Lavie Tidhar – The Bookman

Lavie Tidhar just won a World Fantasy Award for his novel Osama, but I felt more drawn to his steampunk trilogy about the mysterious Bookman. I started reading with high expectations but ended up having to plough through most of the novel due to its lack of depth, interesting language, and – most of all – character development. I am so disappointed I could cry.

by Lavie Tidhar

Published by: Angry Robot, 2010
ISBN: 9780007346615
ebook: 416 pages
Series: The Bookman Histories #1

My rating: 3/10

First sentence: Orphan came down to see the old man by the Thames.

A masked terrorist has brought London to its knees – there are bombs inside books, and nobody knows which ones. On the day of the launch of the first expedition to Mars, by giant cannon, he outdoes himself with an audacious attack. For young poet Orphan, trapped in the screaming audience, it seems his destiny is entwined with that of the shadowy terrorist, but how? Like a steam-powered take on V for Vendetta, rich with satire and slashed through with automatons, giant lizards, pirates, airships and wild adventure, The Bookman is the first of a series.

dividerSometimes I wonder if my expectations are too high or if, by covers alone, I hope to find something in a book that simply isn’t there. In the case of The Bookman, I was disappointed on pretty much every level. The story starts out interesting enough. Alternate London, a young man called Orphan, his friend Gilgamesh, a police inspector called Irene Adler, Prime Minister Moriarty, and the mysterious Bookman. I loved the initial whacky mix of classic literature that seems to have permeated this version of England. But what Jasper Fforde does brilliantly, Lavie Tidhar fails in a rather embarrassing way. It soon becomes apparent that no real world-building has been done. Names are thrown around, mostly so the readers will feel they already know a character and the author doesn’t have to bother actually giving them personality.

Nobody has personality! Orphan is the blandest, most passive, most painfully boring character I’ve read in a long time. The initial plot device – his girlfriend Lucy dying in a terrorist attack staged by the Bookman – is the starting point for his “adventures”. On these adventures, which take him to the mysterious Caliban’s Island, Oxford, the London underworld, a pub, a museum, and tons of other places, Orphan never does anything by himself. He is told to do things, threatened if he doesn’t do things, other people explain why it would be a neat idea to do yet another thing, you get the idea. Most of the time, things happen to him. And the worst thing is: There are certain mysteries (painfully obvious, might I add) that Orphan finds out is told and although they pretty much change every aspect of his life, he just stores them away, never to be mentioned again.

The wonderful Lucy, dead from the beginning, is mentioned a lot in Orphan’s thoughts, but we never get to see why he loves her so much. She is a damsel-in-distress kind of stand-in, so he has something to do  be told to do. As for side characters, don’t even get me started. The handful I remember were there for exposition, info-dumps, and to nudge Orphan along when – again – he’s standing around passively and completely useless.

There is a fair amount of stuff happening, considering this is not an extremely large book. But stuff happening is still not plot, no matter how hard some people try to make us believe that. In fact, everything that happens to Orphan was so disconnected and so badly anchored in this strange, unfinished world, that it is nearly impossible for me to pick out the red thread of what this story was actually about. It’s not about the Bookman, despite its title. It’s not about the world – which would have had so much potention to be something great, what with lizard royalty and conspiracies and Jules Verne saving Orphan in a hot air balloon… none of it was realised.

Whenever there is the chance of a scene becoming thrilling, Orphan being in danger or something being at stake, the scene is cut or ended abruptly by “and then he got out”. Thanks for building up to nothing. To make things worse, the writing in general wasn’t stellar, either. Sentences are mostly short, when there is description, it is unoriginal, and the story and its setting lacked atmosphere.

He crashed into the warm water with a huge explosion. His lungs burned. He had the sense of dark, heavy shapes moving below him. He kicked out and broke back to the surface. He looked at where he was. He was in a large pool of water.

You see, writing like this is okay if it happens only occasionally and to emphasize how quickly something happens. But every school kid learns you don’t start every single sentence with “He”. Sadly, this happens a lot throughout the novel, much to my disappointment. This also shows nicely how Orphan’s “dangerous” adventures don’t really get a chance to become interesting.

The Bookman is crammed full of Stuff – we never get to fully enjoy any one thing, because there have to be Lizards and pirates and a ship voyage, and airships, and bombs and a shuttle to Mars and a secret island and the underworld and automata and Orphan’s secret history and characters that show up so they can tell him something, never to be seen again, and millions of references to other books. I was quite pleased that Princess Irulan’s book In My Father’s House was a real thing in this world. But that’s about it.

It felt like the author had a number of great ideas, threw them all into a pot, stirred lightly and dumped it on a plate, for me to enjoy. Unfortunately, I enjoy good characters, a story that makes sense, set in a world that at least adheres to its own rules. This was such a strange reading experience with only a few fun bits that aren’t enough to be called a silver lining on this drab, colorless, endlessly boring sky of a “story”.

