Review: The Velocipede Races

Initial Thoughts:

This was actually more entertaining than I thought, though admittedly the story dragged in parts. Still worth the read though! And I mean…why wouldn’t it be when it has a woman shattering glass ceilings?


THE VELOCIPEDE RACES

by Emily June Street
Elly Blue Publishing, April 2016
Science fiction, steampunk
Rated: 3 / 5 cookies

Emmeline Escot knows that she was born to ride in Seren’s cutthroat velocipede races. The only problem: She’s female in a world where women lead tightly laced lives. Emmeline watches her twin brother gain success as a professional racing jockey while her own life grows increasingly narrow. Ever more stifled by rules, corsets, and her upcoming marriage of convenience to a brusque stranger, Emmy rebels—with stunning consequences. Can her dream to race survive scandal, scrutiny, and heartbreak?

I totally picked this book up because I can never resist a good ole “girl dresses up as boy, girl shows the world she can play with other boys” trope. In The Velocipede Races, the trope is no different, and yes, in that sense, it is pretty damn predictable.

But, I mean, friggin’ velocipedes, man. VELOCIPEDES.

For those not familiar, velocipedes are contraptions best associated with Victorian era innovation. It’s essentially a bike, though I do believe the wheels are bigger at the front and smaller at the back, so there’s a bit more of a balancing skill that goes along with riding the velo as well. In any case, it’s a contraption that many Serenians in the book enjoy to ride and watch.

Well, many male Serenians anyway.

Heaven forbid if females were interested in racing velos or anything. That would be scandalous in Serenian society, especially when the particular female is riesen (noble). And, in Emmeline’s case, it’s exactly that, because she’s that athletic riesen woman who’d do anything to take to the wheel of a velo and race her heart out. Only, the only thing she’s expected to do is marry some rich man while her twin brother undergoes the proper training to become a velo racer.

We know where things can go from there. Oh, yes, she’s got a twin brother who looks enough like her. Oh, yes, Emmeline is going to take advantage of that, and no matter how many times Gabriel has dissuaded her from trying to sneak out and practice alongside him, she does it anyway. Even after she is thrown into a reluctant marriage, Emmeline still finds a way.

And then things slowly go downhill from there.

In all honesty, much of this story has been told before, over and over again. And yet, I still find it charming to read, because how can I not love a woman who has a passion that goes beyond societal expectations? (As someone whose field of study is still largely male-dominated, I can totally relate). How can I not love a woman who knows exactly what she wants from life and husband be damned if he tried to stop her.

So yeah, I liked Emmeline. Very much. Even in her single-minded zeal towards velo racing and her almost ignoring anything else in society. I say almost because by the end, she does find another love, one she finds highly unexpected.

That said, I thought the story was paced too slow at times, and too fast at others. The velocipede races themselves were meticulously described, and yet, there were “blink and you miss it” moments that forced me to stop halfway into the description of a race to only go back and repeat the segment again. I suppose it’s styled like an actual race, which is kind of cool in that way, but read weirdly for me.

I also didn’t really feel like any of the other characters stood out. Gabriel was a close second in terms of most development, personality-wise, but there wasn’t really much time to develop him, considering he often disappeared to do his own thing while Emmeline was left to her own devices. Even the other secondary characters show up in a scene and then disappear so quickly that I couldn’t really form an opinion about them. (Except Eddings. Eddings was just a cocky little chauvinistic shite.)

I was a little disappointed that Everett was often written out of the picture half the time, with Emmeline stating that he’s “busy with work.” I mean, honestly, he was an intriguing character, a strange, self-made man in a society he barely acknowledges as his own. From the beginning, he’s seen as a mysterious personality, and his thoughts about Emmy are often hidden under inscrutable stares and coarse, blunt language. It made for an awkward romance at times, and I really did want more out of that relationship.

All that said, I found the book charming. Serenian society and its surrounding world is fashioned after Victorian England, and I’m sure if Victorian England had developed through the ages fast enough, it would have velocipede races, too. I’m sure the suffragettes would have tried their best to applaud anyone who has shattered the glass ceiling, which Emmeline was bound to do with her velocipede passion. And that’s really where the book shined the most, within the description of Emmeline’s love for velo races.

