Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Review: Waistcoats and Weaponry

As a general heads-up, no anime/cartoon review on Monday since all of my plans to watch something have fallen short this week and I'm feeling rather grumpy about it honestly.

Like many things in life, author visits/book-signings seem to be something that happens sporadically and in groupings. I only found out about this one a week beforehand and was rather grumpy since I do own the Parasol Protectorate omnibuses and would have liked to get them signed but they were several hundred miles away from me and I didn't trust the post office to get them up to me in time. I only found out because the local indie bookstore that was helping with the events posted it in their newsletter, Carriger never goes on tour on the East Coast and didn't announce it on her blog until just two days in advance! Grumbling aside, it was a good talk and I was quite happy to spot this book just a couple of weeks later at my other library system since I still recalled some of the things Carriger said in her talk that were rather pertinent to this book!

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Sophornia is so happy that her family still doesn't consider her "properly finished" yet since her classes on how to be an intelligencer continue to be much more interesting and informative than the alternate. Not that society isn't fun as well, she's secured permission to go home for her brother's engagement party and it seems as if she's gotten away from the school's observation just in time as this little jaunt takes on a life of it's own.

I prefer not to describe something as "genre" since to use it negatively is weird ("yes it's fantasy, what about it?" kind of thing) but this book just felt, pulpy. It hit all the notes I expected it to, it was entertaining, but it didn't make me think anything after I was done. No deeper ruminations or even "oh man oh man oh man I can't wait for the next book!", just a sense of general satisfaction which seemed at odds with how the book was paced and the tone. The pacing was fine and the description was great but that made me think more about how this series would actually work rather well as a series of movies, it has the action to non-action (but still humorous and/or tense) balance down pat, too bad the historical part means that the costuming and scenery budget scares off movie producers. Given that that was my major impression of the book, I suspect that I'll end up forgetting a lot of details of this book, as I discovered that I had with the second book.

This book certainly suffers from "middle book syndrome", it can't solve any of the major plot points (the series has very few subplots) and it doesn't introduce any new conflicts as much as it complicates the ones we already have. This is made even worse by the fact that much of Sidheag's story won't be resolved for another few decades in the Parasol Protectorate books, Karin L Kross on talks more about that problem here and I have to completely agree with her. I was curious how this bit of crossover would be resolved and honestly I don't think it was done very well. Sidheag has no resolution to her personal arc which was the best the series could aim for, nor did her story give the reader any more insight into werewolves as a whole (I would still like an actual explanation for why there are so few female werewolves, that detail has always sat oddly with me). With all of that in mind, it feels as if Sidheag's inclusion into this series was more of an indulgence than anything else and with that kind of editing it's another reason why this books feels more "pulpy" than "recommendable both for it's merits and entertainment".

To go on a slight tangent, since I read the Parasol Protectorate first I was confused when this series introduced the mechanicals and, given how widespread they are in this series, I was seriously baffled how Carriger planned to make that part of the story mesh later down the road. Would they suddenly become more prominent in the upcoming Custard Protocol series though a series of handwaves? And then Carriger mentioned during her talk that one of her focuses in college was studying why a civilization will abandon a more advanced form of technology and not return to it for hundreds of year (the example she gave was native Britons abandoning the pottery wheel after the Romans fell) which more or less answers the question. This book also started introducing characters who don't like the mechanicals as much and had what I imagine the first of several events which will demonstrate to the others why they're a potential liability. It should also clear up why off-screen characters are already developing long-range, ether-based communication yet it won't be perfected until later in the Parasol Protectorate series. That one will be a bit more of a stretch but since I can already see where she's going with it I'll give it a pass, if an author can make their plans clear through hints and suggestions, not outright exposition, then clearly they have a completely thought out plan. 

Overall I wasn't disappointed with the book but there was something just a bit more that I wanted. It's hard to describe, especially since I found it fun and I can recommend it much easier than another book where I had this problem recently (Earth Star, that review has been pushed back to get these last 2014 book reviews out before the new year), but there still seems to be something lacking here.

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