THE GOOD: Some great ideas, incorporating fictional characters into this story’s reality. Great potential for world-building.
THE BAD: Potential completely wasted. Terribly bland, cardboard characters, the plot is all over the place, mediocre writing and, ultimately, nothing in this story makes sense.
THE VERDICT: What a vast disappointment! I won’t be reading the rest of this series (which, btw, is not really steampunk) but I may give Osama a chance. I can’t believe everybody else loves Tidhar so much. This book was in bad need of editing, world-building, tightening of plot, and – most of all! – characters who feel like they are people, not puppets.

RATING: 3/10  – Bad


The Bookman Histories:

  1. The Bookman
  2. Camera Obscura
  3. The Great Gamebookman histories

Review: Gail Carriger – Etiquette & Espionage

Gail Carriger gives the YA genre a try in her new Finishing School series. Despite my misgivings about the later Parasol Protectorate books, I was as excited about this as anyone. Some of my hopes were met and we do get a new lovable cast of characters but we also get a lot of things we’ve already read in her previous books. All things considered, however, this book offers fun on every single page and I’ll happily continue reading this new series.

etiquette and espionageETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE
by Gail Carriger

Published by: Little, Brown, 2013
ISBN: 031621521X
ebook: 320 pages
Series: Finishing School #1

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Sophronia intended to pull the dumbwaiter up from the kitchen to outside the front parlor on the ground floor, where Mrs. Barnaclegoose was taking tea.

It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.
Sophronia Temminnick at 14 is a great trial more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners — and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Her poor mother, desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady, enrolls the lively tomboy in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. But young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage — in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.


I love books about schools. Even before Harry Potter, there was something about fictional characters going through the same ordeals I had to, only they get to do it in awesome fantasy worlds and learn magic – or in this case, the fine art of finishing. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School, Sophronia not only learns how to curtsy properly or the language a fan can speak, she is also instructed in obtaining secret information, killing silently, and sneaking about. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded reading more about the actual lessons, but Sophronia manages to teach herself enough sneaking about and investigating to make up for an entire school year.

What I liked about this was that the writing is clearly recognizable as Gail Carriger, yet it has its own distinct voice. It is set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, some 20 years earlier, but because we get a new protagonist, an entirely new setting, and a few new steampunk inventions, Etiquette & Espionage has a freshness to it that I’ve been missing in Gail Carriger’s latest books. The only thing that classifies this as young adult fiction is the lack of sex and the protagonists’ age. Other than that, it pretty much feels like coming home into a hilarious universe of werewolves, vampires, high tea, and the art of eyelash fluttering.

etiquette and espionageMy misgivings are few and negligible. I felt a little cheated that the author borrows so heavily from already established ideas and that some others felt almost anachronicstic. In this alternate universe we’ve got to know in the Parasol Protectorate, we are travelling into the past. To find out there were robots everywhere? If people had invented mechanical household servants, then why does nobody in Alexia Tarabotti’s time seem to have them? A useful thing like that wouldn’t just go out of fashion, would it? Like I said, it took me a little out of the flow but it wasn’t a big deal, overall. The mechanicals are handled in such a fun way that I’ll suspend my disbelief a little more.

A wonderful bonus for old fans is that we get to meet two well-known character’s younger selves and that’s all I’m going to say about it. It was a pleasant surprise and said characters grew on me even more than in the Parasol Protectorate. As characters go, Sophronia was a likable, flawed heroine who is far too blunt for her own good, but all the more endearing for it. Her friends – excepting the two mentioned above – felt more like charicatures than real people. Dimity was clearly a rip-off of Carriger’s own Ivy Hisslepenny, with a tendency toward the ridiculous, but her constant fainting fits made for some truly funny scenes. I was also thrilled to find a dark-skinned character who, because Sophronia just isn’t a society lady, is treated just the same as everybody else – at least by her. The issues are not ignored, it’s just that the protagonist doesn’t see any issues with having a friend who’s skin is a different color than her own.

At the center of the plot are several mysteries that Sophronia and her friends are trying to solve. But there are also classes, supernaturals to be dealt with, the usual school girl enmities and rumors floating about the school. Being a lady and an intelligencer at the same time proves to be harder than expected. But for us, who get to read about the insanity that is the Finishing School, it is first and foremost great fun. And I do have to mention that Sophronia is by far the coolest name the author has come up with so far. Frowbritcher, Mrs. Barnaclegoose, and Lord Dingleproops were tough contenders, but Sophronia is still my favorite name.

This may not be a groundbreaking book for Gail Carriger, but it was insane fun to read. Her sense of humor, although we’ve all heard it before, doesn’t fail to amuse and I actually preferred some of the ridiculous lessons Sophronia has to take to Alexia’s investigations. I don’t expect to be blown away by any of Carriger’s books anymore but if I have a couple of spare hours, they are wonderfully silly fun and well worth the read.

