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The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman

To say that I am incredibly disappointed by this final instalment would be pretty accurate.
I enjoyed The Dark Days Club and I thought The Dark Days Pact was the perfect sequel. Goodman’s writing painstakingly depicted the Georgian era, its customs and language. Lady Helen, our main character, was both sensible and diplomatic, and she could also kick some serious ass. The slowest burn of them all, her infatuation with Lord Carlston was thrilling. Throw in some demons, action, and a lot of letters, and you get the perfect ‘Fantasy of Manners‘.
Or so I thought…
After reading The Dark Days Deceit I no longer feel fond of this world. This last novel left me with a bitter taste: nearly everything that I loved in previous instalments…I now sort of hate.

Positives:
Goodman’s writing is still par excellence. She makes the setting come life. Each scene that takes place is described with extreme detail, and the elegant prose resonates with the historical period itself. While there are plenty of dramatic and serious occasion, the style often comes across as satirical, poking fun at traditions and beliefs of that era.

Negatives
Where do I start?
It might be because the previous instalment came out nearly two years ago but it took me quite some time to readjust to this world. There are plenty of characters or things that have happened that I could not remember. The terms used to refer to the ‘supernatural’ elements were easier to remember but I was not a fan of the whole ‘Grand Reclaimer’ bond between Helen and Carlston. All of a sudden they seem able to share telepathic conversions?! And other people sort of notice?! Are they just obviously staring at one another? Subtle. Why even bother with the silent conversations.
Helen acted in such an irritating manner. The whole marriage plot was pointless and a real drag. Why save the world when you need to prepare your wedding? The world can wait. Worst still is that she was such a horrible friend. Carlston ‘s jealousy and short-temper made him just as likeable as Helen. Helen’s friends and the other members of the Dark Days Club seem to fade in the background, only to be (view spoiler)[ killed off (hide spoiler)] to make Helen feel as if ‘she had failed them all’.
The worst thing however is the ‘twist’ which made the whole plot ridiculous.


MY RATING: 2.5 of 5 stars


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The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley — book review

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow is a somewhat disappointing followup to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.512LpSa-J5L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
Having really enjoyed The Watchmaker of Filigree Street I was really looking forward to be reunited with Thaniel and Mori.

Within the first chapters I had a slight sense of deja vu. The main difference between this sequel and its predecessor is the setting: whereas The Watchmaker of Filigree Street took place in London, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow whisks us to an alternate-history Japan. Backdrop aside, these two novels have almost identical storylines. Mori is up to something and he won’t share the details of what he is up to with Thaniel. There is a woman who is ‘ahead of her times’ and she doesn’t trust Mori. Thaniel is confused, we are confused, everyone is pretty much confused. Suprise, suprise, Mori was acting out of love.
The narrative struck me as confusing for the sole purpose of being confusing (in this aspect it frustrated me as much as The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle). Much of what occurs could have been avoided if Thaniel and Mori had an actual conversation but their few interactions were brief and superficial. Pepperharrow was just as unlikable as Grace. Much is made of her (she is different from other women) but to me she was merely aggravating (in her insisting that Mori is evil, in blaming him for everything, in her alliance with an actual murderer).
The story drags on and on, following a growingly desperate Thaniel as he tries to navigate Japanese customs and politics.
While I understand that Pulley wanted to distinguish formal from informal Japanese, part of me found the use of swearwords to be an ill suited stylistic choice.
Most of the female characters are annoying, the men are either hapless or arrogant…and the suspense felt forced.
Although the plotline unfolded in predictable manner there were so many confounding elements that I sort of lost interest in the story. Thaniel and Mori, characters I loved in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, were rather shadows of themselves.
The longer I’m making this review and the more I realise how much I actually did not like this book.
The only aspect I liked was the portrayal of a cultural divide between the united kingdom and Japan (their different traditions, languages, social norms etc.). Other than that…there wasn’t much I liked.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley — book review

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“Under the gas lamps, mist pawed at the windows of the closed shops, which became steadily shabbier nearer home. It was such a smooth ruination that he could have been walking forward through time, watching the same buildings age five years with every step, all still as a museum”.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street mostly takes place during the 1880s in London. One of the main characters is twenty-five year old Thaniel Steepleton who works as a telegraph clerk at the Home Office. His mundane and solitary existence is thrown into upheaval after a mysterious pocket watch saves him from a terrorist time bomb. Believing that the maker of his watch is somehow connected to this attack, under false pretences Thaniel moves into the watchmaker’s residence on Filigree Street. The watchmaker, who goes by his surname, Mori, hails from Japan. Mori, who seems to have a polite and quiet disposition, is more than happy to have Thaniel around. Thaniel too finds himself warming up to Mori and his customs. While Thaniel soon realises that his new landlord is indeed hiding things from him, he questions whether his involvement in the terrorist attack.
Alongside Thaniel’s story we also read of Grace Carrow who studies physics at Oxford. Grace wants to pursue her studies and experiments but thanks to her parents she will only be able to do so as a married woman. Given that no one seems interested in marrying such an ‘uncompromising’ and ‘eccentric’ woman, Grace has few options left…
While Thaniel and Grace’s paths do eventually converge, readers might be surprised by the consequences of their acquaintanceship.

