Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Monday, March 30, 2015



I have just updated a post for Anne Bishop's  OTHERS SERIES with a review of Vision in Silver, the third novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Sunday, March 29, 2015



I have just updated a post for Devon Monk's HOUSE IMMORTAL TRILOGY with a review of Infinity Bell, the second novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Saturday, March 28, 2015



I have just updated a post for Sara Humphreys'
 DEAD IN THE CITY SERIES with a review of Vampires Never Cry Wolf, the third novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Friday, March 27, 2015



I have just updated a post for Jennifer Harlow's MIDNIGHT MAGIC MYSTERY SERIES with a review of Witch Upon a Star, the third novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UPDATE! Seanan McGuire: InCryptid Series


I have just updated an ongoing post for Seanan McGuire's InCryptid Series with a review of Pocket Apocalypse, the fourth novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

UPDATE! Lauren M. Roy


I have just updated an ongoing post for Lauren M. Roy's  NIGHT OWLS SERIES with a review of Grave Matters, the second novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Saturday, March 21, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for J. C. Nelson's  GRIMM AGENCY SERIES with a review of Armageddon Rules, the second novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the new review.

Friday, March 20, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Jaye Wells's  PROSPERO'S WAR SERIES with a review of Deadly Spells, the third novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Terry Spear's HEART OF THE JAGUAR SERIES with a review of Jaguar Pride, the fourth novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Author:  Sylvain Reynard 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
          "The Prince" (e-novella, 1/2015)
          The Raven (novel, 2/2015)
          The Shadow (novel, 2/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 2/18/2016 to include a review of The Shadow, the second novel in the series. That review appears first followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first novella and the first novel. 

                         NOVEL 2:  The Shadow                         
    Raven Wood’s vampyre prince has returned, pledging his love and promising justice for every wrong done to her. In the wake of their reunion, Raven is faced with a terrible decision—allow the Prince to wreak vengeance against the demons of her past, or persuade him to stay his hand. But there is far more at stake than Raven’s heart. 

     A shadow has fallen over the city of Florence. Ispettor Batelli will not rest until he uncovers Raven’s connection to the theft of the priceless art from the Uffizi Gallery. And while the Prince hunts a traitor who sabotages him at every turn, he finds himself the target of the vampyres’ mortal enemy. 

     As he wages a war on two fronts, he will need to keep his love for Raven secret, or risk exposing his greatest weakness.

     Once again, Reynard's melodramatic writing style wipes out any chance of effective story telling. Her lead charactersRaven Wood and William, the vampyre prince of Florenceexhibit every single stereotype that exists in paranormal fiction: the ancient, lonely vampyre who fears that he can never love again; the plain young woman with a tragic past and low self-esteem who just can't believe that a handsome, virile vampyre prince has fallen in love with her; traitors within the hero's realm who seek to usurp his power and steal his "pet" (aka Raven); religious fanatics whose primary purpose in life is to destroy all vampyres; and finally, a couple of mysterious characters who hang out on the edges of the plot, one who strategically sweeps in to save the day and the other whose role will become clearer in the next novel. Even the spellingvampyre instead of vampireadds to the overblown melodramatic essence of this series. This is like something Stephenie Meyer or E. L. James would write on a very bad day.

     The book begins with William's misguided attempt to give Raven revenge against her evil step-father (the one who raped her younger sister and pushed Raven down the stairs, resulting in her crippled leg). After Raven responds to William's plan by getting hysterical and then going into a catatonic fit, we have to suffer through innumerable scenes featuring Raven's over-the-top emotional reaction to the step-father situation while William tries to understand why she doesn't appreciate the fact that he tracked the evildoer down, broke his leg (to match Raven's injury), and chained him in a dungeon. Talk about communication problems!

     Raven has more irritating traits than I have seen in a paranormal heroine in a long, long time. Although she is thirty years old, she behaves like a whiny, self-centered sixteen-year-old. Reynard gives Raven that dreaded trait of feeling guilty for tragic events that are completely out of her control, which is a sure sign of narcissism. If you constantly beat yourself up for not protecting everyone in your life from harm, that's a sure sign that you live in a delusional emotional world that revolves completely around yourself. Raven is supposed to be a renowned art conservationist and historian, but I truly do not understand how Reynard can expect the reader to believe that she can function in such a demanding international career when her personal life is such a wreck. 