THE GOOD: Gail Carriger’s hilarious voice is back. The Finishing School and its classes are wonderful, Sophronia a great protagonist and I loved the “reunion” with characters we’ve previously met as adults.
THE BAD: Some rehashing of old ideas and gimmicks.
BONUS: Bumbersnoot the mechanimal. Oh, and flywaymen.
THE VERDICT: A hilarious and charming story set in a very steampunk-y world. The endearing characters and the sense of humor make up for any problems with the plot I may have had. Rcommended for fans of Gail Carrigers or those completely new to her writing.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

dividerThe Finishing School Series:

  1. Etiquette & Espionagecourtsies and conspiracies
  2. Curtsies & Conspiracies
  3. ?

A word on the covers:
I hated the Parasol Protectorate covers. Not because I disliked the design. The black and white background with a lady in a colorful dress was actually a brilliant idea. It’s just that I personally found the cover model to look neither like Alexia nor in any way pretty.

This time, the designers flipped it around and we get a colorful background with a (very pretty) young lady in black and white. I love the design and the different patterns on the wallpaper. The dresses are wonderful and the scissors/knife are a nice touch that give you a feeling of what you may find inside these books. Well done, Little, Brown!

Review: China Miéville – Perdido Street Station

HOW did I wait this long to discover China Miéville? Can anybody tell me why of all the recommendations I’ve been given, none ever enticed me enough to pick up this book? Well, I found my way in the end, and I have a lot more Miéville to discover.  This was an odyssey of a book and I admit, I dragged it out a lot, simply because I wasn’t quite ready to leave that world yet.

China Miéville - Perdido Street Station

by China Miéville

Published by: Pan Macmillan, 2011 (2000)
ISBN: 9780330534239
Paperback: 880
Series: New Crobuzon #1

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Veldt to scrub to fields to farms to these first tumbling houses that rise from the earth.

The metropolis of New Crobuzon sprawls at the centre of its own bewildering world. Humans and mutants and arcane races throng the gloom beneath its chimneys, where the rivers are sluggish with unnatural effluent, and factories and foundries pound into the night. For more than a thousand years, the parliament and its brutal militia have ruled over a vast array of workers and artists, spies, magicians, junkies and whores.

Now a stranger has come, with a pocketful of gold and an impossible demand, and inadvertently something unthinkable is released. As the city becomes gripped by an alien terror, the fate of millions depends on a clutch of outcasts on the run from lawmakers and crimelords alike. The urban nightscape becomes a hunting ground. Battles rage in the shadows of bizarre buildings. And a reckoning is due at the city’s heart, under the vast chaotic vaults of Perdido Street Station.


I find myself in an exceedingly difficult situation. Trying to review this book without giving too much away but still being able to mention all the awesome things and ideas, seems unfeasible. Perdido Street Station is a trip into the teeming, filthy city of New Crobuzon. A place full of drugs and crime and slums and starving artists and even starving scientists. Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is one such and the project of his life – building a Crisis engine – is going nowhere. When a stranger turns up with a seemingly impossible request, Isaac finds a new project to persue. But then, as things do in fiction, everything goes wrong and shit just won’t stop hitting the fan.

perdido 2

When China Miéville eases his readers into this word. the plot moves slowly, and he takes his time showing us around the city of New Crobuzon. But don’t worry. This is not just a tour around the city where we’re told that on our right hand side, we can see this species and on the left we see that species. But honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if that’s all it was. There are so many things to discover in New Crobuzon and while I think I got a general feel for the city, I haven’t seen nearly enough. We get some great insight into the khepri – people with human bodies but a bug as a head – as well as the garuda – winged humanoids with a bird’s head. But there is so much more. I could gush and gush about the many ideas but that would take away the fun of discovering them for yourself. And you should.

One idea in particular that caught my interest was the Remade, criminals who have metal or animal body parts attached to them to represent their crimes. How awesome is that! I also loved that every idea gets its proper time to be explored. As weird as it sounds, having just finished a book of 900 pages, I could have read about the Remade or the khepri, the vodyanoi, the currupt politicians, the drug lords and the criminal masterminds, for another 1000 pages.

The longer I read, the more I got the feeling that the author just put a whole lot of ideas into a pot, stirred, and out came an incredible city, densely populated by wonders upon wonders. As if that weren’t enough, Miéville also tells a gripping and terrifying story. The path of this 900-page-book is littered with plot-twists, ideas upon ideas, and not least, great writing. He had me fooled more than once and until it was over, I wasn’t sure how exactly this story would end.

China Miéville has his narrative down to perfection. And to add the cherry on top, I loved the writing style. It is flowery and (I think that goes without saying) vivid in detail but never, ever, boring. He switches perspectives frequently, showing us different sides of the same story, letting us enter the minds of several characters.

I understand why every single of his books is nominated for numerous awards and why people are so impressed with him. A word of caution is necessary, however, because I believe the style can very much be hit and miss. Before you buy this, read the first chapter to make sure you like it. If you do, you’re in for an epic adventure. China Miéville proves that fantasy does not have to be tropes and traditions only, that his imagination is endless and his skill phenomenal.

