that in the previous Hatterly books, with Frances matching her unorthodox ways and physical prowess against the Duke’s authoritative respectability.  Frances acts younger than her years while Ainsley acts older.  The heroine knowing from the start that the hero will have to propose to her wrenches Civilizing Frances out of the usual groove of eccentric heroines paired with eligible bachelors, with side characters twisting this into more of an ensemble story.  The focus on how the main characters grow through their relationships with others, as well as each other, really brings this book to life and invites the reader to care about all these people outside of the love story.

All in all, this is a large caramel pretzel of a book, with a smoothing dose of sweet caramel bringing the expected fluffy finish to an unusually salty and bumpy romance.

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Daughter of Earth and Sky (Daughters of Zeus #2)

Daughter of Earth and Sky (Daughters of Zeus #2)

By: Kaitlin Bevis

(http://kaitlinbevis.com/)

Published by: Euterpe (December 2012)

A young adult fantasy review

 

(Review of Daughters of Zeus #1 here: https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/persephone-daughters-of-zeus-1/)

 

Persephone’s victory over Boreas proves short-lived.  Suddenly, a siren of a sister goddess rises and Persephone is saddled with acclimating Aphrodite.  Persephone’s realization of her powers causes friction with both Demeter and Melissa.  Zeus poses an increasing threat.  And no one can declare war on a deity quite like the god of death.  The stakes keep getting higher and Persephone finds herself sacrificing everything.  Will there be anything left to salvage in the end?

Daughter of Earth and Sky takes readers steadily further into the dark side of mythology.  No longer playing with the safe, familiar stories, Bevis thrusts Persephone straight into the world of endless appetites, divine demands for sex, death, and cruelty.  The effects feel much more immediate when you don’t already know at least the frame for the story.  Persephone acquits herself well, without losing her accessibility or plausibility.  The plot turns just fast enough so that predictions don’t overshadow the suspense.  The romance between Hades and Persephone turns easily with the story, a key part of the plot rather than gratuitous fluff.

In short, Daughter of Earth and Sky is the exemplary second book: new elements are introduced without encroaching on the old, obstacles are overcome to the point of facing the ultimate danger without giving away anything about the climax, characters experience real growth, romance reaches a level of satisfaction to offset the unfinished plotlines, and you want to read the next one.  Particularly because this book ended so abruptly.  If Persephone refreshed the roots for spring, Daughter of Earth and Sky grew the story’s stem.  Now we just need the blossom.

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Persephone (Daughters of Zeus)

Persephone (Daughters of Zeus)

By: Kaitlin Bevis

(http://kaitlinbevis.com/)

Published by: Euterpe (July 5, 2012)

A young adult fantasy review

 

Persephone suspects she is going crazy.  The wind whispers her name and she often feels she is being watched.  Then her mother tells her she is a goddess, so clearly craziness is catching.  Being attacked by the god of winter and carried off to the Underworld by Hades don’t help Persephone’s day.  Ironically, they do convince her that her family is sane, if different.  Now Persephone’s only obstacles are learning how to be a goddess, the obsession of the lustful god Boreas, ruling as queen of the Underworld, and trying to regain control over her life.  Also, finding oneself in a permanent, political marriage to the god of the Underworld can get tricky.  Hades proves a very different god than Persephone imagined.

I found Persephone fresh, fun, and easy to read.  Bevis modernizes Greek mythology by creating her own history of what changing values and worship systems would do to the deities, rather than simply updating them like Rick Riordan.  Her alterations are engaging and change the stakes so that readers get to encounter well-known myths with fresh eyes.  (Yes, I am using the word “fresh” a lot because it’s about the goddess of spring.)  I can’t wait to find out more about the gods in her world-I wish there’d been a bit more exposition just filling me in.

I enjoyed this heroine.  Persephone’s discovery that she is a goddess is the most authentic, plausible supernatural-acceptance narrative I’ve ever read.  She felt so organic that she came across as a truly strong heroine without it seeming like the author was trying to make her one; she just was.  Her personality grounded the novel and grew in the spotlight, no matter what else was happening.  Plus, Persephone’s practically the only time I’ve seen a short girl in this supernatural role.

Bevis very deliberately leaves no stone unturned in creating a Hades whose character is positive.  His Underworld has a lot to offer and is wonderfully fleshed out.  The supporting cast is compelling, rather than just plotpoints.  There’s enough action to keep the pacing quick.  She does assume enough knowledge of Greek mythology that, while readers won’t be lost, they might not enjoy the novel as much if they aren’t in the know.  The myths Bevis actually retells successfully marry familiar myths with her versions of the characters.  The overarching plot that extends to the sequels is promising.

So basically, as Persephone renews the earth, Persephone renews her story.  What’s not to like about spring?  I recommend it.

 

(Review for the sequel here: https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/daughter-of-earth-and-sky-daughters-of-zeus-2/)

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Sever (Chemical Garden Trilogy #3)

 

Sever (Chemical Garden Trilogy #3)

By: Lauren DeStefano

(http://www.laurendestefano.com/)

Simon & Schuster February, 2013

A young adult dystopian review

 

 

Revived from Fever, Rhine needs to snatch at second chances-a second chance to be honest, a second quest to find Rowan, a second turn to find a situation she can live with before it’s her time to die.  With so much to do and so little hope, Rhine finds that her world is still filled with things that can break.

DeStefano’s lyrical prose draws you right back into the story where we left off, enhancing everything with its beauty.  The pacing moves differently than one would expect, but everywhere DeStefano took us was somewhere I felt we needed to be.  There were some plot points that were brushed past rather briskly, but the strength of Sever’s atmosphere and Rhine’s mentality held it together.  It worked for me because at the end of the day, The Chemical Garden Trilogy has never been about action.  It’s always focused on the human consequences-the coping, the confusion, the chaos.  I’ve seen several disappointed reviews about this book and I think it’s because DeStefano sticks so closely to her theme.  I think for many people this kind of dystopian work, at least at the end, is about wish fulfillment-we’d like to think we could fight and overcome even horribly depressing circumstances and overwhelming odds.  Alternatively, it’s about perspective-being wrenched into feeling that whatever life you’re living now is favorable in comparison.  Sever hits none of those usual notes.  The last of Rhine’s story is real and therefore, less than fully satisfying because we’re left with a lack of finality, tainted victories, and pure hope-not fulfilled and without the comfort of endings.

Unlike its predecessors, Sever has more of an ensemble cast than focusing solely on Rhine’s views.  This significantly altered the feel of the read and heightened this conclusion because there are now more people’s feelings to deal with and more overall to hope for.  DeStefano made bold decisions with this book and I believe she left me feeling exactly how she intended me to.  Sever brings this series around from sex and death to the realization that life takes every bit as much effort and anguish and courage.  Rules break, people change, and we live surrounded by things that Sever.  I’d say this book is well worth the time.

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