     Eventually the lovers make up (and then lie down a number of times), William has to contend with the traitors among his closest advisers. Meanwhile, the police inspector keeps harassing Raven because he is certain that William is behind the theft of the pictures that were the focus of the plot in book 1.

     This book was a total strike-out for me, as was book 1, so I will not be reading or reviewing any more books in this series. I will, however, continue to update the title list. I will also add the publisher's blurb for each new book as it comes along. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Shadow on its page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Audible Narration" icon.

     This series appears to be an offshoot of Reynard's GABRIEL'S INFERNO TRILOGY. (I did not read that series, which began as Twilight fan fiction.) The FLORENTINE SERIES is set in present-day Florence, Italy, where humans live in happy ignorance of the supernatural underworld that flourishes throughout the city at night. The leader of the supernatural world in Florence is the Prince (aka William York, aka William Malet), a powerful vampyre born in the thirteenth century. This is a world of political intrigue, envy, and greed, and there are always upstarts who believe that they can challenge the Prince and win.

     To assist him in keeping his principality in order, the Prince established the Consilium, a council of six members who oversee various affairs of state. Some important members of the Consilium are Niccolò (an extremely ambitious vampyre version of Niccolò Machiavelli); Aoibhe (pronounced Ay-vuh), a beautiful Irish vampyre who is one of the Prince's allies and on-and-off lover; and Lorenzo (probably a vampyric Lorenzo de' Medici), the Prince's second in command. Although the Prince relies on the Consilium to take care of everyday matters, he trusts no one, and if someone fails in an assignment, he or she is soon deadbeheaded in front of the entire Consilium.

     Other than the princes of other cities, the Florence vampyres have two primary enemies: the Hunters, who kill supernatural beings for their blood and body parts (which they sell to the highest bidder), and the Roman Curia, which in real life is the central governing body of the Catholic Church.

     This is a soul-mate romance series, with the Prince and Raven (aka Jane) Wood, his human lover, as the primary characters. Just as the GABRIEL hero and heroine are loosely based on Dante and Beatrice, the Prince and Raven are based on Cupid and Psyche.

                         NOVELLA .5:  "The Prince"                         
     This introductory novella introduces us to the Prince of Florence. Throughout this novella and much of the first novel, he is never namedjust called "the Prince." Unfortunately, that serves only to dehumanize him and turn him into a cardboard character rather than a man to whom we can relate. The story has two plot lines, one personal and one political. 

     In the prologue, which takes place in 1870, an anonymous man steals a collection of priceless Botticelli illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy from the Prince's residence. The action then skips to 2011, when Gabriel and Julianne Emersonnow the owners of those illustrationsloan them to Florence's Uffizi Gallery for a special exhibition. The Prince is determined to punish the Emersons for their crime against him, even though Gabriel has no idea that the illustrations are stolen property. Throughout the story, the Prince stalks the Emersons through the city streets and spies on them in their bedroom, mostly watching them make love every chance they get. When he discovers that Julianne is extremely ill (with an unnamed illness), he decides to leave her untouched and kill only Gabriel. Then, he will steal back the illustrations (which is where the first novel begins).

     The other plot line features an attack by the Venetian Prince, Marcus, who kicks off a war by sending a team of assassins to kill the Princean unsuccessful attempt, because the Prince is a cartoonish superhero when it comes to swordplay. Soon it becomes obvious that one of the Prince's Consilium members is a spy for the Venetians, feeding them information about the Prince's security system. The Prince has to pretend to be dead in order to lure Marcus and his warriors into an ambush.

     Basically, what this novella does is introduce us to the Prince and his top supporters, along with linking this series to the GABRIEL series (for whatever reason). We learn that the Prince is both respected and feared. He is powerful, dangerous, and ruthless, but during his centuries of rule, his citizens have enjoyed prosperity and peace. We also learn of the existence of the Roman, a mysteriousalmost mythicalman who serves as the King of Italy (of supernatural Italy, that is). And one last thing: When the Prince pays a visit to the Spanish Chapel, we learn that his long-ago mentor was St. Thomas Aquinas (the central figure in the fresco that the Prince addresses).