3 out of 5 cookies!

This counts as #2 of the Steampunk Reading Challenge.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Review: Artful by Peter David

To be honest, I hadn’t expected the vampires.


ARTFUL

by Peter David
47North, July 2014
Victorian paranormal fantasy
provided by NetGalley

artfulGoodreads: Oliver Twist is one of the most well-known stories ever told, about a young orphan who has to survive the mean streets of London before ultimately being rescued by a kindly benefactor.

But it is his friend, the Artful Dodger, who has the far more intriguing tale, filled with more adventure and excitement than anything boring Oliver could possibly get up to. Throw in some vampires and a plot to overthrow the British monarchy, and what you have is the thrilling account that Charles Dickens was too scared to share with the world.

From the brilliant mind of novelist and comic book veteran Peter David,Artful is the dark, funny, and action-packed story of one of the most fascinating characters in literary history.

With vampires.

In hindsight, I should have probably expected them, considering it’s a highlight in the summary of the book. But clearly I didn’t read the summary fully and only got past the first sentence about the Artful Dodger…

Jumbly Thoughts

The reading was a lukewarm experience, because while I don’t normally mind reading another vampire novel, particularly one that is set in the Victorian period, I did have certain issue with the execution of the tale. Part of it was probably because the dated language was rough around the edges. I guess the closest thing I could compare it to (and only because I’ve been trying to get my students to work on their Christmas show song) is a piano piece: Artful is to someone playing Schubert’s “Serenade” by plunking with one finger as Oliver Twist is to a smooth two-handed rendition of the same piano piece.

Not sure if that makes things any clearer, and the difference is stark, but in reality I did like the book enough to finish it.

The beginning did drag on, however, and it was only during my reading about Fagin and Mr. Fang that I actually perked up and got interested in the story. The Artful Dodger himself was an interesting character, and probably the appeal to this book is the fact that Dodger was a reworked character taken from a Charles Dickens novel. Certainly that was the reason why I was interested in a reader copy of ArtfulBut in the end, I saw Dodger’s back story and relation to the Oliver Twist tale as unnecessary. Dodger could have just been any random thief-anti-hero character created for a fictional historical during the days of young Victoria and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Sure there were familiar characters from the Oliver Twist tale that were probably cool to see, but they weren’t much more than cameos, so could have been taken off entirely.

The vampire conspiracy was something out of a Victorian pulp, which, for me, was the best part of the book. I liked that young Victoria had a slight role to play in the story, liked the inclusion of the young Helsing as well. I liked the little twist about Fagin’s storyline (and the epilogue bits about him), and thought Mr. Fang was rather diabolical, if not too far-reaching.

In the end, I couldn’t help but snort at the Drina-Dodger pairing development and the really didn’t see the point, considering nothing really ever amounted to it. The Bram-Dodger relationship was probably more interesting to see, since the two practically played off each other for the majority of the story, and it was always fun to see the next thing they would do to save the day–or kill some vampires.


3 out of 5 Goodreads stars!

25 Reads: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

I meant to bake more steampunkish-related goodies to go with this steampunky book, but I kind of got distracted by five-hour waits on ticket lines and Shakespeare in the Park (so worth the waiting time for anyone with the inclination for Shakespeare or NYC’s Central Park this summer). So I will reserve the edibles at a later date.

That said, I did finish another book on my list of 25 that I’m meant to absolutely read this year. And it was a goodie.

 bookSophronia Angelina Temminnick is a rambunctious young lady who is quite the aggravation to her dear mother and elder sister. After an introductory misadventure in a dumbwaiter and the abuse of a most delectable custard (reminiscent to Alexia Tarabotti’s unhappy accident involving a tray of sweets in Soulless), Sophronia’s mother, the Lady Temminnick, decides this is the last straw and immediately has her shipped off to a finishing school. Initially, this is all a tremendous and odious tragedy befalling our spunky heroine, up until she realizes that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is not your run-of-the-mill high-class Victorian finishing school. This becomes apparent considering the school employs the use of a werewolf and a vampire, and the fact that flywaymen are chasing the elusive flying school above the clouds. Not to mention that mathematics classes include a basic understanding of poisons, and deportment lessons have an extra helping of subterfuge.

