By: Tina Connolly


Published by: Tor (2012)

A young adult steampunk fantasy review




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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Wild Locks and the three Brave movies

There are too many differing things about this film.  You see, there’s really three different movies all packed inside Pixar’s latest release (expect non-specific spoilers):

The Good Kid-Flick: Brave is a beautiful film.  The soundtrack is lovely.  The attention paid to bringing out the Celtic flavor makes me smile.  The humor with Merida’s triplet brothers gets a bit half-assed at times, but it works for the intended audience, so who am I to knock it?  The family/clan humor works better, if through cliches.  The scene with the witch is wonderful, particularly her old-time voicemail system.  Disney’s trend of making horse companions increasingly helpful until they became the horse/dog/craziness that galloped through Tangled came back to the lovable realm, which I deem very important.  The overall story is cute and the main characters are likable.  Plus, King Fergus is just a really cool dude.

The Bad(ly) Anticipated Movie: My issues with this film began retroactively with the trailers, it turns out.  They clearly misled people to believe that Brave involves a great adventure.  The phrase “A Hero Will Rise” was clear claptrap to draw people in.  This story was about family, teenage/parent relationships, and vaguely one could argue it was about tradition.  What Brave is not about?  What people think of as a magical adventure with a young girl pitted against great forces in order to take charge of her own life.  If I’d known more of what the real plot was I probably would have seen it, but I certainly wouldn’t have been so excited or seen it so soon.  My next issue is the name itself.  Bravery is nobody’s issue here.  It’s not even a big theme.  You could argue that you need different kinds of bravery to do many of the things that happened in this film, but then you could also make that argument about maybe half the movies out there.  It just seems like one more ploy to direct audience expectations along more adventurous routes than what Brave actually delivers.

I also had trouble with a lot of aspects in the film itself.  First and foremost, I hated the way they invoked “fate.”  Frankly, there was no reason to bring fate into any of this-so a typical family squabble got a bit magical, it’s still a simple family trouble.  My main reason for disliking it though, is that it framed the whole story as if this is Merida taking charge of her fate.  I’m sorry, if running to a witch for a spell when you get frustrated and asking her to change circumstances for you is the same as getting empowered or taking charge of your own life, than I quit.  Nothing Merida did after that really had to do with deciding her own life, either.  Those actions had to do with other uplifting messages about relationships, but not freedom, empowerment, or “fate.”  Even at the ending Merida never really thought anything through or stepped up to the front herself, as far as her destiny goes.  Ultimately, that stupid spell thing worked and that, I cannot forgive.  Second, the whole storyline with the actual “villain” was so sketchily done it could lift right out.  It seemed like one of at least a hundred things they could have added to the plot to amp up the drama, that it was drawn out of a hat and none of the film makers really cared about that part.  There was never any real suspense, he’s barely there, and the movie expends no effort on getting us to really care.  Third, I felt like the characters didn’t develop enough.  Only three of them were fleshed out at all.  The two females evolved a little, but it felt like the end just brought them back to versions of themselves they’d been before and the whole thing was nothing but effects of a stressful time.  Fourth, I really did love Merida…as a rebellious fourteen-year-old.  Any older than that and her beginning choices seem so irresponsible and brattish that it’s hard to take seriously.  Particularly for the time period, when even fourteen was old enough to be married and pregnant.  On the other hand, at fourteen for the modern audience the idea of marriage would be alarming enough to appropriately invoke these reactions, but then the queen’s stance would be disturbing.  Merida is a princess, no matter how she feels about acting like a lady, it shouldn’t take so much for her to at least glimpse the big picture here.  Fifth, everything that happened felt like a cliche.  Princess unhappy with life, botched magic wish, family turmoil, princess causes political problems…what’s new?  Not that everything has to be new, but it should at least feel more fresh than stale.  Particularly if it is being marketed as a unique, new brand of princess tale.

The Ugly Feminist Film: As Pixar’s first female lead and a movie claimed to possess a new kind of princess story, Brave has a lot to say about gender issues in our society.  First off, is Merida really a new type of princess?  Chapman’s original idea was to make a new type this way: “Merida is not upset about being a princess or being a girl. She knows what her role is. She just wants to do it her way, and not her mother’s way.”  Well, in the film I saw living under the pressures of being a princess and conforming to the role of a girl/”lady” is pretty much what Merida was upset about.  Moving on, a lot was made of the fact that there is no love story.  The fact that this is a big deal says a wealth about society, already.  While it’s true there’s no romance, did it really leave the building?  The suitors are important, traditional gender roles are upheld, and love is upheld and promoted as the key to Merida’s ending.  Is Merida really an empowered, strong, female protagonist?  In physical prowess, she certainly is.  She’s very strong and stubborn in her choices, but I have doubts as to whether they show real empowerment or independence rather than simple teenage frustration and immaturity.  Bringing “fate” into the equation lends every doubt I have about Merida’s learning and sense of freedom more weight.  If this is the best Merida can do to grab hold of her own life, than I don’t really think so.

