Just finished reading Agatha H and the Airship City which I absolutely loved. Now, before I start I will confess that I’ve not read the webcomics that this book is based on so my opinion isn’t based on any sort of comparison in that respect. But I thought this was excellent and such good fun. In fact I felt like I read most of the story wearing a ridiculous grin. The authors have managed to take this story and write it in such a way that it’s a fully fleshed out novel but still manages to give you the same feeling you have when you read a comic which is no small achievement.
The story is set in a world of dashing and fearless heros where madcap sparks (inventors if you will) have turned the Industrial Revolution into chaos creating all sorts of weird and wonderful contraptions. The Heterodyne Boys – heroes of the people – have disappeared mysteriously and are now only remembered through the story books that people read that recount their adventures. With no deterrent the remaining mad scientists fight a war for supremacy which results in the ruthless Baron Klaus Wulfenbach gaining ultimate control. He now rules the country with an iron fist, aided by his strange and diverse collection of robots, Jagerkin and constructs that he has accumulated through the spoils of war and which now form part of his vast army.
Agatha is a lab assistant at a University. She never manages to quite succeed with any of her inventions and seems to be plagued by headaches that leave her unable to think straight. She seems doomed to mediocrity and life conspires against her. Particularly as she sets off for work one morning and is robbed by a couple of down on their luck soldiers who steal her precious locket – this is then followed by the lab where she assists being overthrown and finally results in Agatha being taken prisoner aboard the Baron’s massive airship castle.
The characters in the story are really what made it for me. Lets start with the Jagermonsters – I loved these guys! They are so funny. They’re huge and supposedly imposing in a scary way but they are so great to read and they were just weird about Agatha – ‘Hey! Hyu iz in schombodes howz! Is not goot manners to say dey schmells fonny! Come on, how can you resist. I kept reading all their dialogue to my other half – he was strangely unimpressed. I guess you had to be deeply in the throes of the story! Then there’s all the gadets and robots – particularly all of Agatha’s made up bits and pieces that follow her about like lovesick ducklings. On top of that there are baddies and goodies galore. A bunch of mixed age range children who are all there to give the Baron leverage over their parents – an assortment of characters these not to mention their odd nanny Von Pinn who is this huge and scary Miss Whiplash type of character (really, I’m not kidding) not to mention a sinister assassin called DuPree. Anyway, take my word for it – there is no shortage of excellent, sinister, moustache twirling, funny, dashing or geeky characters. And, I liked all of them! Even, and in fact especially, the baddies!
On top of that Agatha is a real treat to read. She starts the story just marvellously naive about herself and her own past. You could be forgiven for thinking that she was going to be a real pushover instead of which she manages to be quite kickass, intelligent and have a fiery temper once riled up. The Baron’s son, Gil, is soon to take a liking to Agatha – and this is where the ‘romance’ element comes into the story. Don’t be distracted by that though or think this is all about gushing, love sick devotion. The two of them have in common their intelligence and love of invention and the relationship side is only very briefly touched upon here – in fact it’s more of a whet your appetite for things to come I suspect.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and happily I think there’s at least one further instalment already waiting to be picked up which I’m really looking forward to. I think what really comes across with this novel is that the author’s enjoyed themselves writing it and it really shows.
So, zany, funny, steampunk, touch of romance and a grand adventure. How could it fail to please? Not to mention mechanical insects that turn people into revenants!
So, I was recently thinking about whether I sometimes prefer characters on the periphery of the book to the main characters – and obviously sometimes that is the case. Perhaps this is because these characters dip in and out with quippy little lines and because they’re not heavily involved they seem more intriguing? Anyway, along similar lines I was thinking about books that I’d read where I really disliked the characters and whether this would be enough to stop me from reading. I’ve certainly read plenty of reviews where people say they couldn’t finish a book for that very reason but to be honest, I can’t think of any immediate examples of where that has happened to me – but that’s due to: (1) stupid persistence in continuing to the end of a book even if I’m not enjoying it and (2) only very recently realising that I wouldn’t be struck down with a thunderbolt if I didn’t actually finish a book – this is a new revelation and I’ve actually started to put books down if I don’t like them! So far – no thunderbolt (but I’m still wary). Anyway, that being said. I have read a few books where I really didn’t like the characters and would not either continue with the series or particularly recommend them. The main ones that immediately spring to mind:
Engleby by Sebastian Faulks – Okay, Sebastian Faulks is a very good author but I really didn’t like this book because I really didn’t like Engleby. Of course you’re not supposed to like Engleby!! So, I didn’t and this was the author’s intention – but, I really didn’t like him, so much so that it wouldn’t be the kind of book that I’d say to anyone ‘you really must read it’.