Clearly all these reasons and thensome are reason enough to stay. For a girl like Sophronia, whose interests run in the inner workings of machines and whose mind is attuned to the work of intelligencers, the school is a perfect fit. Now if only she could find a way to stay afloat on her probationary period whilst solving a mystery involving prototypes, evil geniuses, sooties, and debutante balls. While remaining every bit a lady, of course.

I liked Sophronia much. She’s certainly not your average high society Victorian lady, and is more than willing to undergo a particular mission in as undignified a manner if necessary. Gail Carriger also writes in that humorous tone of voice, a style which, I think, was fabulously done in Soulless and a bit more subdued here in Etiquette & Espionage, though situations are no less funny when I come to think about it.

Etiquette & Espionage (Book 1 of the Finishing School series) is part of Carriger’s alternate Victorian England, where werewolves do required service under Her Majesty and vampires belong to hives–and if they don’t, they likely will not last very long. The series apparently occurs 20-something years before the events in Soulless, so it’s highly likely a few characters creep up from the Parasol Protectorate series and do cameos (or become secondary characters) in FS. Admittedly, I got excited when I recognized the Maccon name. I would have to read Soulless again and continue the rest of the PP series to be able to figure out who else shows up, though, ’cause otherwise the cameos would be lost on me. Not that they’re bad reads anyway.

For a fun romp across the sky, into evil genius lairs, and with the involvement of a finishing school on a floating ship, I’d definitely give this book four stars. (At some point I’m going to have to start rating these in cupcakes…)

Rippermania without Jack…sort of

Admittedly, I think BBC’s Ripper Street already had me at the title (but I’m a quasi-Anglophile, and that kind of includes my fascination with the unsolved Jack the Ripper cases). But far be it for me to start watching the show on title alone. I’d actually seen previews of Ripper Street a while back, thought it was interesting (and I do so love period pieces), and was just finding the time to be able to watch the first episode (yay Netflix for that opportunity!). Not to mention Bronn (HBO’s Game of Thrones) and Mr. Darcy (Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley) are two of the three main leads in the show. So far, I like it.

ripperstreet

Ripper Street picks off where Jack the Ripper has committed his last “officially known” killing (supposedly, anyway). Six months after, a murder is found in the very alleys where Jack committed his heinous deeds, and the corpse is pretty similar to a Ripper murder. Only, Detective Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfayden) believes it is not a genuine Ripper case; contrary to the public hullabaloo and conjectures that “[Jack the Ripper’s] back,” there is a copycat walking around with a whole different motive. With Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg)–a former U.S. Army surgeon and Pinkerton agent–Reid investigates the crime with the intent to capture not Jack, but another deranged murderer on the loose.

Of course, Episode 1 is hardly the be-all-end-all decision-maker for me, considering I usually try to watch more than one episode before judging the show for what it is (except Once Upon a Time, that one I just couldn’t bring myself to continue). I think the Ripper murders itself is a bit overdone, but the fact that the Ripper Street creators only touch up on the Ripper murders and bring a different set of crimes and motives to the story is what sets this period drama off to a fresher start. Well, as fresh as you can get as far as period dramas go.

What I did really like after Episode 1 were the three characters. I liked that Reid and Flynn and Rothenberg pulled off their respective roles; while I adored Flynn and applauded Macfayden (yay for those gritty boxing matches!), I think I’m loving Rothenberg the best just for his character’s degree of scandalous mystery waiting to emerge in later episodes. I loved, loved, loved the visuals; the dark, ominous streets, the awesome costumes (mostly for the ladies of the night, but why the heck does this even matter?!), and the innovations and language of the period (hee, toffs and toffers and molly houses galore!) all bring something awesome to this broody Victorian drama.

So yes, I’m probably going to watch more of Ripper Street, though I don’t expect I’ll be doing so while I’m eating. Gore-alert: there’s a helluva lot of that going around, but what can you expect in a show titled after a serial murderer who cuts out his victim’s innards?