THE GOOD: If I start here, I’ll never stop. Characters, plot, style, monsters, world building…
THE BAD: It’s hard to find fault with this. If I have to pick something, I’d say the last third could have been shortened. Maybe.
THE VERDICT: An excellent book full of original ideas, great writing, and a well thought-out, fascinating city.

RATING: 9/10 Nearly perfect


The Bas Lag Cycle:

  1. Perdido Street Station
  2. The Scar
  3. The Iron Council

Scott Westerfeld – Leviathan

My holidays are over and I’ve got some reviews to catch up on. Since the theme of the month over at Literaturschock was “books with extras”, I picked this steampunk young adult book with loads of gorgeous illustrations. There’s a small taste below. I wasn’t totally convinced and I definitely don’t understand the hype, but I did have fun reading this book.

by Scott Westerfeld

illustrated by: Keith Thompson
Simon Pulse, 2009
pages: 246
copy: ebook
series: Leviathan #1

my rating: 5,5/10

First sentence: The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised.

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet. Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.
Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.
With the Great War brewing, Alek’s and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever.

Genetically modified animals that are used as airships and giant war machines? Yes, please! With my head spinning happily from the wealth of ideas I expected in this book, I dove into the adventure. And was mostly disppointed. Aleksandar, called Alek, was happily playing at war in his room when count Volger and master Klopp get him and flee across the country in a Stormwalker, a rather large machine, whose steampunky-ness was just to my liking. Since they stay in this machine and nothing much happens for about 100 pages, I got bored pretty soon.

But Alek is not the only protagonist. We also follow Deryn Sharp who disguises herself as a boy, Dylan, to enter the Royal Army and become a member on an airship. The author’s plotting, some luck, and a whole lot of suspension of desbelief, lead her to the Leviathan, a whale that is also a ship – and pretty much the coolest thing in this book. Westerfeld’s ideas may not hold up to closer looks and use of logic but they sure are fun to read about. An entire floating eco-system of a whale (inside of which you can wakl around, by the way), bees fléchette bats and dog-like sniffers. That’s what I was looking for.

The characters stay incredibly shallow though and beyond the basic information of who they are and how they got into this particular situation, we don’t learn anything about them, they don’t grow as characters and they don’t show any depth. Side characters are pretty much the same but for some reason, I didn’t mind so much with them. A big minus for characters, though, because you know me… if I don’t care about the characters, the book has already lost a chance at brilliance.

I was surprised to find out how thin the plot was. In a slim novel like this with some great ideas, I was expecting action to follow action. But for a reason. Being randomly attacked while trying to get out of the country may be accurate but doesn’t make for a very interesting story. The plot actually only starts kicking off in the middle of the book, when our two protagonists meet. That’s when I got the Leviathan fever and couldn’t put the book down. I thoroughly enjoyed the second half and the ending of the story. However, if books 2 and 3 offer equally thin plotlines, Scott Westerfeld could have just put them into one novel. Just sayin…

THE GOOD: Great and fresh ideas, a new spin on steampunk. Beautiful illustrations make it a vivid adventure that will leave you wanting more.
THE BAD: Flat characters, surprisingly little plot and a very open ending (you kind of want to read on).
THE VERDICT: Maybe I really am too old for YA books. I think if I had read this 15 years ago, I would have loved it. If you don’t mind lacking character growth so much and if you like steampunk, go straight ahead. This ended up being quite some fun after all.

RATING: 5,5/10  Not great but with some potential.

The Leviathan Trilogy:

  1. Leviathan
  2. Behemoth
  3. Goliath

Chris Wooding – Retribution Falls

Ever since Firefly ended (yep, I’m still mourning), I’ve been wanting another story with a crew on a ship that makes me feel right at home. The very first page gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling and makes you excited for things to come. You are ready for adventure and fun and danger – and the author simply delivers. This may be no Firefly, but it sure is a lot of fun.

by Chris Wooding

published: Gollancz ,2009
ISBN: 0575085169
pages: 444
copy: paperback
series: Tales of the Ketty Jay #1

my rating: 7/10

first sentence: The smuggler held the bullet between thumb and forefinger, studying it in the weak light of the store room.

Sky piracy is a bit out of Darian Frey’s league. Fate has not been kind to the captain of the airship Ketty Jay—or his motley crew. They are all running from something. Crake is a daemonist in hiding, traveling with an armored golem and burdened by guilt. Jez is the new navigator, desperate to keep her secret from the rest of the crew. Malvery is a disgraced doctor, drinking himself to death. So when an opportunity arises to steal a chest of gems from a vulnerable airship, Frey can’t pass it up. It’s an easy take—and the payoff will finally make him a rich man. But when the attack goes horribly wrong, Frey suddenly finds himself the most wanted man in Vardia, trailed by bounty hunters, the elite Century Knights, and the dread queen of the skies, Trinica Dracken. Frey realizes that they’ve been set up to take a fall but doesn’t know the endgame. And the ultimate answer for captain and crew may lie in the legendary hidden pirate town of Retribution Falls. That’s if they can get there without getting blown out of the sky.