     The novella is a weak introduction to the series given that most of the crucial details could have been included in a prologue to the first novel. The ongoing sex scenes between Gabriel and Julianne are gratuitous, melodramaticand entirely unnecessary to the story. The war with Venice is also unnecessary. It is mentioned briefly in The Raven, but it appears to have only one purposeto alert the Prince (and the reader) that there is a spy within the Prince's ranks. That fact could have been inserted into The Raven without all the sword fights and beheadings that Reynard has crammed into this novella. (Note to the author: On the printed page, one beheading is just like the nextno real drama after the first one.) Click HERE to read an excerpt from "The Prince" on the book's page by clicking on the cover art.

                         NOVEL 1:  The Raven                         
     The first novel begins about two years after the Prince and his warriors defeat the Venetians. His intelligence officers have not yet been able to determine the identity of the spy, who is still working behind the scenes to take down the Prince and usurp his throne. 

     Dr. Raven Wood is an American art historian and conservationist who is currently restoring Renaissance paintings at the Uffizi Gallery. Here is how Raven describes herself: "…she was overweight, her extra pounds compounded by baggy garments and well-worn sneakers that added little to her five-foot-seven height. Her hair was dark,…and carelessly pulled into a ponytail that swept her shoulders. In comparison to the many attractive…well-dressed women who inhabited Florence, she was considered plain." Raven, who is thirty years old, is also mildly disabled, forced to lean on a cane when she walks: "Her right leg was somewhat shorter than the other and her foot turned outward slightly, at an unnatural angle…She knew it was painful to watch her walking." Her disability is the result of a childhood tragedy that we don't learn much about until late in the book.

Primavera, by Sandro Botticelli
The painting plays an
important role in this novel.
     One Friday night as Raven limps painfully home from a party with her friends, she intervenes when a trio of drunken thugs beats up a mentally challenged homeless man. The thugs then go after Raven, dragging her into an alley and attempting to rape her. Suddenly, a mysterious man interrupts the attack, and the next thing Raven knows, it is ten days later and she is back in her apartment with no memory of what happened to her. Also, she no longer has a deformed leg, her eyesight is perfect, and her physical appearance has changed dramatically so that she is now a slender, gorgeous woman. Implausibly, Raven wastes little time worrying or even wondering about these big changes in her physical make-up. She just shrugs it all off and heads for the gallery. When she reaches the Uffizi that Monday morning, she learns that the night of the party, someone broke into the gallery and stole Gabriel Emerson's Botticelli illustrations without leaving a trace of evidence behind. Given the fact that Raven disappeared that same night and hasn't resurfaced since, she is the main suspect. And don't forget the change in her appearance, which is so extreme that even her best friends don't recognize her, and her passport picture and her real-life face no longer match. 

     Of course, the reader can figure out what happened. The Prince rescued her and gave her a dose of vampyre blood to heal her. Now, the Prince starts showing up in Raven's apartment, refusing to identify himself or tell her what happened. At first, she doesn't remember him at all, but then she begins to have some vague memories of his flying her away to safety. For many chapters, the two go through a tired, repetitive series of confrontational meetings in which he insists that she is in grave danger and that he will protect her while she resists his attentions, demands answers, and generally behaves as if she were an adolescent airhead. Granted, Raven has been through a lot, and the Prince is one of those strong, silent, uber-alpha vamps that permeate paranormal romance fiction, but still, she comes across as the worse kind of TSTL female characterone who makes terribly wrong decisions at every turn. If there were a forest in this story, Raven would go out into night…in her nightgown...without a flashlight. 

     As the story plays out, Raven learns more and more of the Prince's secrets and the two fall in love/lust with one another. The Prince keeps bragging about what a great lover he is, and Raven keeps pulling back from him for one reason or another, mostly because he refuses to tell her his deepest secrets. Both have their share of angst-filled interior monologues and dialogues, with Raven demanding that the Prince use the "L" word, rather than just telling her that he cares for her, longs for her, and feels affection for her. The Prince laments the fact that vampyres cannot truly feel love, and fears that he will lose Raven forever. Meanwhile, Raven faces attacks from other vampyres (regular and feral), and the Prince has to deal with new dangers from the Hunters. And don't forget, some of the Prince's vamps are actively plotting against him.

