Terry Pratchett – Feet of Clay

Well, it’s official. The Night Watch will never be the Witches, but as Terry Pratchett goes, I’ll take whatever I can get. Commander Vimes and Captain Carrot are crime-solving again. And this time, golems are involved…

feet of clayFEET OF CLAY
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2013 (1996)
Paperback: 416 pages
Series: Discworld #19
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It was a warm spring night when a fist knocked at the door so hard that the hinges bent.

There’s a werewolf with pre-lunar tension in Ankh-Morpork. And a dwarf with attitude, and a Golem who’s begun to think for itself. But Commander Vimes is more concerned about the crime that’s happened. He’s got to find out not only whodunit, but howdunit too. He’s not even sure what they dun. But as soon as he knows what the questions are, he’s going to want some answers.

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Ankh-Morpork is in trouble again. Not one, but two murders have happened and Commander Vimes doesn’t have the slightest idea what’s going on. All he knows is that somehow the golems are involved. These giant clay figures can’t speak – nor, technically, think for themselves – all they do is serve and work. Their production has been prohibited but the ones that are already around are allowed to stay. Much to the chagrin of the general population…

As has been the case with the other City Watch novels, I was less intrigued with the murders and the crime-solving, and more with all the other stuff that goes on in Discworld’s capital city. This novel did some interesting things and, in the process, granted the characters an additional layer of credibility. As much as we love Carrot, for example, he is quite surprised and makes some truly idiotic remarks when he finds out one of the new Watch members (a dwarf) is female. Angua tells it to him how it is:

“Female? He told you he was female?”
“She,” Angua corrected. “This is Ankh-Morpork, you know. We’ve got extra pronouns here.”
She could smell his bewilderment. Of course, everyone knew that, somewhere down under all those layers of leather and chain mail, dwarfs came in enough different types to ensure the future production of more dwarfs, but it was not a subject that dwarfs discussed other than at those essential points in a courtship when embarrassment might otherwise arise.
“Well, I would have thought she’d have the decency to keep it to herself,” Carrot said finally. “I mean, I’ve nothing against females. I’m pretty certain my stepmother is one. But I don’t think it’s very clever, you know, to go around drawing attention to the fact.”
“Carrot, I think you’ve got something wrong with your head,” said Angua.

So even Carrot isn’t perfect. But then, neither is Angua. When it comes to golems, she is no fun at all. Being undead herself – even though I’m not sure yet how exactly werewolves work on Discworld – she has a lot of problems with the unalive. What ails her particularly is the fact that golems are just accepted for what they are, while she (and vampires or zombies) has to fight for her rights every day. And usually, it means leaving a place where people have found out about her “condition”.

Let me tell you, it was just lovely to see other sides of these characters. Especially Carrot, who was too good to be true anyway. It’s nice to see him blunder and just blurt out whatever comes to mind. But once his mistakes are pointed out, he goes back to being a Protector Of The People – including undead, unalive, and females.

Having fallen in love with the Discworld through the Tiffany Aching novels, I couldn’t help but grin when Wee Mad Arthur showed up in Feet of Clay. As a professional rat-catcher, no less. Although he is called a gnome, we all know he is a sort of Nac Mac Feegle. And, if you ask me, any book is automatically better if it has Feegles in it.

Despite the interesting social aspects, this book didn’t grab me as much as others. Sure, there were moments so funny that I could have sprayed juice from my nose, and Pratchett is as clever as always. But the plot left me hanging a little. I also think that the new additions to the City Watch spread the story out over too many viewpoints. Men at Arms was perfect in that respect, Feet of Clay felt all over the place and didn’t give some characters enough room to develop.

All things considered, it was a nice read. If you consider yourself a Discworld fan, it’s a no-brainer that you’re going to read them all anyway. And if you’re new to Discworld, I suggest starting either with one of the YA novels (The Amazing Maurice or the Tiffany Aching books) or Guards! Guards!. For me, it’s time for a little break from the Night Watch. I’ll got and see what Death has been up to…

divider1The City Watch novels (Discworld):

  1. Guards! Guards!
  2. Men at Arms
  3. Feet of Clay
  4. Jingo
  5. The Fifth Elephant
  6. Night Watch
  7. Thud!
  8. Snuff

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.