The adventure starts right away, on the very first page. I can’t say that there was a single boring moment in this book. I did feel a bit overwhelmed with the characters in the beginning. We are introduced to them all quickly within one chapter. Even with a good memory for names, it’s hard to keep track of who’s who and what distinguishes them. But worry not. Chris Wooding may throw them all onto us poor readers in the beginning, but he gives each of them depth later on in the story. While I found especially Darian Frey’s character development predictable and a bit cheesy, I can’t say I truly disliked any of the crew. They are a nice bunch and their quippy banter won’t fail to amuse.

Once that inital confusion subsided, the plot was pretty much straight-forward. Frey and his crew are trying to find out who framed them and, more importantly, why. Adventure lurks around every corner, fistfights and gunshots are frequent, and Frey’s talent for spinning lies and convincing women of his honor (which really doesn’t exist) made him both likable and realistic. He may have a heart of gold but it’s quite deeply hidden. At least when it comes to women he’s slept with…

As far as world building goes, I wasn’t too convinced. I do suspect that we only scratched the surface of a much bigger universe and we’ll probably get to learn more about it in the follow-up novels. In Retribution Falls, however, the steampunk element was both wonderfully done – daemonists, golems, gadgets made with daemons – and hard to imagine – the speed at which the airships fly, using aerium. But that may just be my own fault for not having read enough steampunk literature. I think there’s a lot of promise in this world, though, and I especially liked the explanation on how to play Rake as a sort of epilogue.

You can’t really help but fall in love with the characters. Sure, they could be more three-dimensional but I liked them all the same. This story is just a fast adventure with everything a good pirate story needs. Airships, explosions, guns, monsters, intrigue, evil guys, a secret hide-out, a great crew, and a ship that – despite not being able to talk – is a character all on her own.

THE GOOD: Fun, fast-paced adventure story with cool characters and not a boring moment in sight.
THE BAD: Characters could be deeper, world-building has potential for more.
THE VERDICT: A fun romp on the Ketty Jay that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who likes steampunk, Firefly, or adventure (pirate) stories.

RATING: 7/10  Very good

Tales of the Ketty Jay:

  1. Retribution Falls
  2. The Black Lung Captain
  3. The Iron Jackal

Genevieve Valentine – Mechanique

Expectations can go either way. Sometimes a book cover or a blurb influences you so much that you believe you know exactly what to expect from a story. With this novel, it was mostly the current steampunk and dystopia hype that led me to expect a Hunger Games/Parasol Protectorate knock-off. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I’m glad my prejudices didn’t keep me from discovering one of the best books I have ever read.


by Genevieve Valentine

published: 2011
ISBN: 1607012537
pages: 284
copy: ebook and paperback

my rating: 9,5/10

first sentence: The tent is draped with strings of bare bulbs, with bits of mirror tied here and there to make it sparkle. (It doesn’t look shabby until you’ve already paid.)

Outside any city still standing, the Mechanical Circus Tresaulti sets up its tents. Crowds pack the benches to gawk at the brass-and-copper troupe and their impossible feats: Ayar the Strong Man, the acrobatic Grimaldi Brothers, fearless Elena and her aerialists who perform on living trapezes. War is everywhere, but while the Circus is performing, the world is magic. That magic is no accident: Boss builds her circus from the bones out, molding a mechanical company that will survive the unforgiving landscape. But even a careful ringmaster can make mistakes. Two of Tresaulti’s performers are trapped in a secret stand-off that threatens to tear the Circus apart, just as the war lands on their doorstep. Now they must fight a war on two fronts: on from the outside, and a more dangerous one from within…

There are books that only take a page to make you envious of the author’s talent. Genevieve Valentine has all my envy and jealousy and respect for doing with words what she did in this debut novel. Every word is perfect, every sentence full of meaning and every chapter like a story of its own. Books like this remind me again why I read genre fiction. Because Valentine could be named among any of the contemorary greats of literature – if I had any say in it, I’d throw pretty much every literary award her way I can think of.

This is the story of a circus, told for the most part out of Little George’s point of view. He is a little boy who doesn’t miss much, and narrates the story superbly. His sparse, but poignant words put life into the characters and their sometimes unfathomable relationships to each other. We are told slowly, and chapter by chapter, who came to the circus, why they joined and – perhaps most interestingly at first – what really happened to Alec. The Winged Man has been dead since before the story starts but his death (and life, for that matter) remains a mystery.

It takes Genevieve Valentine maybe two sentences to create a character that feels like a living, breathing creature. After soaking up every word of this story, I don’t feel I truly know any of them, not at their core. I love how we don’t get smacked over the head with information, with character traits or what drives them. Valentine shows, she doesn’t tell. And sometimes she doesn’t show very much either. I love an author who trusts their readers to use their own heads to figure out what’s really going on. Having an unreliable narrator makes it even more interesting to define just what shade of grey each of the characters are.

There is a heavy steampunk element to this story, though not at all like I expected. It is not about zeppelins and goggles, the brass and copper used in this tale is well incorporated into the world and the subtle magic system. For the most part, it is a novel about people, though. About their dreams and what they’re willing to do to get to them, about their fears and about love, and how far it can push them. As emotionally layered as the circus troupe is, I wouldn’t even have needed a plot. Just discovering these brilliant people would have been enough.

But the author, mostly known for short fiction before this novel, has a plot in store for us. It may be slow to begin but turns into a suspenseful adventure with the most perfect ending I could have imagined. Except of course for the one flaw: the fact that it does end.

Stylistically, this may be a difficult read for some. Valentine jumps randomly between a third-person narrative and first-person narrative (from different characters’ points of view) to an occasional second-person narrative. As if that weren’t confusing enough at times, we switch tenses from past to present. It is further proof of her writing skill that I always knew in whose head I was and when – chronologically speaking – this particular chapter was taking place. Because being told in present tense does not automatically mean that the chapter isn’t a flashback to a few years prior to the main plot. If that makes sense to you. It is a challenge but one I was happy to take and that turned out to make a delightful change from your boring old straightly told story.

There were so many parts of this book that I found so quotable, I’d love to fill a whole notebook with it. Here’s an example of Valentine’s voice. Jonah has accidentally adopted a wolf. It’s been running around the circus but slowly turns wilder and wilder. And it’s time to take down the tents and move on.

One day the wolf was wild enough to run into the forest near their camp, hunting something only it could sense. A week later when they pulled down the tent, the wolf had not come back. “Call it, if you want,” Boss told Jonah. “We’ll wait.”
That night Jonah stood for an hour at the edge of the camp, looking into the darkness of the woods. He came back empty-handed.
Ayar frowned. “It didn’t come?”
Jonah said, “I didn’t call.”

I have no words to describe what an experience this book was. After I finished, a sadness swept over me and made me want to return (immediately) to that strange, sinister world of the Circus Tresaulti. I caught myself re-reading my favourite passages, soaking up the words. I sincerely hope Valentine will win the Nebula Award for this novel. It’s definitely one of my highlights this year, if not ever.

THE GOOD: Poetic language, playing with styles, deeply touching characters, suspenseful plot, original use of steampunk.
THE BAD: If anything, it was too short.
THE VERDICT: A challenging, unique read that has haunted me all year and is recommended to anyone who reads speculative fiction.

RATING:  9,5/10  –  Damn near perfection!

Read the first five chapters for free as well as three short stories in the world of Circus Tresaulti (also highly recommended, especially the one about Panadrome, “Study, for Solo Piano“).

Other reviews:

Gail Carriger – Soulless (Manga)

It’s hard to get enough of assertive Alexia Tarabotti. Now that the series is officially over (I’ve yet to read Timeless), I thought I’d venture into a different medium and try something almost completely new to me. Apart from a couple of Sailor Moon books, I haven’t read a single manga in my lifetime. And that was 14 years ago. The experience was surprisingly fun though, and I intend to repeat it very soon.

Soulless (The Manga) by Gail Carriger

published: 2012
by: Yen Press
pages: 224

my rating: 7/10

I’m not going to go into the plot very much here. If you haven’t read Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate novels, go and do so. Now! They’re great fun and mix steampunk, vampires and werewolves and a hint of romance. But above all, they’re funny.

I had a few qualms about the adaptation of this story into a manga. I love comics and graphic novels but I’ve never really warmed to the traditional manga style. Huge eyes, exaggerated features and especially very androgynous, sometimes emaciated-looking male figures. So it was with some doubts that I started reading this one. Most of them were unnecessary as this proved to be just as fun and quick-paced as the novel.

Surprisingly enough, I quite liked the style and though Alexia Tarabotti’s voluptuous curves were spot-on. Even though she is described as a little chubbier in the novel and sported a perfectly tiny waist in the manga. I can live with that and her overflowing cleavage certainly made up for it. In fact, all the ladies in this story were quite fetching and I enjoyed reading (and looking at) them.
My fear about the male characters came true. Over-the-top Lord Akeldama was the perfect candidate for that feminine style, his love for glamour and glitter was obvious even though the manga is only in black and white. Howerver, manly and bulky Lord Maccon – a werewolf – should have been a little less streamlined and more scruffy-looking. The pointy, oh-so-smooth skin just doesn’t do it for me if you want to portray a wild, passionate and, above all, big man.

As far as adapting the story goes, they did a wonderful job. I didn’t miss any key scenes from the novel and the pacing felt very natural. I’m not completely sure the whole preternatural-idea was translated well enough for someone who hasn’t read the novel first. It is made clear from the context but that quick and easy explanation we get in the novel is missing.