On the other hand, Queen Elinor’s habitual control over herself , her husband, and her kingdom demonstrates what a strong heroine can do.  Her relationship with her husband stayed practical and believable instead of being just a stereotype.  Her love of tradition and conventional roles never stops her from doing what needs to be done.  She is a woman of her time and a feminist who believes that a strong woman doesn’t need to break out of anything, she can simply be who she is and still get everything her way.  That, to me, is a much more powerful feminist statement than anything that happens with Merida.  Merida needs things to change around her in order to “change her fate.”  Elinor just makes hers, no matter what.  I really hope that after the events of Brave, she’s able to pass that on to her daughter.  If she’d done so in the movie, perhaps the talk of seeing your own “fate” would have fit in.

After reading I think I’ve figured out why they had such a hard time trying to make a “new” kind of princess tale.  First Pixar heroine and what do they seem to have spent most of their time on to get across the aspects of “freedom” and “wildness”?  Merida’s hair.  I rest my case.  (Well…at least that hair was awesome.)

The Horns of Ruin

The Horns of Ruin

By: Tim Akers


Pyr 2010

A fantasy action steampunk review

Eva Forge lives to kick ass and honor the name of the warrior god Morgan.  The fact that Morgan is dead, betrayed, means that she is the last of Morgan’s paladins.  The fact that her cult now faces deadly, mysterious attackers means that Eva will have to face not just weapons, but secrets, politics, and panic on her own.


Eva’s strong voice carries The Horns of Ruin at a good, action-filled pace from cover to cover.  Her supporting cast offers intrigue and humorous relief.  However, no one, not even Eva, can claim a fully developed character.  Akers is particularly short on backstory.  While a couple protagonists do receive some growth, it is more hinted at than realized in the writing.  Arguably, this book has enough to do with explaining the city’s history, current layout, and the workings of the various factions.  The combination of steampunk devices with sword-and-sorcery action adds to the confusion.  The city of Ash contains many complicated details and these are relayed to the reader in a kind of rhythm-chorusing what we already know and steadily adding new verses without losing pace with the action.  This method is not as smooth as it could be, but it’s serviceable and won’t bore or overwhelm.


The plot of The Horns of Ruin contains large twists that are actually quite predictable and many small points that are not.  The use of history and knowledge in this world’s logistics is clever without forcing messages on anyone.  Everything builds on a fight scene.  These are written with aesthetics in mind; it’s a shame this story isn’t visual.  As it is, these grew rather repetitive to me towards the end, but it could be a matter of taste.  Nevertheless, the true core of the story is simple: Eva kicks ass.  As such, this is a fun, quick read with cool images thrown in.  The cover image by Benjamin Carré and the chapter fonts are definitely awesome.  But I doubt I’d read any sequels.


Okay, we need to talk about Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue.  Which is to say, this is a book that needs to be talked about, so right off the bat Miss Cashore has already won.  Apart from that, this is a different book to not only Graceling and Fire, but also other books in its genre.  It is special, or graced.

The last king of Monsea was graced with the ability to alter people’s minds, to alter their memories and perceptions, to make them do whatever he wanted-and King Leck wanted a great many vile things.  Over 35 years, he brought agonies of all kinds to everyone in his kingdom.  After his killing, his 10-year-old daughter Bitterblue ascended the throne.  Now it is eight years later and Bitterblue wants to assume the true power and purpose of a queen, rather than relying on the advisers who ran the kingdom for her as a child.  But Bitterblue isn’t sure what her kingdom needs from their queen.  How can she take her true power when she knows she isn’t being told about the present?  When she cannot get clarity about all that really happened under the reign of her father, even in her own foggy memories?  When her friends’ Council begin altering the politics and balance of power in the Seven Kingdoms, making the future dangerous?

Bitterblue’s story is different from other heroines.  She undergoes not one great journey, but dozens of curving, creeping quests that tangle around all she needs to know.  Bitterblue must explore her city, cope with her past, encounter first love’s sparks, learn who she truly is, and decide how to fit it all together so Monsea can finally heal.  Through a labyrinth of secrets and lies, Bitterblue strives to find truth, history, and good, but above all, she wants the ability to make things, everything, or just something, better.

Bitterblue’s world is complicated.  It moves with a depth and a realness that gives this story force.  Some may say ‘slow’, but that’s only looking at things from one angle.  As a mystery Bitterblue might be disappointing, even with all its twists.  As a fantasy novel, this work is short on action, villains, and glitter.  As a romance, it certainly falls by the wayside, particularly considering Cashore’s previous works.  For those who want an epic, graceful conclusion to the series the end does come quickly and without really tidying things up.  As a whole, living, breathing tale, Bitterblue’s world makes sense.  It pulls you in, it intrigues you, it comforts you, it moves you, and it includes a lot of things to both love and deplore.  Bitterblue is strong enough to lend something to those working through their own wounds and memories, while never bypassing or sugar-coating the pain or problems that come with that work.  Bitterblue is a strong book to send out into the world, and its satisfaction waits for those who want to find it, who want something deep, and dark, and awful, and beautiful.  Those who just want to read a well-written story, or to follow along on someone else’s adventures might not be able to find it.  That does not mean it is not there.