     Supporting characters in this novel are the Consilium vampyres and Raven's friends from the Uffizi. Making some cameo appearances are Gabriel and Julianne Emerson, the lead characters from Reynard's GABRIEL series. 

     I really tried to like this book, but in the end, it just didn't work for me. Raven and the Prince never really connect on an emotional level, and the dialogue among all of the characters is stiff, awkward, and artificial in tone. There are also a few plot holes. For example, when Raven comes back to the gallery after having been AWOL from work the previous week, she finds an active crime scene, with police officers all over the place. The street is barricaded by local police officers, and Interpol agents and "carabinieri in their signature dark blue uniforms roamed the…courtyard. A number of men in dark suits stood in a small group, talking to one another near the entrance...Journalists from around the world gathered around the perimeter." I believe that this massive police presence would have been true on the days immediately following the robbery, but not a full 10 days later (2 weekends plus one work week). By that time, all of the crime scene analysis would have been completed, and the only thing left at the scene would be some crime scene tape. 

     Another problem is Raven's strange attitude toward her disability. When the effects of the Prince's infusion of vampyre blood wears off, Raven once more becomes painfully dependent on her cane, wincing every time she tries to bend her foot. When the Prince offers to cure that pain with another small dose of blood, she replies, "I would be betraying other disabled persons if I took the blood…I'd be saying I'm not good enough." Say what? How on earth would she be betraying other disabled people by having her pain taken away? Real people with painful, crippling disabilities actively seek relief. They may not be looking for vampyre blood, but they do seek medical help. No real person is so altruistic and self-serving as to refuse relief from pain because others can't be cured. Not even Mother Theresa would have been so masochistic. 

     Reynard tries to portray Raven as an earth-mother typenurturing, forgiving, kind-heartedand much too good to be true. Raven even does volunteer work at an orphanage, just like Julianne Emerson. Unfortunately, Raven comes across as naive, immature, and vacuous. Even though she has a PhD. and a responsible position at the gallery, she defines herself solely through her physical appearance, and particularly how the Prince perceives her looks. To put Raven's insipid personality in context, she is a non-virginal version of Anastasia Steele, but with more insecurities, more passive-aggressiveness, and more self-absorption.

     Reynard bases this new series on an inventive idea, but struggles in the execution. Some of the problems with The Raven are those of any introductory book in a new series, but the problems of plot and character development need a lot of work. Additionally, some of the art history content is so obscure that it slows down the pace. If Reynard can flesh out her main characters and make them more realistic and less stereotypical and melodramatic, the next book might be more successful. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Raven on the book's page by clicking either on the cover art of the "Listen" icon.

Sunday, March 15, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Chloe Neill's CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES SERIES with a review of Dark Debt, the eleventh novel in the series.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Friday, March 13, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Kelley Armstrong's OTHERWORLD SERIES with a review of the novella, "Forsaken."

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, March 12, 2015



I have just updated an ongoing post for Jeaniene Frost's NIGHT PRINCE SERIES with a review of the third book, Bound by Flames. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Elizabeth Bear: "Karen Memory"

Author:  Elizabeth Bear 
Title: Karen Memory
Plot Type:  Steampunk Fantasy novel  
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—2-3 
Publisher:  Tor      

     This steampunk fantasy is told in pulp-fiction style, with a plucky heroine, lots of weird gadgetry, and a supporting cast of quirky characters, most of whom are employees of the Hôtel Mon Cherie, a brothel located in Rapid City, a fictional Wild-West town in the Pacific Northwest. The action takes place during the late 19th century, although some of the actual historical events mentioned in the narration don't fit quite correctly into the time frame. Many of the brothel's customers are gold miners coming from and going to Alaska. 

     In order to bypass local laws, Madame Damnable, the brothel's owner, pays taxes as if her business were a factory and her girls were seamstresses. As a joke, she even has two ornate sewing machines sitting in the parlor, one of which looks like a suit of armor: "one of the new steel-geared brass ones that run on water pressure, such that you stand inside of and move with your whole body and it does the cutting and stitching and steam pressing, too." Keep your eye on that particular machine because it plays a major role in the story. The house has other complicated steam-driven machines. In the kitchen the cook uses a robotic monster that "scrubbed and sliced and stirred and scraped, its octopus arms going every which way." In the infirmary, two more brass machines remove bullets, stitch up wounds, and perform surgery.

