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.