Thaiel and Mori were easily my favourite characters. There is a faltering quality to their friendship. In spite of their age, class, and cultural differences they soon became used to one another.
For the most part Grace struck me as the usual protagonist of certain contemporary historical novels, which often star heroines who are unfeminine and uninterested in marrying or adhering to the social norms of their time. Her main characteristic is her ambition, which does make her somewhat admirable. Later on however she makes some increasingly maddening choices that were not clearly explained.

Natasha Pulley does an excellent job in giving her story a Victorian atmosphere. Whether she was writing about London or Japan I found her historicism to be accurate and evocative. Her novel’s storyline could be best described as being part period mystery, part gentle adventure. One of the main ideas the story plays around with is as clever as it is fascinating…so much so that part of me wants to reread this book in order to pick up on what I’d initially glossed over.

The narrative also has a lot of steampunk elements—which range from gaslights to clockwork automatons—as well aspects that struck me as belonging to the magical realism genre.
I particularly appreciated the realistic depiction of being a Japanese expatriate in Victorian London. Mori, alongside other Japanese characters, is routinely exposed to racist behaviour and attitudes. Grace’s story instead emphasises the way in which gender discrimination oppressed, repressed, or constrained women lives.
A portion of the narrative is also dedicated to Japan. Here we read of the divide and conflict between conservatism and Westernisation, which made for some engaging reading material.

The budding friendship between Thaniel and Mori was extremely sweet and filled with a quiet sort of yearning, for above all companionship. Part of me wishes that instead of having sections dedicated to Grace we could have had some more insight into Mori’s character as he was a lot more interesting. Grace’s later behaviour made her particularly unlikable…yet the narrative seems to imply that we should condone her actions.

Grace aside, I really loved this novel. It is a slow-burn mystery and not for those who are looking for anything too ostentatiously fantastic. Pulley’s writing is a pure pleasure to read: from her vivid descriptions to her humour. What began as a seemingly unassuming story soon conveyed brilliant depths.
I thoroughly recommend this one, especially to fans of Victorian settings or steampunk.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.75 stars (rounded up to 4 stars)

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Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memory offers similar feelings as the ones experienced during a rollercoaster: it has its ups and downs but overall it is a mostly enjoyable ride. The book is named after its protagonist, Karen Memory, who narrates her past adventures with a fresh and fun voice. Her vocabulary which is full of slangs and humorous expression give an unique approach to an otherwise predictable storyline. In fact, it is mostly due to Karen being such an engaging and amusing character that make you want to read more.
Karen Memory mostly focuses on Karen’s particularly witty storytelling: she addresses the reader, foreshadows future events and knowing the outcome of her own story she is also able to criticize and comment her own –as well as other characters– previous behaviours and actions. Karen’s ‘unpolished’ prose narrates to the reader her very own story. It is then Karen’s own storytelling and her rather direct narrative style that make certain portions of Karen Memory particularly absorbing.
The heroine of her own story, Karen, could be both incredibly stubborn and insecure. She knows her worth and is capable of recognizing wherever she has acted rashly or not. Her funny and clever commentary make her into an entertaining and likable character that is easy to root for.
The other characters are mostly caricatures of the Old Western genre. However, despite this, the author was able to create an inclusive and likable cast of characters. Karen’s interactions with them can be incredibly lively and funny. Karen’s romantic relationship with Priya, the young girl who sets in motion the chain of events that become Karen’s ‘adventure’ – is perhaps the most noteworthy: it offers something more heartfelt than just a simple easy-laugh.

The plot mostly relies on Karen’s upbeat storytelling. With its ‘Old West’ vibe and the many references to the Western genre, Karen Memory is exactly what it claims to be: a lighthearted and playful adventure yarn. It is far from being a serious and intense read; it’s an action-adventure sort of Western with girls and guns and steam-powered trappings.
The ‘bad guys’ are recognizable as being as such right at the very start of the story. Soon certain scenes seemed a bit repetitive and predictable. So much so that the whole book feels like a series of chase scenes. More problematic is that a lot of the action is just a ‘reaction’: there is nothing complicated about it, the main characters are simply retaliating to the bad guys.
While Karen Memory succeeds in containing larger-than-life heroes, scheming villains, and gritty action it does not offer a complex narrative with difficult characters and provocative concepts. The author favours a fast-snapping plot over deep or poignant themes.
Karen Memory does not have a thoughtful plot or multi-layered characters. The book did feel a bit flat and predictable but in a way it is so because of its wanting to make homage to the ‘Western’ genre. While it does rely too much on the genres common tropes by having a young female protagonist who falls head over heels for a young Indian girl, it does also satirizes it. Steampunk elements also add a nice little touch to the setting, although at times descriptions of these ‘elements’ were a bit unclear.
Overall, Karen Memory reads a lot like a movie. It relies on its quirky storytelling and action scenes rather than including a unique setting or a complex story.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

“Would you say you are a person who follows her head or her heart?”
She stared at him, momentarily diverted. Such an odd thing to ask. “I am rational person, sir. I believe I follow my head.”
“I see.” The Comte boed. “Then I wish you good luck.”