     Rapid City is built close to the sea, so close that over the years it has had to be raised up above sea level. The town's structure, with its raised roadways and sunken sidewalks and storefronts, resembles Seattle in the late 1900s. Today, the Seattle Underground occupies those original passageways and basements. Using this complicated structural image for Rapid City sometimes gets in the way of the story because the characters are always having to climb up and down ladders. This bi-level element seemed to me to be unnecessary and distracting.

     Our narrator is Karen Memery, a young girl who became one of Madame's "seamstresses" after her beloved father died in a riding accident. (Note: Because this story is written as a memoir, the heroine's name in the book's title"Memory"is a play on words. Her actual last name in the story is "Memery.") Karen's widowed father had owned a small horse farm in a near-by town, and after his death, Karen had to sell the horses and find a new way to make her living. Throughout the story, Karen is torn between her deep love of horses and her rage at the colt that threw her father to his death. Karen has a wry sense of humor and her worldview is a sometimes heart-wrenching mix of the naiveté of a young ranch-raised orphan and the worldliness of a teenager who has spent a year on her back in a brothel. Madame and the girls have become Karen's family, and they spend their off hours together, reading dime novels aloud and dreaming about the future.

     Karen's relatively peaceful life comes to an end when she has a violent encounter with the story's main villain, the mean and powerful Peter Bantle, who owns a crib of prostitutes that he lures from Asia with the promise of a trade apprenticeship. When the girls arrive, they are immediately locked into cells in Bantle's cribs and sold by the hour to sailors and drifters. These girls are beaten regularly and fed poorly, so they don't live very long. One night, two women knock on Madame's door begging for help. One is Merry Lee, one of Bantle's "indentured servants" who escaped some time ago and now sneaks in to rescue other women. The other is Priyadarshini (Priya) Swati, an Indian girl who was rescued by Merry Lee that very night. Unfortunately, Merry Lee was shot during the escape and is now near death. While some of the girls take the two fugitives upstairs to the healing machines, Karen and one of her "sisters" are left to guard the front door when Bantle and his thugs ("a confusion of scalded weasels") break it down and demand custody of the two runaways. Although Bantle tries to use his mysterious magical mesmerizing power on Karen, she is able to shake it off and defy him, thus making her his enemy for life. Bantle is one of those cowardly villains who is only brave when he has plenty of backup and weaponry. He always wears a special glove on his left hand that exudes blue sparks as it burns his enemies with electrical current, leaving them unconscious and deeply scarred.

     A day or so later, one of Bantle's men tries to kidnap Karen from the town market in broad daylight. None of the good citizens of Rapid City come to her rescue, but suddenly an African American U.S. Marshal named Bass Reeves sweeps in, sending the would-be kidnapper on his way. Reeves has come to Rapid City with his posseman, a Comanche Indian named Tomoatooah (aka Sky) on the trail of a serial killer who kills young prostitutes, flaying them with a whip and dumping their bodies in alleys. Reeves suspects that the murderer is one of Bantle's men.

     As the rest of the story plays out, Karen teams up with Reeves and Tomoatooah to rescue Priya's sister, Aashini, from Bantle's crib and then to stop Bantle from mesmerizing the townsfolk into electing him mayor. The plot begins in a relatively realistic manner (well…as realistic as steampunk can be), but by the end, it has become a version of a Jules Verne tale, right down to Captain Nemo and his submarine. The only dissonant note is struck when Mr. Minneapolis Colony shows up out of nowhere near the end of the book to help save the day. Colony is a thinly disguised deus ex machina who plays an important role in the slam-bang climax.

     Karen tells her story in her singular, first-person voice, a mix of grammar-challenged sentences and big words from the dime novels and real literature that she reads. Her diction and narrative style remind me of Mattie Ross's voice in True Grit, both the novel and the film. Although Karen's voice takes some getting used to, I grew to enjoy her sometimes awkward attempts at being genteel: "A young rat skittered past. Trying to look ladylike in front of the Marshal, I didn't kick at it."

Morgan Dollar
     From the very beginning, we are encouraged to view Karen as a free-thinking, courageous, intelligent young woman. In one scene, Karen studies the profile of Lady Liberty on a Morgan silver dollar that Marshal Reeves has just given her as a keepsake: "She had a sterner look to her, a lifted chin, a good strong nose, and a plump line of her jaw. She made me feel stubborn, and like getting things done." Miss Francina, a trans woman who works with Karen, looks at the profile and exclaims, "She could be your sister." (Note on the cover art: If the profile on the coin looks just like Karen, then the female on the cover can't be Karen. Karen's ethnic heritage is Danish and Irish, while the cover girl has East Asian facial features. Karen describes herself as being "sturdy" and "plump,…broad across the shoulders and hips," while the girl on the cover is slender. I'm not sure who she is supposed to be, but she is definitely not the title character.)

     Karen constantly analyzes the people around her, particularly the men who frequent the house: "The ones who want to know a woman as a person are fewer than you'd hope, and most of those don't even realize it about themselves. They don't care who a woman is, or what she's scared of, or who she wants to become. they think they want a woman, but what they really want is a flattering looking glass wearing lipstick and telling them what they want to hear…I can't imagine being married to most men" These feelings are at the root of Karen's instant and deep infatuation with Priya, who refuses to wear skirts and work as a whore, insisting instead on wearing pants and doing mechanical work on the house's many gadgets and machines. Even though the book is set in a brothel and includes a transgender woman and girl/girl love, there are no explicit sexual scenesjust a few chaste kisses.

     Karen's narration gives the reader a wonderfully detailed picture of Rapid Cityimages of its appalling poverty, its unique physical structure, its complicated cultural elements, and its corrupt politics. One brief, fascinating scene describes a group of bearded men who are planning to vote at least three times: first with full beards, second after shaving off their beards, and third after shaving off their mustaches. (Note: This type of voter fraud was actually a common practice in the late 1800s.) 

     Karen Memory is a story in which the heroine gets beaten, whipped, kidnapped, shot, badly burned (twice), and nearly blown up, but (being super spunky) she always prevails, just like a superhero. If you're looking for escapism steampunk with a tough-but-vulnerable heroine, well-drawn supporting characters, an enthralling plot, and a 90-mile-an-hour ending, you'll probably enjoy this book. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Author:  Viola Carr (aka Erica Hayes)
Plot Type:  Steampunk Fantasy     
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—2 
Publisher:  Harper Voyager     
          The Diabolical Miss Hyde (2/2015)
          Tenfold More Wicked (10/2015)
     Carr has created a fantastical Victorian-era steampunk world in which she lays out a story that combines the elements of three iconic works of fiction (and film):
   >  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: a two-natured "freak" who swings between two personalities: a low-key, pragmatic scientist by day and a hard-drinking, thrill-seeking hedonist by night.
   >  Victor Frankenstein: A mad scientist who is obsessed with bringing the altered dead back to life.
   >  The Wolfman (classic film version and graphic novel version): Accidentally bitten and turned into a man/beast, he dedicates his life to finding a cure.  

     This alternate London is a typical steampunk city: "Electric carriages rattled by, their glowing blue coils spitting sparks. Prostitutes prowled, a riot of feathers and colored gowns. Clockwork servants in frock coats clicked and whirred, striding to and fro on brass legs as they ran their errands, their painted plaster faces impassive. The ground rumbled as the Electric Underground hurtled by, and from an iron vent in the street, black smoke and sparks billowed in the stink of hot copper wire."(from The Diabolical Miss Hyde)

       The series heroine is 26-year-old Dr. Eliza Jeckyll, who works as a forensic scientist (like the ones on CSI, but with more gadgets and none of the gun play) and helps out with the lunatics incarcerated at Bethlem Royal Hospital. Eliza is the daughter of Dr. Henry Jeckyll, who died some years earlier. Both father and daughter were born with a strange "condition," that causes them to have two completely different persons living within their bodies. In Henry's case, his alter ego—his shadowwas Edward Hyde, a misshapen monster who rampaged murderously through London but never remembered his dastardly deeds the next day when he returned to his normal-looking Jekyll form. Eliza's shadow is Lizzie Hyde, a rash and impulsive pleasure seeker who resides deep within Eliza. Unlike Edward Hyde, Lizzie doesn't take the form of a monster, but her physical appearance is quite different from Eliza. Eliza is a slender blond, while Lizzie is a voluptuous brunette. Prim and proper Eliza wears somber gray dresses, while seductive, sensuous Lizzie always arrays herself in low-cut red gowns.

     In the past, Lizzie has been released only if Eliza drinks a special elixir prepared for her by her father's old comrade, Marcellus Finch. But as the first novel begins, the elixir isn't working very well, and Lizzie is becoming stronger and stronger. Until now, Eliza hasn't remembered any of Lizzie's nighttime shenanigans, but now memories are filtering through and Eliza is becoming more and more fearful that Lizzie is going to take over for good. Lizzie, on the other hand, knows everything that Eliza does, and she doesn't always agree with Eliza's words and actions. The Jekyll/Hyde story has long been seen as a Freudian metaphor for the id/ego duality with which every person struggles: reason vs. instinct; social consciousness vs. primal needs; long-term strategies vs. immediate gratification.

     Eliza is always in fear of being discovered by the Royal Society, an enforcement group that functions like the Spanish Inquisition. "In the past twenty years, while bloody revolution swept the Continent at the behest of sorcerers and charlatans, the Royal Society had become sole arbiters of what was science and what was witchcraft. Anyone found disputing the Philosopher's Lawsor deliberately defying them by dabbling in classically unexplained phenomenawas mercilessly re-educated…or worse." (from The Diabolical Miss Hyde) The "Philosopher" is Sir Isaac Newton, and his scientific laws are considered to be the be-all and end-all of all scientific study. The Royal periodically holds public burnings of people believed to have gone beyond Newton's laws as set forth in the Principia. Don't worry, though, this book doesn't dwell on dry scientific theoriesquite the opposite, in fact. Also punished by the Royal are the supernatural citizens of London, who hide their cloven hooves and pointed ears from public view and keep to the shadows.

     As the first novel begins, we learn that in the not-too-distant past, Eliza's testimony was instrumental in imprisoning a serial killer named Malachi Todd in Bethlem, where he has since been the focus of endlessly horrific medical experiments. Flashback scenes show us that Eliza and Todd have had a lengthy mutual fascination that can only end badly. At first, the flashback scenes and Eliza's obvious emotional connection with Todd made me think that I had missed a previous book or novella, but no, this is the way Carr planned itproviding just enough information to whet the imagination, but not enough detail to understand the situation completely.

     For those readers who quibble over anachronisms in "historical" fiction, Carr includes an "Author's Note" in which she provides details of said anachronisms and explains why she inserted them into her tale. 

            NOVEL 1:  The Diabolical Miss Hyde             
     Carr switches the narrative perspective back and forth between Eliza and Lizzie. She changes up the point of view to alert the reader as to which woman is in charge. When Eliza is in control, the narrative is written in third person past tense: "Eliza hurried along a narrow passage towards the office…The stale air smelled of disinfectant. In the distance, an inmate wailed." When Lizzie is in control, the narrative is written in her first person singular voice in the present tense and with a Cockney accent: "Dark mutiny mutters in my blood. I ain't backing off. I've had enough of his insinny-ations." Lizzie comments on Eliza's actions as well as her own: "Lizzie wails in denial, and her voice dazzles me."

First, let me introduce the main characters with whom Eliza/Lizzie interacts:

  > Hippocrates (aka Hipp): Eliza's clockwork dog, who accompanies her everywhere and serves as a kind of personal assistanta steampunk Siri.

  > Detective Inspector Harley Griffin: Eliza's partner, the only detective who will take her seriously.

  > Captain Remy Lafayette: A handsome and flirtatious Enforcer for the Royal Society; a man with deep personal secrets

  > Matthew Temple: Author of sensational stories that he distributes in self-published tabloids. He is constantly after Eliza to give him information on the "Chopper"the nickname given to London's newest serial killer.

