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Imprudence (The Custard Protocol)

3/5. More steampunkish airship supernatural nonsense, interchangeable with the rest of Carriger's books in being entertaining nonsense. Except this one includes a charming trope inversion where the virginal young lady selects a young man of her acquaintance to learn sex things from and proceeds to ruthlessly dally with him. That was pretty great, even if it ends in romantical feelings everywhere.
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Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School Series Book 2) And Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School Series Book 3)

3/5. A couple more titles in that young adult alt Victorian urban fantasy finishing spy school series.

There is something not quite right about this series. The adult titles maintain this airy soap bubble of frothy charm, and they make it look effortless. But there's some internal wobble in the young adult set that I can sort of put my finger on, but also sort of can't. Like, okay, in one of these books, our heroine is thinking about someone on the opposite side of a conflict from her, and notes that he's not bad, he's just evil. "Not that there was anything wrong with that." Which typifies this universe, and this series more specifically; it's not about good and evil having any particular valence, because good and evil are really just words that have a lot more to do with how people dress than anything.

That's the charming part.

But – here's where I get a bit hazy about it – but the racism. This is an AU where servants have been replaced largely with mechanized laborers, and yet – it is carelessly implied – there is still an African slave trade, and all that flows from that fact. It is still a scandal for a young lady to fall in love with a black laborer, specifically because of his race more than his class. And I just. Idk.

I guess I just really don't want to be reading a book whose charm is that evil is an esthetic choice, but oh also racism, ha ha. I'm not drawing this connection very clearly, but yeah. No. This series isn't right.
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Prudence (The Custard Protocol)

4/5. Cute steampunk adventure set a generation after the Parasol Protectorate books.

Just the thing for that week where you're five days into being sick and still getting sicker, not better. Fun, frothy, and occasionally downright pleasing (our largely virginal lady heroine makes advances upon a young gentleman, and she is rightly concerned about the state of his delicate sensibilities and nerves at various points. He's fragile, you know).

As usual, I'm not quite sure how seriously to take these books. On the one hand, their entire point is not to be taken seriously. On the other hand, this one includes an offhand, if apparently sincere, defense of imperialism? So, uh, okay? Everyone should eat more custard and we should have another couple pages discussing Victorian fashion, how about that.
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Etiquette and EspionageEtiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Alt 1854, young girl is shipped off to "finishing school," where she learns important lessons in deportment, manners, and the intricacies of assassination, among other relevant topics. All in pursuit of goals never explained for political purposes never elucidated because guys, that is so not the point.

I feel like this book is almost deep. Like this twisted portrait of nineteenth-century education – the juxtaposition of fashion with poison, the way lessons in eyelash fluttering serve both social and spy agendas – is almost a slyly brilliant commentary on women's constructed gender roles. I mean, there comes a point in this book where the girls are learning some fine point of social manipulation, and you really can't tell if it's in service of catching a husband, or in service of lining someone up to stick a knife in them. It's almost genius.

Except it's Carriger, so it skips merrily past genius and settles for paper thin froth instead.

Also, someone really needs to have a talk with her about the ways she is handling racism in this alternate historical context, because it is violently not working for me right now. She keeps lightheartedly lining up white characters to say horrifically racist things to the single black character. It's supposed to be funny? I think? Like, hahaha, historical racism, how hilarious? Tee hee, making jokes out of racism totally means you aren't perpetuating it, right? …Oh wait.



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Timeless (Parasol Protectorate, #5)Timeless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


And for my next trick, I will "review" a book that I can't really remember reading, even though it happened two weeks ago. This was allegedly my packing and moving audiobook, but somewhere in there I got what in retrospect was a very high fever, and hand to God all I can come up with is a jumble of boxes, the sounds a cat makes when you go over a speed bump, and a weird conglomerate sense impression of this book: something hats something something kidfic something vampires hot air balloons steampunk mummies gay porn.

That last part might not have happened? Or it might have!

Uh. So I think this was kind of anti-climactic and samey, and it didn't really follow through on any of the more complex questions raised, and it really just seemed like setup for a sequel series about the kid, but honestly? The fuck do I actually know.




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Heartless (The Parasol Protectorate, #4)Heartless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Steampunk octopus. Steampunk octopus! . . . Steampunk octopus?



I dunno, if you’re gonna give me a steampunk octopus rampaging across Victorian London and battling werewolves, it’s gotta be with more conviction than that.



This series is like waxed fruit: it’s decorative, it’s pretty, it suits only very particular esthetics. And you really, really don’t want to do anything other than look at it once in a while and go, “yeah. Wax fruit.”



. . . Pretty fun, though.





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Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate, #3)Blameless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Indecisive Cheese Theory of series fiction



See, it’s like when you’re handed a new kind of cheese, right? And you take a nibble and you think, “huh! Cheese! Yeah, okay. Kinda creamy, a little light, nice steampunk flavor as it finishes. I like it!”



So you take a bigger bite, and you think, “well, but hang on, there was something a bit funny going on with the aftertaste. And that sex scene was just absurd. I don’t like that . . . I think?”



But you’re not sure, so you take another bite, because at this point you’ve got to figure it out. And you think, “actually, you know, that’s kind of nice. Zing with the one-liners, and the cross-dressing lesbian inventor is great, and all that stuff about how our heroine doesn’t magically get maternal instincts just because she’s pregnant. I like it!’



So you take another bite, and you’re like, “. . . wait, shit. That was clumsy and it pulled the emotional punch -- do I like that?”



Yeah. This series is indecisive cheese. And this book is the one I’m making “wait . . . hang on . . . not sure” faces over.





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Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate, #1)Soulless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Victorian steampunk romance. Like you do.



One of those things I like as long as I don’t think about it too hard. It also probably helped to read it during a week as gut awful as this one (put it this way, when the best thing you can say is “well, it isn’t actually blood coming out of my eye, you need a do-over).



Aaanyway. This is a silly bit of fluff in a tinfoil steampunk wrapper. Vague stabs at a Heyer-like wit and style, with, uh, mixed results. Add a lot of anachronisms, a weirdly unsexy romance, and a vague sense that it’s all not quite as charming as it’s supposed to be, and you’ve got it. It was all saved by the heroine, who is practical to a fault, and then a little extra on top. And also the unusual attention to the romance as a two-sided apparatus, and how these two odd people actually fit together, rather than relying only on the groin shorthand (though there’s a lot of that, too).



…It was a really bad week.





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