Book Review: Lady Mechanika, Volume 3: The Lost Boys of West Abbey by M.M. Chen and Joe Benítez (2017)

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Lovely Artwork, Okay Story

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads Giveaways.)

— 3.5 stars —

So, full disclosure: I’m new to the Lady Mechanika series and wasn’t sure how it would go, diving in in the middle like I did. But the cover caught my eye, so I entered (and won!) a copy through Goodreads, and here we are.

The copy on the back promises that Volume 3 is “a perfect entry point for readers,” and so it is! Aside from a passing reference to “Pappy’s discovery in Africa,” the plot is pretty self-contained, and Lady Mechanika’s backstory, easy enough to infer.

In this steampunk version of Victorian England called Mechanika City, a gruesome discovery has been made: in the basement of an abandoned building, the bodies of five young orphans. Bound to operating tables, runes drawn on their skin in blood (not theirs), surrounded by curious clockwork toys. While the brass isn’t terribly interested in a bunch of dead street urchins, Inspector Singh – himself a former orphan and petty thief from Kolkata – has taken a special shining to the case. As has investigator/cyborg Lady Mechanika, who hopes it might shed some light on her own stolen past.

The art’s generally pretty great: the clockwork toys are rad, Lady Mechanika is fierce (though I’d love to see more of her mechanical limbs), and the colors are perfectly dark and gloomy. The plot’s pretty basic, but engaging; if anything, it made me want to pick up the first two volumes in the series, if only to learn more about the titular hero. (And with a series runner called The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse, can you really blame me?) I guess my only complaint is that the dialogue sometimes felt a little stilted and unbelievable? Though this could just be the convention of the genre; idk, sadly I don’t read a whole lot of steampunk. (So many books, so little time.)

And Winifred! How cute is she, with those oversized glasses? She’s like a cooler (read: 1880s, not 1980s) version of myself at that age.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Everfair, Nisi Shawl (2016)

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Fascinating Idea, So-So Execution

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Ever fair, ever fair my home;
Ever fair land, so sweet—
Ever are you calling home your children;
We hear and answer swiftly as thought, as fleet.
Tyrants and cowards, we fear them no more;
Behold, your power protects us from harm;
We live in freedom by sharing all things equally—
We live in peace within your loving arms.

Leopold II of Belgium founded the Congo Free State in Central Africa in 1885. Ostensibly established as a humanitarian and philanthropic venture, Leopold instead exploited the land and people as a personal venture. Indigenous workers were forced to harvest ivory, rubber, and minerals. Failure to meet quotas was punishable by death, so proven by delivery of the offender’s hand – leading to a rash of mutilations, as villages attacked one another to procure limbs in anticipation of not meeting Leopold’s unreasonable demands. Between murder, starvation, disease, and a drastically reduced birth rate, countless indigenous Africans perished under Leopold’s short rule; some estimates put the death rate as high as 50%. Due to international criticism, Belgium annexed the Congo Free State and assumed control of its administration in 1908, after which time it became known as the Belgian Congo.

Turning her lens on “one of history’s most notorious atrocities,” Nisi Shawl looks at what might have become of the Congo Free State, if white socialists from England and African-American missionaries had united to purchase land from King Leopold II, making it a haven for free blacks, “enlightened” whites, and Chinese and African refugees from Leopold’s reign of terror. Picture an eclectic fusion of Western, Asian, and African cultural practices, politics, and religious beliefs, all made more prosperous – and feasible – through fantastical steampunk technologies: aircanoes capable of transcontinental flight (and easily weaponized); mechanical clockwork prosthetics (also made deadly with the addition of knives, flamethrowers, and poisoned darts); steam-powered bikes; and Victorian-era computers, to name a few.

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DNF Review: Revenge and the Wild, Michelle Modesto (2016)

Monday, February 1st, 2016

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler.

Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.

But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

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Book Review: First Daughter (The Dharian Affairs, Book Three), Susan Kaye Quinn (2014)

Monday, November 24th, 2014

A Satisfying Conclusion to The Dharian Affairs Trilogy

five out of five stars

At the conclusion of Second Daughter (Book #2 in The Dharian Affairs trilogy), Princess Aniri is about to marry her sweetheart Ash – the so-called “barbarian” Prince of Jungali – when her world is torn apart. Literally.

Commandeered by the rogue Second Son of Samir, the skyship known as The Dagger flies over Bhakti, raining death and destruction down upon the Jungali capital. Aniri is knocked unconscious, right there on the temple doorstep where she and Ash are to be wed. During her downtime, a small army of Samirian raksakas free the Samirian prisoners; kidnap Ash, as well as Aniri’s just-rescued sister, Princess Seledri, and Seledri’s husband Pavan, the First Son of Samir; and attempt to assassinate Aniri’s mother, the Queen of Dharia. War is imminent, and the Daughters of Dharia are not willing to surrender their crowns and countries to the power-hungry madman Natesh.

But with the Queen of Dharia more or less out of commission, it’s up to Aniri and her oldest sister Nahali to procure peace and (hopefully) liberate the kidnapped royals. Unfortunately, Aniri and Nahali haven’t always seen eye to eye; with disparate upbringings, loyalties, and expectations, the sisters are sure to butt heads. While Nahali readies the Dharian navy for war, Aniri sneaks into Samir in hopes of fomenting a civil war amongst its people, whose allegiances are split between the First and Second Sons of Samir.

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Book Review: Second Daughter (The Dharian Affairs, Book Two), Susan Kaye Quinn (2014)

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Fun & Action-Packed, with Just the Right Amount of K-I-S-S-I-N-G!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review from the author.)

When last we saw the Third Daughter of Dharia, she was on board the reclaimed skyship Prosperity, bound for Jungali with the “barbarian” prince Ash at her side. The two planned to wed – for love, not country – but their happy ending was somewhat overshadowed by the possibility that their former Samirian allies had build a second, undiscovered skyship, ominously named the Dagger. With one sister – the Second Daughter of Dharia, Seledri – married into the Samirian royal house, the prospect of war with Samir threatens to tear apart Princess Aniri’s family as well as her nation.

Second Daughter picks up where Third Daughter left off, with Aniri and Ash’s return to his (soon to be their) Jungali mountain palace, where preparations for the upcoming nuptials begin immediately. Though Dharia and Jungali are united by a peace treaty, a marriage will help to further cement the alliance – especially important in wartime. But with her return to relative normalcy, Aniri begins to distrust her heart, which led her horribly astray in past dalliances. Pre-wedding jitters left unspoken threaten to derail the wedding. And then comes word of a foiled assassination attempt on Seledri, giving Aniri ample reason to play the proverbial runaway bride.

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Book Review: The Sunken (Engine Ward Book 1), S.C. Green (2014)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

“By Great Conductor’s steam-driven testicles!”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, trigger warning for rape. I summarize some of the plot points below, but try to avoid any major spoilers.)

Set in London in 1820 and 1830, The Sunken imagines an alternate history in which dragons thrive in the swamps surrounding London; King George III is a vampire/cannibal/madman; and traditional, god-fearing religions have been abolished in favor of those that worship science. In this new old England, engineers, physicians, scholars, artists, and poets lead their own churches and sects, sermonizing on their latest theories and inventions.

The Sunken follows four childhood friends in boyhood (in 1820, they are fifteen years of age and on the cusp of going their separate ways) and adulthood (in 1830, they reunite in a London destined for radical change). The son of a Lord, Nicholas Rose is about to depart with the Royal Navy on a post bought and paid for by his cruel father – as is his adventure-seeking comrade, James Holman. Meanwhile, Isambard Kingdom Brunel is to continue studying engineering under the tutelage of his father Marc. Ditto: Henry Williams, who – as the descendant of the great dragon hunter Aaron Williams Senior – occupies one of the top social rungs among the lowly Stokers, the laborers who keep the great machines under London running. The day before Nicholas and James are to set sail, there’s an accident in Marc’s school which claims the life of Henry; Marc is tried for negligence and banished to Van Diem’s Land, leaving Isambard in the care of his abusive mother.

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Book Review: Third Daughter (The Dharian Affairs, Book One), Susan Kaye Quinn (2013)

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Hella Fun!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program.)

As the Third Daughter of Dharia, Aniri enjoys a luxury which was denied her older sisters: on her 18th birthday, she’s free to marry for love instead of country. First in the line of succession, Aniri’s oldest sister Nahali has been groomed from birth to become Queen; fittingly, she arranged to marry a Dharian nobleman (whom she just so happened to love). Meanwhile, middle sister Seledri married a Samirian prince in order to further the alliance between her country and his (sadly, the prince’s love for Seledri is as of yet unrequited).

With no interests left to further, Aniri happily awaits the day when she’ll be able to marry her lover Devesh, a courtesan and fencing instructor from Samir. Then they will travel the world in search of the Samirian robbers who murdered her father the King some eight years ago.

Naturally, a wrench finds its way into Aniri’s plans – in the form of Ashoka Malik, the barbarian prince of Jungali. After the untimely deaths of his mother and younger brother, Prince Malik – “Ash” to his friends – finds himself in charge of a fractured country. Comprised of four provinces, the mountain country is mired in poverty and fraught with infighting, particularly as at least one of the provinces’ generals play at a military coup. Rumors of a Jungali flying machine run rampant, and war seems inevitable. Hoping that his marriage to a Dharian Prince will cultivate a powerful alliance and unite his people behind him, Prince Malik proposes a peace-brokering marriage to the Queen. Unfortunately for Aniri, she is the only single daughter left.

And that’s just the first few chapters! (I won’t say more because I’d rather not spoil the story, but suffice it to say that nothing is as it seems.)

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