50 Shades of Grey by E L James- or fifty shades of annoying. OMG – I would have thrown this book at the wall, closely followed by in the bin – except it wasn’t mine! I hated Ana and Christian. Really, if these two characters were any more infuriating it would be illegal – they would be locked up, in an oubliette then cast into a black hole!. My review here. Bad idea to read this and my own fault for capitulating to peer pressure!
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – I much preferred the film and could Cathy and Heathcliffe be any more selfish. They are both living in a world called ‘me’ on the land of ‘I want’. Really.
Do you have any character that totally put you off a book or, if you finished the book, put you off recommending it to others?
Just finished reading Enclave by Ann Aguirre which I really enjoyed. Enough in fact to finish this in virtually one sitting!
Enclave is a post apocalyptic novel set in a futuristic City where people now live in isolated groups. The story is told by a 15/16 year old female called Deuce. People have taken to living in the tunnels that once formed the travel network underneath the city. These tunnels have now fallen into crumbling disrepair and as well as the small enclaves that have independently set up in different areas there are other strange and savage people who roam these tunnels looking for a different type of food – other people. They are know as ‘the freaks’ or ‘eaters’ and seem to be the legacy of a plague which left few survivors untouched. However, small groups of survivors have set up homes and live in these tunnels and this is where Deuce was born and raised. The average life expectancy is not much above 20 and in fact 25 year olds are called Elders. At the start of the novel Deuce has just undertaken her naming ceremony (the children – or brats – are not given a name until they reach the age of 15) and has been designated a huntress – a position which she has been striving towards for most of her young life. The enclave can only exist following strict rules. There is no unauthorised breeders. In fact there are only three designations – builder, breeder and hunter/huntress. The Elders keep people, and potential rebellion, in check by using the threat of banishment to ‘topside’ where the air is unbreathable and the acid rain will simply melt the flesh from a person’s bones.
It’s very easy to get a feel for the world straight away, Dark, cramped, very few resources and the sort of harsh upbringing that hardens people to unnecessary sentimentality. The strong survive and there is no room for the weak. Existence means hard work, observance of the Elder’s code of living, not, ever, questioning the law of the Enclave and eking out survival in the most basic way. There is no technology, no means of travel other than running through the tunnels, no machines, no electronics, no daylight, no means of growing anything. The people survive off the animals they catch in the tunnels – i.e mainly rats. However, if you’ve never known any different you would have nothing to compare this with and so to all intents and purposes Deuce passes for happy. She has two friends, who she grew up with – Stone and Thimble, her dream to become marked as a huntress has now been fulfilled and life is peachy. Until she’s paired with Fade. Fade isn’t from the Enclave – he only joined a few years ago and claims to have lived topside – although nobody believes his claims. From this point on Deuce’s life starts to take a different route. She quickly falls out of favour with her superiors and is then put on a virtual suicide mission which involves herself and Fade trekking over to the next nearest enclave to check out suspected trouble with the Freaks.
It appears that the freaks are starting to evolve. No longer just mindlessly stumbling through the tunnels craving meat they seem to be gathering and working together and Deuce and Fade pretty soon find themselves in some difficult situations.
Anyways, I’m not going to go much further into the plot as I don’t want to spoil what takes place.