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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!

Gail Carriger – Timeless

I have to say this right away: I loved how this series started, but every book has been a little less great than its predecessor. As we constantly rehash the same ideas and make the same jokes, I got tired of Alexia (formerly) Tarabotti and her entourage of whimsical friends. But I can’t leave a series like this unfinished (especially if I got this far) and dove nose-first into Timeless to see if, maybe, I just got an overdose of Parasol Protectorate the first time around…

TIMELESS
by Gail Carriger

published: Orbit, March 2012
ISBN: 0316127183
pages: 386
copy: paperback
series: The Parasol Protectorate #5

my rating: 5,5/10

first sentence: “I said no such thing,” grumbled Lord Maccon, allowing himself, begrudgingly, to be trussed in a new evening jacket.

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire’s second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell’s acting troupe’s latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia’s enjoyment of her new London lifestyle. Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?

I don’t know what it is exactly but I get the feeling, Gail Carriger (who is super-nice, btw) created a nice little cozy world with her Parasol Protectorate series, but doesn’t seem to want to explore or expand it too much. Which is a shame because I would just love to learn more about airships, octomatons, supernaturals, preternaturals and, especially, metanaturals. The author does come up with one little tidbit of new information in every book, but mostly, the explanations aren’t worth the pages it takes getting there.

Maybe I shouldn’t have started on such a negative note. Dear readers, know that I absolutely adore Alexia Tarabotti and her bluestocking ways. Soulless was a surprise literary crush for me and I devoured the first three books in the series in one go. Gail Carriger has a way with whimsy. Be it Alexia’s shock at the taste of coffee (what a ghastly beverage, really! Why doesn’t the entire world simply drink tea?), the silly hats of Ivy Tunstell, or even the expressions used by the author to describe her heroes and heroines. These books have one thing, above all others, and that is flair. Diving into a Parasol Protectorate novel is switching off the real world for a while in the most pleasant ways.

But. I’ve said it in my opening to this post. While Soulless was a perfect little novel for me, Changeless was already a tiny bit less good, with every sequel being still a tiny bit less good. The first half of Timeless was actually rather tedious to read. It takes almost exactly that half to get interesting, for the plot to pick up. I enjoy Alexia’s antics and Lord Akeldama’s ridiculous nicknames for everybody. But we’ve all seen it before. We’ve been told the same jokes and were supposed to smile about the same silly things (such as Ivy’s hats) for four entire books. And the first chapter or so, I enjoyed being back in that world of vampires, werewolves, and parasols. But, simply stated, then it just got boring.

At the 50% mark, the plot picks up with surprising speed, though, and I was intruigued yet again. I wanted to learn, as much as Alexia, what was going on, and finally get a satisfying answer to questions that have been around for several books in the series. While the payoff wasn’t really that great (again, nothing new to be learned, really), there were some great action scenes and a handful of new, interesting character developments that kept me well entertained. I always enjoy when authors get out of the safe zone and write about gay love.  And while I’m not sure if this particular couple wouldn’t have deserved a more in-depth exploration of their characters and budding love, I enjoyed reading about it.

In conclusion, I highly recommend the first novel in the series, the rest not so much. But I do look forward to Etiquette and Espionage and hope that we’ll get to see a lot more of the charming world this charming author has created.

THE GOOD: This last instalment in the series delivers exactly what you expect. Silliness, tea, airtravel, vampires and werewolves.
THE BAD: Takes a long time to pick up the pace, then we get the same things we got from previous instalments.
THE VERDICT: A fun, light story that you’ll probably want to read if you liked the rest of the series. A lot of potential was left unfulfilled, though.

RATING: 5,5/10 A little better than meh.

The Parasol Protectorate:

  1. Soulless
  2. Changeless
  3. Blameless
  4. Heartless
  5. Timeless

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

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.

BEWERTUNG: 5,5/10

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.