Extra thoughts:

-I wish people would stop complaining about the romance.  It wasn’t a romance, was it?  It was attraction, affinity, and a physical waking up.  All that was written beautifully.  I found it perfectly believable that this is what happened for Bitterblue, and I felt the boy was the right person for her to experience that with.  Also, just think what Katsa would say to characterizing her story just as a romance, or rejecting Bitterblue for the reason that she’s not really about getting a partner!  Spoilers: I understand that during the actual events of Bitterblue Giddon’s calm support is much more what she needed, but come on.  That does not equal romance.  Besides, what would a young girl actually want at that time?  Saf is someone she figured out herself, someone she could play with parts of her identity with and allow herself to explore new feels more freely, someone she could act forceful around-could slap, and fight, and know herself to make mistakes without it overwhelming her because he, after all, asked for it.  As a first-attraction/crush Saf works splendidly.  Yes, I see that Giddon/Bitterblue ship makes a lot of sense for her ultimate marriage and partnership, but a big part of this is that she is so not there yet.  It’s all okay.  Moreover, I remember having a much more adverse reaction to Giddon in Graceling than I ever did with Saf.  Saf’s issues stem from a strong sense of independence, where Giddon’s were more about patriarchal values and possessiveness.  Not to mention, if Giddon can improve so much in eight years, if Saf does come back after awhile, who’s to say he won’t exactly fit the picture of a good husband for Bitterblue by then?  Not that I’m advocating that, or think it should happen-I much prefer him as just the first love who must be lost.  Still, though, Giddon…I don’t see any real chemistry there.  Don’t forget, the reason she decided to talk truthfully to him was because she did not expect to be too close.

-I am incredibly jealous of Saf’s grace.

-I loved each and every connection toFire.  I loved how it was so integral to the story.

-Po’s story felt wonderful, and I love him, but he did start to feel a little too much like a plot device in there.  That’s my main nitpick with the book, actually.

-Katsa/Po from the outside is pretty much exactly like I expected it to be.  I wish I’d been a little bit surprised in there, somewhere.

-I adore Hava and want some sort of extra story or journal or, actually, make that an illustrated book of works for Bellamew.  Who doesn’t want to see those sculptures???  Get on it!

-Also, I’ve grown incredibly fond of Death and his Lovejoy. Spoilers: So much, in fact, that when the fire that burnt the journals happened my main concern was how upset it would make Death.

Spoiler: Brigan’s daughter must be running the whole Dell Army!  Hurrah!  That little detail made me happy.

Spoiler: How come we never find out for certain whether the pocketwatch does tell Dellian time or not?

Spoiler: Why is paint what Leck would use to try to ‘destroy’ sculptures?  Aren’t there chisels or sledge hammers or crow bars?  We know Leck was adept at swinging knives around, surely he could extrapolate.  I half expected them to find out that he wasn’t really trying to ruin them, but was trying to make them look like Dellian monsters by adding the bright colors.

-In my head Raffin and Bann ultimately live in two rooms: one full of medicines and experiments and the other full of buttered crumpets and other fluffy things, of edible and furniture varieties.

Spoiler: The person whose lies I was most upset about in this whole thing were Holt’s.  The other culprits were made very clear early on.  While Holt’s involvement was also pretty obvious it was not clear that he was involved willingly for so long, and he was so good and…fragile all the time.  I felt like his struggles were some of the clearest and they touched me more than a lot of other ones.  I am incredibly glad that he was the first one to receive a new Bitterblue task.

-I like Fox.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to get a side tale about her in her family life?

The Grand Sophy

The Grand Sophy

By: Georgette Heyer


Harlequin 1950

An historical fiction romance review


When fate (and family) toss a monkey, a terrier, and a parrot at your household and the girl who brought them still causes the most havoc, she must be The Grand Sophy.  Accustomed to running her father’s house and being left to her own affairs, Sophy believes that a little resolution is all that’s needed to solve everyone’s problems.  When she puts her powers of resolve, observation, and charm to the task of managing her cousins’ difficulties not a lot goes smoothly.  From illegal debts to romantic kerfuffles, nothing can daunt Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy.  On the other hand, Sophy’s tactics daunt her acquaintance and infuriate her eldest cousin Charles.

Heyer’s twists and endearingly flawed characterizations keep readers surprised and entertained.  Facing the world through Sophy’s eyes makes obstacles moot and conventions easily manipulated.  Quick tempers add drama and a galloping pace to this family story.  The mistress of meddling, The Grand Sophy brings the regency era to life in a whole new light, and her own story to a rollicking finish that’ll leave you wanting more.  No matter who tells her what to do, or what her temper demands, this is one heroine who isn’t about to let it get her down, or allow her readers to put down this book.