In terms of criticisms. Yes, I obviously had a few. I probably would have liked to know what happened exactly to create this world- but, Deuce doesn’t know and as the story is told from her POV she can’t tell us what she doesn’t know. The majority of people live in a bubble of uncertainty. Things about the past have been forgotten and any ‘relics’ are greatly treasured – particularly books or other snippets of information. The survivors live so isolate from each other that ill formed theories and suppositions are the norm. The only thing that is hinted at is some sort of disease or plague. Also, this is YA – which may be enough to put some people off I guess, particularly as it does also contain the beginnings of a romance and the typical YA trap of a love triangle! However, the romance isn’t really in your face and the love triangle is only sort of ‘suggested’ if you will. I also had problems with things like, for example, how these people are managing to even grow, let alone survive, when their diet seems to consist of rats and mushrooms – not exactly a lot of varied nutrition going on right there – perhaps that’s why they are short lived?
Basically, though, my niggles didn’t put me off reading and although there are definite gaps in information they weren’t enough to become a real deal breaker. I like the character Deuce – and also Fade for that matter. We have a couple of other characters who join along the way, one who is rather (read very) unsavoury and I think this particular person may give some people pause for thought. Particularly in the way that Deuce is able to allow him to join the group after his past misdemeanours. But, I think because of the way she has lived she doesn’t carry the same sentiments as we do and recognises that people do what they think is necessary to survive.
So, in spite of my crticisms I really enjoyed this and have every intention of reading book 2.
This week we finish the final chapters of our readalong of Shadow of the Sun. If you haven’t yet picked up the book, well, it might be a tad late to join in this readalong but it’s never to late to get involved in the story. So, without further ado let’s dive right in with the Q&A and, of course, beware of spoilers.
1) These final chapters show us much more of Iminor’s character and his growing Talent. What stuck out the most for you about how he handled the various exploding aspects of his life?
I liked the change in Iminor – it felt like he’s finally coming into his own. He’s no longer sitting on Letitia’s coattails. He’s a warrior now who can hold his own and suddenly seems to have developed a certain level of confidence. I think as well that he’s finally realised what Ellion and Letitia are up to, but, rather than cause a stink he’s handling it. I liked the way he behaved in these last few chapters.
2) While Rohini is a late addition to the party, she is an interesting one. What aspect of her character or objectives would you like to see more of in forthcoming book(s)?
I like Rohini. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone and just gets stuck in. She was so naffed off with Ellion when she realised he could reverse the badness from the Basghilae? and could have saved her fellow warrior – although, she didn’t really stop for a parley there did she – talk about off with his head!! But, yes, I would like to see more of her – she’s got attitude.
3) Amien has been managing and maneuvering Ellion quite a bit in this last section. What do you think his motivations are?
I think his motivations are now out there. He sees the potential in Ellion and wants him to stop with his vow. I suppose he’s been quietly manipulating the situation – even right at the end engineering a meeting with Ellion and Letitia. He basically wants Ellion to start with the magic again.
4) Letitia continued to learn more about her abilities, but everyone agrees she still lacks the ability to go toe to toe with Nechton. What more would you empower her with?
She needs a massive confidence boost. I think part of the way she has acted with Ellion is because it made her feel good at a time when she was feeling really low. I don’t think it would do any harm either if people started to communicate a little better!
5) Throughout this entire book, the deities have played an important, if a backseat driver, role. As a reader, how as this worked for you in the world-building/plot department?
I suppose it’s the focus really for what’s going on in more ways than one. After all, Ellion thinks he’s out of favour with the Gods and that’s what’s driven him into his current situation and also I think this whole thing with Nechton is based on a pact with some of the darker deities maybe.
6) We had yet one more assassination attempt in the hot water baths of Sucello. Now that we are at the end of the book, what are your insights into who is behind these attempts?
Well, as we all know by now I’m pretty useless at this second guessing thing. I begin to wonder now whether it’s all the same enemy. I mean it does seem as though this assassin is unable to die which is fairly similar to the Bagshilae after all. Perhaps Nechton wants Ellion out of the way because he realises that he’s a bigger threat – or perhaps it’s more that together Letitia and Ellion could pose a bigger threat?
7) Bealtan reveals much about our narrative hero, Ellion. From his reuniting with Conar, to the revelation of Amien’s intentions, to his argument with Letitia, and his own internal recriminations about himself. Here at the end, what are your lasting impressions of Ellion?