  > Wild Johnny: Lizzie's handsome friend: "Johnny's what country folk call feywhich is to say he's touched a bit odd. His eyes are a little too far apart, and his sharp-nailed fingers wrap further round that cup than they've any right to…" Lizzie has known Johnny for ten years, since she was sixteen and he was eleven, and he has always been her rakish protector.

  > Marcellus Finch: A sly pharmacist who provides Eliza with various elixirs, some that she uses in her crime scene analyses and two that help her control Lizzie: one to bind Lizzie down and one to set her free.

  > Sir Jedediah Fairfax: The doctor with whom Eliza works at Bethlem Asylum. He tortures inmates in the name of scientific experimentation.

  > William Sinclair: One of Fairfax's students who has a bit of a crush on Eliza.

  > Malachi Todd (aka Razor Jack): A psychopathic serial killer incarcerated at Bethlem and the object of Fairfax's most outlandish and painful experiments. Eliza has always been weirdly attracted to him, but Lizzie hates and fears him. He seems to know all about Eliza's shadow life, and he hints that he knows the identity of the murderer she is seeking.

     The first chapter begins with Lizzie's description of Eliza entering a murder scene. At first, I though that Lizzie was one of the gawking bystanders, but she soon makes it clear just who she is: "She blinks, and shivers, and shoves me away. And like a mad wife locked in the attic, I'm helpless…I scream and fight, clawing for her eyes, but she ignores me. Me, Lizzie Hyde. Her own blood. Her own SOUL. I hate this. I want to get out…But I can't escape. Not without her help."   

     In the opening scene, Eliza is analyzing a gruesome murder scene. The body of a famous ballerina has been found in the alley behind the theater in which she has been performingminus both legs. As Eliza and Griffin try to make sense of the crime scene, they are interrupted by Lafayette, who immediately appears to be a threat to Lizziea spy bent on learning the secret of her double life. As more bodies are found with missing parts, Eliza works with both Griffin and Lafayette to track down the perpetrator. 

     Since the death of Henry Hyde, Eliza's guardian has taken care of her financial needs, providing a fine town house and paying for a small staff. The guardian always refers to himself as A.R. and never allows Eliza to look at him. He generally communicates with her through ambiguous notes, and when he commands a meeting with her, he comes into her study through a window and stays deep in the shadows, warning her, "You know the Rules. Don't look behind you." Carr provides a handful of clues about A.R., enough that I was fairly certain of his identity before it was revealed late in the story.

     Meanwhile Lizzie's attempts to take control are getting stronger and stronger. When she take over Eliza's body, we watch her dress up in various bright red dresses and head into the dark heart of London to the Cockatrice, her favorite flash house ("a place where criminals of all kinds congregate"). Carr provides an abundance of gritty and colorful details about London's underworld, sometimes so many that they slow the pace down to a slow walk.

      As the story unfolds, Eliza is forced to walk a fine line as she attempts to identify the murderer, avoid the malevolent Todd, keep Lafayette from learning her shadowy secret, and deal with her wavering control over Lizzie. Meanwhile, she has flashbacks to her previous experiences with Todd and her memories of her childhood, including her father's chaotic laboratory and her mother's violent death. By the end of the book, many, many secrets have been revealed, leaving Eliza and Lizzie with a new relationship and unveiling all of Lafayette's secrets. Plus, Eliza/Lizzie solves the murders, but not without danger to herself and others.

     Although the plethora of descriptive details about this alternate London sometimes bring the story to a complete halt, I found myself pulled in by the quirky characters and by Eliza/Lizzie's struggles for dominance.  The characters are sometimes so eccentric that they become cartoonish. For example, in a description of one character, "His creaking black hat sported a net of cobwebs on its brim, and a tiny brown spider scuttled underneath into his scraggly white hair." I can imagine this character in a film directed by Tim Burton and animated by Pixar

     The steampunk mythology isn't terribly inventive. I've seen much of before in other novels/series, but it does have some imaginative moments. Again, though, there are too many descriptions of the various clockwork and steam-driven electrical gadgetry. The book could easily have been edited down considerably from its 400+ pages without damaging either the plot or the establishment of the story's sense of place. Even with these quibbles, though, I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the Eliza/Lizzie's next adventure. Click HERE to read chapter one of The Diabolical Miss Hyde.