Sunday, 25 April 2010

CBR 46: "Friday's Child" by Georgette Heyer

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Page count: 432 pages
Date begun: April 21st, 2010
Date finished: April 25th, 2010

Vicount Sheringham, known affectionately to everyone in his acquaintance as Sherry, proposes to the Incomparable of the season, the lovely Miss Isabella Milborne, and is summarily rejected. As his inheritance is in a trust until he turns 25, or he marries, and he is in rather dire financial straits, he needs a wife quickly, and after running into Miss Hero Wantage, a kindly orphan girl who has adored him all his life, he decides to run off with her and make her his wife.

Sherry's friends are rather surprised by his impetuous marriage, but the lovely Hero, who is young and inexperienced, but also very generous, charms them all, and they are soon determined to protect and take care of her. Having grown up the penniless relative at a cousin's, facing a future as a governess, Sherry's offer of marriage to Hero is a dream come true. She is only 17, however, and not used to either the polite or impolite society of London. The rather hard-living Viscount and his many friends are also not the best role models a young lady could have. Hero, very swiftly nicknamed Kitten, and subsequently called this by nearly everyone for the rest of the book, keeps getting into embarrassing situations, the young couple both run up rather a lot of debt and while fond of his pretty little wife, Sheringham does not seem to actually know her very well.

I absolutely adore some of Heyer's books, she writes so very well, and I have previously mentioned the debt modern romance writers everywhere owe to her. According to Wikipedia, Friday's Child was Heyer's own favourite. I'm sorry to say I can't share her sentiment. While amusing and charming, like all her books, I had a bit of trouble actually engaging with the characters. Hero absolutely adores her husband, and can't very well speak out against him, since he rescued her from a life of servitude as a governess, but her blind worship of him gets a bit tiresome. Even more so, Sherry's absolute selfishness and failure to realize both that his young wife hangs on his every word, both for good or ill, and that once he's married he needs to mature and embrace his responsibilities. He does eventually clue in to the fact that he's an idiot, but it takes a bit too long for my tastes.

What saves the book for me is in large part Sherry's various friends and cronies, who are all amusing and colourful. Especially amusing is Lord George Wrotham, a rival of Sherry's for Miss Milborne's affections, who broods and pines and challenges other men to duels for the slightest perceived offence to him. Who the Incomparable Miss Milborne eventually chooses is a subplot in the book which also takes its time coming to a satisfying resolution. In comparison to so many other of Heyer's books that held vivid characters and engaging stories, this one just failed to deliver to the same degree.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

CBR 45: "Dragonskin Slippers" by Jessica Day George

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Page count: 336 pages
Date begun: April 16th, 2010
Date finished: April 17th, 2010

Creel and her brother are orphans and living with their aunt and uncle in the provincial farming town Carlieff. Because food is scarce, her aunt decides that Creel has to be given to the local dragon, and then the nobleman's son can rescue and marry her. Creel is pretty sure the dragon is really a myth, and is therefore rather surprised to discover that not only is the dragon real, but he's none to pleased to find a human on his doorstep. He doesn't sleep on a hoard of gold either, but collects shoes. It seems all dragons like collecting different things (one collects dogs), and this one has hundreds of pairs of shoes. For a while it looks like Creel's aunt's crazy plan will succeed, but Creel has no wish for the dragon to get killed, and she certainly doesn't want to marry the local nobleman's son. She bargains with the dragon that she'll get rid of the would-be knight and the irate villagers, if he will give her one pair of his shoes. Creel chooses a pair of lovely blue leather slippers that the dragon is clearly reluctant to part with, but it agrees to give them up if she gets rid of the humans.

Creel never wanted to marry anyone, and certainly doesn't want to go back to her aunt and uncle's. She convinces the rather dim nobleman's son that the dragon was ancient, and carrying her off clearly used up its last strength, so it is now dead, and no danger to anyone. She then starts walking towards the capital, where she wants to find work as a seamstress, using the sewing and embroidery skills her mother taught her. Along the way, she is nearly attacked by ruffians, but rescued by a large gold dragon who takes her to his cave. Shardas, as the dragon is called, collects stained glass windows, and is also surprised to see Creel's slippers, but again, refrains from actually explaining to her why they are important. She stays in the dragon's cave for over a month, finishing her sample pieces and becoming close friends with the friendly beast.

Shardas takes her to the capital, where after wandering lost and alone, and nearly being arrested for stumbling over a foreign princess' lapdog, she is helped to find lodgings by the king's younger son. She is given a job as a dressmaker's apprentice, and within days her skills as an embroiderer are sought after. Amalia, the spoiled foreign princess betrothed to the older prince, sees her unusual slippers one day when she is in the shop, and demands that Creel give them up. Creel refuses, to the horror of one of the other apprentices, a crippled girl who works in the back rooms, and frequently scolds Creel and the other girls for complaining about the demanding customers, and the tyrannical Amalia in particular.

Luka, the younger prince, keeps coming round to the shop to see Creel. He, like many of the people in the city, are not happy about his brother's impending marriage, but the country needs the alliance. When Creel's slippers disappear one morning, and an ugly ballgown is left in their place, Luka tries to help her get them back from Amalia. The true nature of the slippers only becomes clear about a month after they were stolen from Creel, when her good friend Shardas and many other dragons start attacking the capital. The king reveals that the slippers were made out of dragon hide, and allows its wearer to control all the dragons in the kingdom. Amalia and her warmongering father now control the dragons, and intend to use them to conquer the kingdom by force, unless Luka, Creel and her friends find a way to stop them.

Dragonskin Slippers is a sweet, little book, and the relationship between Creel and the dragons in it reminded me of Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. It did not surprise me in the slightest when Jessica Day George revealed that she had always been a fan of those books and other stories featuring dragons. Creel is a resourceful girl, determined to make her own way in the world. She is terrified the first time she meets a dragon, but soon realizes that all the stories about them were greatly exaggerated, and that they are intelligent, rather shy creatures, whose reputations have been tarnished by the king who made the slippers to control them and use them as weapons. Once she realizes the terrible power of the slippers the princess stole, she tries to do all in her power to help her dragon friends and get them back. I really liked the story, and its many fairytale elements. I currently only own the second one, but plan to get the third as soon as it's out in paperback.

Friday, 16 April 2010

CBR 44: "Changeless" by Gail Carriger

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 388 pages
Date begun: April 12th, 2010
Date finished: April 15th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SOULLESS, THE FIRST ALEXIA TARABOTTI NOVEL!

Alexia Tarabotti is now Lady Maccon, and a preternatural advisor to Queen Victoria herself. She finds being married rather pleasant, but is agitated when she one afternoon finds most of her husband's werewolf pack camped out on her front lawn, without him alerting her to the fact that they were even returning from abroad. There is some sort of weapon that affects all supernaturals, turning both werewolves and vampires human again, and the Queen wants her to investigate it. Then her husband goes off to Scotland to sort out business in his old pack, leaving her to deal with her silly, newly-affianced friend (who despite being engaged to another, pines for Lord Maccon's valet), her demanding half-sister Felicity (dumped unceremoniously on her front steps by her mother), and mysterious French hatmaker/inventor who scandalously wears men's clothing.

I was delighted by Soulless, the first novel in the series, and had been eagerly anticipated the sequel. I love the covers, and the mix between romance, paranormal, and Steampunk in the narrative worked very well. I am sad to say that while Changeless was not bad, it was weaker than the first, in part I think, because Alexia and Connall spent so much time apart. Carriger's writing truly sparkles when they share a scene, and they have a very enjoyable banter that was missing for a lot of this book. There is a lot more technology in this one, Alexia goes travelling by dirigible with her rather sizeable entourage, and there are still people who want her dead.

More is revealed about her husband and why he left his original pack in Scotland to become Alpha in England instead. There is the mystery of what is causing the supernaturals to turn human, like Alexia's powers but on a much larger scale. Alexia finds out more about her dead father, there is spying afoot. She makes a new friend in the hatmaker/inventor, Madame Genevieve Lafoux, who is clearly more than she first seems.

The books ends on a cliffhanger, after a surprising, thought to be impossible occurrence makes Connall cast off his wife in disgust. Alexia has to leave Scotland in a hurry and I'm assuming that
Blameless, the third novel in the series (out in September) will be all about explaining how the believed to be impossible was actually possible, clearing Alexia's honour and reuniting her with her husband.

Monday, 5 April 2010

CBR 43: "Succubus Shadows" by Richelle Mead

Publisher: Kensington
Page count: 304 pages
Date begun: April 4th, 2010
Date finished: April 5th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT PREVIOUS BOOKS IN THE GEORGINA KINCAID SERIES!

Georgina Kincaid is an unhappy succubus. The man she loves is marrying one of her best friends, mainly because of the guilt he feels over the affair they had when Georgina temporarily lost her soul-sucking powers. Now her friend wants her to be a bridesmaid, and help plan the wedding. There's another succubus in town as well, who is trying to put the moves on Seth, not that it appears to be working too well. Roman, her roommate, seems to have gone from wanting to kill her to wanting to romance her - and she keeps having strange, dreamlike visions every time she's depressed (which is often) tempting her towards suicide.

I really need to start getting the Georgina Kincaid books with the UK covers. The US covers keep getting more awful with each book, as illustrated by this one. The UK one is much nicer, really need to get on that. In the previous book, I spent a lot of the book being really annoyed with Georgina and Seth. They were both behaving badly, now they have to deal with the aftermath of their actions. Georgina spends a lot of the book trapped in a sort of dreamworld, forced to relive both true and untrue memories from her past. We find out quite a lot more of what made her the person she is now, and there are more hints about her contract binding her to eternal service as a succubus is not entirely as it should be. Someone also seems willing to kill to keep Georgina from finding out what is really going on.

These books are entertaining enough, but I don't love them. Still, I've grown to know the characters, and unless Richelle Mead plans to string the series out for as long as Janet Evanovich without anything changing the status quo, I will probably keep reading them, just to see what happens.