Apart from a slightly abrupt ending, I enjoyed this comic version of Soulless a lot and can’t wait for the second one to come out. Lady Alexia might just turn me into a manga-reader. Hail the victorious parasol!

THE GOOD: Fun story, lovely drawings and some surprisingly steamy scenes.
THE BAD: Not my type of men, somewhat hurried ending.
VERDICT: Very readable, even for manga-beginners (such as myself), though I’d suggest reading the novel first.

RATING: 7/10

Genevieve Valentine – Mechanique

Mit Erwartungen ist das so eine Sache. Oft wird man durch die Covergestaltung oder den Klappentext eines Buches so stark beeinflusst, dass man sich sicher wähnt, welche Geschichte einen erwartet. Medienpräsenz, Auszeichnungen und Buchkritiken können da ebenfalls ihren Teil beitragen.
Bei mir war es eine Mischung aus alledem, gepaart mit dem momentanen Hype um Steampunk-Bücher und jugendliche Helden in dystopischen Welten. Und was bin ich froh, dass meine Erwartungen hier nicht nur über den Haufen geworfen, sondern um ein Tausendfaches übertroffen wurden.

Deutscher Titel: noch nicht bekannt
Erschienen: 2011
Seiten: 284
Erschienen bei: Prime Books

Meine Bewertung: 9,5/10

Erster Satz: The tent is draped with strings of bare bulbs, with bits of mirror tied here and there to make it sparkle. (It doesn’t look shabby until you’ve already paid.)

Es gibt Bücher, bei denen man neidisch wird, dass man nicht selbst so wundervoll schreiben kann wie die Autorin. In Mechanique ist jedes Wort perfekt, jeder Satz durchdacht und jedes Kapitel wie ein Gedicht. Bücher wie dieses rufen mir wieder in Erinnerung, warum ich Genre-Literatur lese. Denn Genevieve Valentine steht in sprachlichem Können den großen Schriftstellern unserer Zeit in nichts nach. Hätte ich etwas zu sagen, würde ich ihr jeden nur erdenklichen Preis für dieses Meisterwerk hinterherwerfen.

Little George ist Teil des Zirkus Tresaulti, der vor jeder noch stehenden Stadt sein Zelt aufschlägt und mit künstlerischen Akten fasziniert. Ayar, der Starke Mann mit der Wirbelsäule aus Stahl, die fliegenden Mädchen auf ihren Trapezen, die Jongleure und die akrobatischen Grimaldi-Brüder, Jonah, der Junge mit der Uhrwerk-Lunge…

Genevieve Valentine schafft es, Charaktere innerhalb von zwei Sätzen zum Leben zu erwecken, ihnen eine Vergangenheit und eine Zukunft zu geben und das scheinbar mühelos. Dieses Buch mischt Genres wie kein anderes. Teil Steampunk-Buch, Teil Charakterstudie, mit einer sehr versteckten Liebesgeschichte in einer dystopischen Welt. Mit Bravour jongliert sie diesen Mix und trifft stets den richtigen Ton.

Die Autorin springt nicht nur wild in der Zeit herum, sie wechselt auch immer wieder die Erzählperspektive. Während der Großteil des Romans von Little George in der Ich-Perspektive erzählt wird, springt die Erzählung in manchen Kapiteln in die dritte Person und zeitweise sogar in die zweite Person. Diese Du-Sicht gefällt mir normalerweise gar nicht, aber hier weiß man immer ganz genau, wer dieses “du” ist und diese Persepktive wurde so gut gewählt, dass es mir erst nach mehreren Kapiteln aufgefallen ist.. Und auch diese Mischung funktioniert ausgezeichnet. Da Genevieve Valentine den Leser direkt anspricht, fühlt man sich dicht im Geschehen und erlebt wirklich mit, was in der Manege vor sich geht. Man sieht das Geschehen durch die Augen verschiedenster Charaktere und weiß nur sehr selten mehr als die Zirkustruppe.

Hier eine sehr schöne Passage, in der Jonah mehr oder weniger unfreiwillig einen Wolf adoptiert hat, der sich dem Zirkus angeschlossen hat und nun langsam immer wilder wird:

One day the wolf was wild enough to run into the forest near their camp, hunting something only it could sense. A week later when they pulled down the tent, the wolf had not come back. “Call it, if you want,” Boss told Jonah. “We’ll wait.”
That night Jonah stood for an hour at the edge of the camp, looking into the darkness of the woods. He came back empty-handed.
Ayar frowned. “It didn’t come?”
Jonah said, “I didn’t call.”

Mir fehlen die Worte um zu beschreiben, was für ein Erlebnis dieses Buch war. Nach der letzten Seite überkommt einen Trauer und man wünscht sich zurück in diese seltsame, düstere Welt des Zirkus Tresaulti. Man ertappt sich dabei wie man zu den schönsten Passagen zurückblättert und die Worte in sich aufsaugt. Meine Daumen für den Nebula-Award sind gedrückt und ich denke, es ist nicht zu früh um zu sagen, dass dieses Buch eines meiner Jahreshighlights wird.