After having recently read a few sequel that suffered from the dreaded ‘second-book-syndrome’ I am more than happy to say that The Dark Days Pact was perhaps even better than its predecessor.
I think I have read that this series is being called a ‘Fantasy of Manners‘, and I couldn’t agree more. Lady Helen is a must for any fans of authors such as Jane Austen. Not only does Goodman paint an incredibly vivid and detailed picture of Regency England but, she has also included a cast of complex and realistic characters.
It was hard to put down. Helen’s world is simply beguiling: the atmospheric setting is combined with dialogues that can be both full of wit or quite moving. It is the kind of book that makes you smile like an idiot, laugh-out-loud, and clutch your paperback copy very hard.
In short The Dark Days Pact is a gripping and delightful read.

‘Every moment of every day she was having to pick her way through lies and secrets to find a pathway over a deadly and muddied morality. And it was never going to end. This was her life now.’

I found this sequel to be a bit darker than the first one. It had a more mature vibe to it. Helen no longer is a naive girl, and the world she inhabits is far from pretty or safe. Her new position in the Dark Days Club asks a lot of her and to be Reclaimer means to abandon the ways in which she was raised: rules that restricted her life as a ‘lady’ are no longer valid. Still, Helen is far from free.

“Indeed I think that everyone is of the belief that a woman’s world is always lesser and smaller than a man’s. Perhaps they are right. It is what the Church teaches us, after all. But you, my lady, cannot abide by that belief. You must live the kind of woman’s life that has never been lived before.”

She is soon made to learn how to pass as a man: the way they talk, walk and act. Goodman makes many clever observations in this regard. The freedom of men at the time is somewhat exhilarating for Helen. She enjoys walking in their comfortable clothes and the privilege of saying more or less whatever she wants. In fact, Helen starts liking being in charge. She likes her powers and the strength and advantages they give her.

“I will not let you disappear,” she said, tightening her hold. “You kept me sane when my strength came upon me. I will do the same for you.”

Helen herself grows a lot in this book. Carlston isn’t always there for her and she faces quite a lot all on her own. She has the best intentions at heart, but she isn’t a softy. She pushes her fears away when needed. In brief, she is a tough yet sweet cookie. Both level headed and passionate.

“There have been many times when I have wanted to walk away,” Carlston said softly, as if he had read her mind. “But you and I have been brought up with the same immutable knowledge: without adherence to our word, we are worth nothing.”

Since Helen comes really ‘into her own’ in this story, her relationships also ‘grow’ alongside her. Her interactions with other characters could be in equal parts amusing, witty and sweet. Despite Helen’s lack of control over recent events, she is not one to back down. Her steadfast behaviour inspired and surprised others; Darcy, her maid, is her number one fan. Mr Hammond thinks of her as a comrade whom he admires deeply.

Mr Hammond bowed his head. “Of course he knows. How could he not? But there is a chasm between what is said and what is said.”

And Carlston…Well, I am glad to say that despite not dominating the story, we get to see a lot more of him. He was a bit of cypher in The Dark Days Pact, but here, we suddenly start to understand him. His relationship with Helen was a deliciously slow burn.

‘[…]she could feel his gaze upon her skin like a whisper touch. It seemed she could not please him whatever she did; either she was too much the warrior or too much the woman.’

Their feelings for one another are sadly not their priorities. Carlston isn’t doing so well while Helen is forced to obey Pike’s orders – despite despising having to. Still, Goodman offers us a few heartfelt moments between Carlston and Helen.

She cupped his jaw, his breath warm against her fingers. Slowly, he turned into the curve of her palm, cut lip pressed against her skin. She heard two whispered words, felt them kissed into her flesh: amore mio. My love. Two words: the shock of them held her still.

As far as the ‘baddies’ of this book, it is hard to say. There aren’t any, not really. Most of the characters fall somewhere onto a morally ‘gray-ish’ area. Deceivers are not always as evil as Helen was made to believe. Helen herself will be forced to discover a darker side to herself.

“Your sense…mon Dieu. You humans do not appreciate the glory of your senses. To taste food, to touch skin, to hear music.”

Goodman’s writing is detailed and evocative. She meticulously depicts the social behaviours and moral conventions of the time. Each scene was made incredibly vivid by her carefully thorough descriptions.
The theme and settings often reminded me of typical Gothic novels, however, Goodman never falls into any clichès of that genre. If anything she is mocking the most stereotypical tropes by having a strong – and powerful – female character such as Helen.

“Oh my,” Delia breathed. “Stolen bodies, energy whips, feeding upon human energy. It is all so,” her shoulders twitched, “Gothic.

Once again, I want to stress just how exciting The Dark Days Pact is. It has it all: humor, drama, action, mystery and romance. And, as the cherry-on-the-top, it also has an interesting and complex main character. Go read it!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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