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review 2019-11-02 19:16
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 - P. Djeli Clark

This novella takes place in Cairo in 1912. Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner, Agent Onsi Youssef, work for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Their newest case appears, initially, to involve a haunted tram car. However, they soon realize that there's something else going on. Unfortunately, knowing what they're dealing with isn't the same as actually solving the problem, considering the shoestring budget the Ministry has given them. The agents find themselves having to get a bit creative, with the assistance of some local women.

This was decent, and featured a few aspects that made me want to read more by this author. It's steampunk that, for once, isn't set in London. In fact, London didn't even come across as being particularly important - magic first entered this world via the work of a Sudanese man, who used a combination of alchemy and machinery to open a doorway to the world of the djinn. And although the book starred two male agents, women's suffrage was constantly in the background, and women played an important part in dealing with the being in the tram car. The few appearances of "boilerplate eunuchs" (robots) also fascinated me - some appeared to possess this world's version of artificial intelligence.

I'd happily read more stories starring Hamed, the experienced and somewhat grumpy agent, and Onsi, his shinier and more cheerful new partner, although I'd really love to read a full novel set in this world. From what I can tell, there's currently just one other story, "A Dead Djinn in Cairo," which stars Fatma el'Sha'arawi, the one female agent in the Ministry.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2019-10-28 20:35
Blameless / Gail Carriger
Blameless - Gail Carriger

Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season.

Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.

While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.


I can’t believe that I neglected this series for so long! It is such fun! Gail Carriger has a sense of humour that I understand and appreciate. I love her steampunk Victorian world with its werewolves, vampires, and the Soulless, like her main character Alexia. It’s this addition of a new category of supernatural which really gives her an advantage--when you create something new, you can write something original and fresh.

I’m highly disappointed that my city library doesn’t have the remaining two volumes of this series. I’ve placed an interlibrary loan request for the next one, as I know for sure that I want to read it. I’m pleased to note that she has two more related series, Finishing School and The Custard Protocol, which I also look forward to reading.

When I originally began reading steampunk fantasies, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them. However, as I encounter more of them that are well done, such as this series, I have been converted. Now they are among my favourites. I think the modern attitudes, juxtaposed with the Victorian sensibility, makes for excellent opportunities for humour.

I’m late to the party, Ms. Carriger, but I’m enjoying myself immensely now and I’ll be staying right until the end!

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review 2019-10-02 20:00
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
Un Lun Dun - China Miéville


Darkest London Square: Deeba and Zanna discover a whole new side of the city.


'Un Lun Dun' starts promising, but it overstayed it's welcome. It had an old-fashioned, episodic nature to it, much like 'The Wizard of Oz' or 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. Deeba and Zanna are drawn by circumstances to UnLondon, a bizarre reflection of London that holds most everything that was discarded from that city. There are many such 'abcities' that have a symbiotic relationship with each other.


UnLondon is under threat by the Smog, pollution incarnate, and all the prophecies point towards Zanna being the chosen one, the Schwazzy, and therefore the only person who can save UnLondon and perhaps all the worlds from disaster. And then something goes wrong....


This book is full of odd meta-detail and story deconstruction. It's fascinating the way Mieville subverts expectations of what Destiny means, the nature of the heroic quest, and other tropes get thrown into a blender. That is supposed to be fascinating for me, but after a few hundred pages I just wanted it to be over. There were even a few bits of genuine horror thrown in with no apologies, but it wasn't enough. At least there were lots of disturbing illustrations.


Poor book. I didn't give your second half the attention it deserved. 

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review 2019-09-26 02:08
Changeless / Gail Carriger
Changeless - Gail Carriger

Alexia Maccon, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears; leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria.

But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. So even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.


Remarkably fun! I love good Urban Fantasy and I’m coming to love the Victorian London steampunk type of that genre as well. I had to wonder at the end of the first book where there was for the author to take things--once the happy couple are married, you risk losing the tension in a series. So Carriger does the sensible thing, she devises problems for the happy couple.

What problems, you ask? Well, how about a mysterious loss of supernatural powers for vampires and werewolves? The unexplained movement of this crippling area of magical suppression. Lord Maccon sneaking off to his familial home in Scotland while his regiment lands on Alexia’s front lawn in London. Plus, Ivey Hisselpenny, Alexia’s BFF, has become engaged, but is in love with a most unsuitable man. Alexia, being Soulless, can cope with the werewolves more easily than with unrequited love.

Carriger leaves us with a mysterious ending--I will definitely be reading Blameless to see how she intends (or if she intends) to fix things up!

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review 2019-09-19 00:05
"The Black God's Drums" by P. Djèli Clark - Highly Recommended
The Black God's Drums - P. Djeli Clark


"The Black God's Drums" is one of those rare books where all I really want to say it: "READ THIS: IT'S WONDERFUL" and then add as a postscript:

 @HBO please spend a few million making this into an award-winning piece of television.

"The Black God's Drums" is a novella of only 112 pages yet in terms of world-building, character-building and plot twists, it stands up against novel two or three times its length.


Djèli Clark pulls off a first-person narrative that delivers a clear view of a complex alternative history and sustains a level of tension and excitement. The dialogue is perfect, especially the use of dialect, which brightens the storytelling and deepens the characters.


This a sparkling little novella is set in an original and uplifting alternative history in which, in the late nineteenth century, New Orleans and Haiti are independent nation-states and the Civil War has a different ending.


The story involves a wicked plot that could bring great destruction, a swashbuckling Haitian airship captain who is strong on technology but refuses to give ground to the old African Gods who call to her, innovative steampunk-ish science that has a dash of magic in it, two black nuns who seem closer to voodoo than Christianity, fanatical soldiers with a scary leader and, at the centre of it all, an engaging, fourteen-years-old goddess-possessed black street child who calls herself Creeper.


Creeper made the book for me. We see the world through her eyes and she is full of fire. At one point, Creeper manages to rescue a key character in the plot. They have never met before and the person being rescued expresses surprise it's just Creeper affecting the rescue.


“Wi. It is just . . . you?”


Creeper's response tells you a lot about he:


I scowl up at her. I happen to think I’m plenty.


One of the things that I liked about this story was that all the good guys are women or girls, all but one of them is black and all of them kickass in their own ways.


I'm now a P. Djèli Clark fan. I've bought another of his novella, "A Dead Djinn in Cairo"  and I'm hoping that he will go on to write some full-length novels.



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