PRO: Poetische Sprache, tiefgehende Charaktere, ein spannender Plot, originelle Ideen und interessanter Stilmix.
CON: Mir fällt nichts, aber auch gar nichts ein, was ich hier zu beanstanden hätte.
FAZIT: Absolut lesenswert, für ein sehr junges Publikum vielleicht etwas verwirrend.


Auf der Homepage zum Roman findet man die ersten Seiten als Leseprobe, Videos und Infos sowie Kurzgeschichten über den Zirkus Tresaulti (genau darauf werde ich mich sofort stürzen).

Gail Carriger – Hearless (The Parasol Protectorate 4)

Wer bis jetzt von der Parasol Protectorate Reihe um Alexia Tarabotti noch nichts gehört hat, sollte lieber nicht weiterlesen. Die Bücher bauen aufeinander auf und dementsprechend verrät jeder Band massive Geheimnisse der Vorgänger. Während Band 1 noch großartig war, hinkten die Bände 2 und 3 schon etwas hinterher, waren aber dennoch unterhaltsam. Band 4 hat mich weniger überzeugt, aber da es das vorletzte Buch der Serie ist, drücke ich ein Auge zu.

Deutscher Titel: Feurige Schatten
Erschienen: 2011 (2012)
Seiten: 400 (416)
Übersetzt von: Anita Nirschl
Erschienen bei: Orbit (Blanvalet)

Meine Bewertung: 5,5/10

Erster Satz: “Five months! Five months you – dare I say –  gentlemen have been sitting on this little scheme of yours and only now you decide to inform me of it!”

Lady Alexia Maccon, hochschwanger und stolze Sonnenschirm-Besitzerin, steht vor einer schwierigen Entscheidung. Nicht nur trachten ihr weiterhin die Vampire fast täglich nach dem Leben, jetzt soll sie auch noch ihr ungeborenes Kind zur Adoption freigeben – um den übernatürlichen Frieden zu wahren.
Als ob das nicht genug wäre, spricht ein verwirrter Geist von einer Drohung auf des Leben der Königin! Bei ihren Nachforschungen entdeckt Alexia alles mögliche, nur nicht wer die Königin töten will…

Die schwangere Alexia ist eindeutig ihre eigenes Buch wert. Wie Gail Carriger den Watschelgang und das gefährliche Gleichgewicht von Alexia beschreibt, war immer wieder köstlich zu lesen. Ebenso Alexias noch größere Lust auf Essen, wann immer sie es sieht – ich sag nur Treacle Tarts! Gail Carrigers Stil ist – wie gewohnt – fantastisch. Man kann herzhaft lachen, über Lord Akeldamas neuestes Outfit schmunzeln und sich tatsächlich über Ivy wundern, die nicht ganz so hohl zu sein scheint wie bisher angenommen. Das alles ist in Band 4 der Parasol Protectorate Reihe aber längst nicht mehr neu. Wir amüsieren uns seit 4 Büchern über dieselben, wiederkehreden Ticks der Charaktere. Sicher, mir haben sie auch diesmal gefallen, aber irgendwann wird es doch öde, immer nur Altes wiederzukäuen. Also bitte mehr Originalität im nächsten Band, Miss Carriger.

Was mir in diesem Band, verglichen mit den Vorgängern und vor allem Soulless, gefehlt hat, war der rote Faden. Die Geschichte beginnt mit dem Hinweis auf einen geplanten Mord. Noch dazu an der Königin. Alexia stellt auch brav Nachforschungen an, aber die Erzählung verliert sich für mich zu sehr in Nebenhandlungen. Es dauert sehr lange bis endlich die Haupthandlung anfängt. Oder besser gesagt aufgenommen wird. Dann aber richtig. Und obwohl auch Alexias Eskapaden auf dem Weg zur Lösung toll zu lesen sind, wurde ich doch oft ungeduldig.

Dafür lässt das Ende meine Hoffnung auf Band 5 wachsen, denn da tritt ein ganz neues Rätsel in Form eines Mädchens auf…

PRO: Frecher Stil, tolle Dialoge und köstliche Charaktere, die oft auch nach mehreren Büchern noch Überraschungen bereit halten.
CON: Wenn man erst mal an diesem Buch angekommen ist, hat man auch die drei davor gelesen und könnte der mangelnden Originalität genauso müde werden wie ich.
FAZIT: Wenn man Alexia Tarabotti mag, kann man hier wenig falsch machen.


Ich empfehle übrigens für alle Ungeduldigen das extrem lustige Dress-Up Alexia Spiel von Orbitbooks. Hier kann man die Lady Maccon nach Herzenslust in viktorianische Kleider und Hüte stecken und sie mit Sonneschirm und Tee schmücken.