MMm, well, I’ve been a little bit outspoken about Ellion. He’s a mixed bag for me personally. I certainly wouldn’t mind having him around in a fix and I admit that he’s not shy of getting involving in the thick of things. However, at times I’ve found him exasperating and have wanted him to just, well, grow up a bit. Basically, he’s not a bad character, just conflicted, and that’s what makes him a bit frustrating. Won’t use his natural ability and then beats himself up if someone dies. Doesn’t think he’s worthy of Letitia but then when she basically says he could be her consort feels insulted! Come on mate – make up your mind. Anyway, he seems to have eventually reached a decision about his course of action so it will be interesting to see how he changes as a result. I think all the denial he has inflicted on himself has not been helpful to him personally soI look forward to seeing how this affects his character.
Finally, a massive thanks to Susan for hosting this and coming up with all the talking points and also a massive thanks to Barbara for becoming personally involved and for sharing her comments with us, not to mention putting up with a lot of b/s from me as I yammer on!
Just finished reading Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan. Set in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I Midnight Never Comes brings to us the wold of political intrigue from not only the court of the Virgin Queen but also from Queen Invidiana, ruler of the Onyx Court that lies beneath London. I really enjoyed this story. It’s well written and based on an intriguing concept that ties the fates of both Queens together through a pact created when the young Elizabeth lived under threat of execution.
I have to hand it to Marie Brennan here. She has clearly researched extensively both this period of history and also the world of the fae and it shows. She’s managed to recreate London and the Queen’s court with it’s political manoeuvring whilst also giving us the Onyx Court with it’s own brand of politics laced with the fae’s own wicked style.
The story centres around two particular courtiers. Both of whom struggle for different reasons. Lune serves the fae Queen but has fallen from grace after her negotiations with the sea fae left her Queen less than pleased. Michael Deven aspires to greatness and is desperate to catch Elizabeth’s eye. He manages to secure himself a place among the Gentlemen Pensioners who protect the Queen and also to gain the patronage of Walsingham. Both characters are thrown together in the role of spy. Lune to live among mortals at her Queen’s will uncovering secrets from the court in order to help with her own scheming and Michael as the eyes and ears of Walsingham as he tries to uncover what he believes to be an unknown influence upon Elizabeth.
The settings are both equally enjoyable to read. Brennan manages to easily bring to mind the 16th century streets of London with it’s dark and seedy elements and also creates the magical world of the fae world that lies beneath the streets as a dark reflection. No sunshine enters the Onyx court. It’s filled with dark and twisting corridors and populated with a mixture of beautiful, ugly and bestial creatures who all take sinister pleasure in the downfall of others. It’s a frightening world where Lune lives on a knife edge.
The characters are well written. The tension and fear are easily felt and the constant danger that particularly Lune lives with gives the story a certain edginess. Alongside this we manage to have a sprinkling of appearances from famous names from the period. Walsingham, Essex, Dee and Marlowe all put in a turn and from the fae Queen’s court we have an equally interesting bunch of characters such as Tiresias – a mortal pet of Queen Invidiana and a seer whose strange and often incoherent visions torment him. Brennan also manages to twist some of the most famous historical moments from Elizabeth’s history to give them a different slant, such as the defeat of the Armada. I love it when an author manages to interweave historical and fantasy fiction in order to give a different meaning in this way.
The basic thrust of the story is that the pact made between the two Queens is damaging to both worlds and the two courtiers are between them set the task of discovering the basis of that pact and finding a way to break it. It’s a very dangerous path to tread and both of their lives will become increasingly under threat.
If I have any criticisms about the book it would be probably in relation to the romantic element that exists between the two main characters. I didn’t particularly read this book with any notion of romance being involved but Lune and Michael do become romantically involved. For me, the relationship between the two felt very ‘thin’ – just as though we’ve been told they have feelings and that’s that – it just didn’t come across in the writing very well is all.
Apart from that I really enjoyed this book. If you enjoy historical fiction mixed in with fantasy and courtly intrigue then I think you’ll enjoy this very much.
I’m submitting this for the Once Upon A Time event being hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings