The Golden Spider and The Silver Skull are both fairly paint-by-numbers steampunk: it's vaguely Victorian-ish, with the ton & the peerage and all that, but there are Babbage cards and steam mechanicals and such too.
The Golden Spider is probably the better novel, following a girl scientist trying to stop a killer and cure her brother and also there are spies.The Silver Skull relies on one of those "we have to pretend to be married so we might as well bang" scenarios, which I find tedious, and I didn't buy the reasons for the lovers to be apart anyway. But bonus points for pteranodons that the evil lady saddles up so she can have sky battles with airships. That was fresh.
What I really wanted to say about this series, the thing I found utterly charming, was the epically nerdy science behind both of these plots. A science that was lovingly detailed with so much legit scientific terminology that I would just start skimming at points as the principals breathlessly talked chemistry at each other. The author's bio states that Renwick has a PhD in chemistry, and it shows: she loves this shit; she's not going to dumb it down; and she's going to work out the science plausibly, even if it's fictional.
Hard science is very rarely my thing. I simply do not care about verisimilitude, unless you wrap it up with some actual characters, which doesn't happen as often as I'd prefer. And generally I'm not reading steampunk for the articles, but because I like the dash-punk pulp aspects: I want to see me a fucking kraken, or an airship battle that crashes, burning, into the sea, or some automata struggling with sentience. But here, in books where the steampunkery was wan and drab, I lived for the nerdy stuff, in a weird reversal. It just goes to show that the enthusiasm of the writer towards the subject, be it chemistry or krakens, goes a long way toward my enjoyment of a novel.
Alex Hunter, the Arcadian, goes back to Antarctica, or at least, beneath it, and faces an old menace. And we, the readers, are along for the ride. This book is as much horror as action. I have always thought as the polar ice caps melt, something will be revealed that we may not want unleashed in the modern world. Pathogens that could wipe out humanity. This book touches on these fears, both at a macro and micro level. The world beneath Antarctica as a whole seemed out to get to the explorers. There are moments in this book that made my skin crawl and made me wince. I didn't read this before bed, but I can imagine it might have given me some night terrors. I do admit to a phobia about infection and pathogenesis.
Alex is a complex character. As much a hero as a man on the brink of psychosis. He received a treatment that saved his life and made him a super-soldier, but has also awakened an Other inside of him that is basically a deranged psychopathic killer. It takes an incredible amount of effort to Alex to surpress that part of himself. Alex had to leave behind his loved ones, including Aimee his ex-lover and the child they made together. But he will have to come out of the dark when they are both in danger.
But a huge problem is that China and United States may start a global thermonuclear war because of the conflict arising from their altercations at the South Pole and a lost US submarine. In order to neutralize this conflict, Alex has to go find that sub. The sub search will put them in the crosshairs of an ancient and powerful beast, a creature of biblical fame, and a species that has adapted over millions of years to its sub-oceanic/sub-Antarctica environment.
This is not the second book in the series, but it's actually fine to read this after Beneath the Dark Ice. Stuff happens in the books before this, but the author does a good job of not letting that be an issue to understanding the events of this book.
The gore factor is fairly high and so is the gross out level. Some of the stuff in this place literally made my skin crawl. I'm a germaphobe, and this has plenty of triggers for folks like me. Like I said, this whole habitat is out to get the humans who trespass. To the environment and its inhabitants, humans are just prey. High body count, so be warned about that as well. I liked all the high tech gadgets. I am not a gun person in real life, but I enjoy reading about hardware in books. There is also plenty of excellent action sequences, of many kinds. Try going man to giant kraken and see how well that turns out for you. Generally not good. And don't think that you can hide from it. Oh no. There's no hiding.
Recommended to readers who like action/adventure with sci-fi horror elements.
I won The Kraken Sea in a Goodreads giveaway. All opinions are my own. The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler is a story of a fifteen year old boy, Jackson, who is very different from other boys. He is not accepted for what he is until he is adopted by Cressida. I found this book to be entertaining, and it is well written and fast paced.
Dragonbreath stars Danny Dragonbreath, a young dragon who hasn't yet learned how to breathe fire, and his best friend Wendell, a green iguana. Whereas Wendell studies, does his homework, and would probably never get into trouble on his own, Danny has waited until the morning bus ride to write his science paper. He was going to ask Wendell for help, but his topic was the ocean and Wendell's was bats. Danny's science teacher isn't particularly interested in Danny's paper on “the rare and elusive snorklebat” and tells him to turn in a better paper tomorrow. Library research isn't really Danny's style, so, at his mother's suggestion, Danny visits his cousin Edward, a sea serpent. Danny drags Wendell along with him.
When my local entertainment store announced that it was closing for good, I spotted this on the shelves during the ensuing “going out of business” sales and decided to buy it. I had my oldest niece in mind, but I'm pretty sure it's above her current reading level. I still plan to leave it with my sister next time I visit – the kids might at least enjoy the pictures. Like Vernon's Harriet the Invincible, the book is a mixture of plain text and graphic novel-style pages with illustrations and speech bubbles.
Dragonbreath was a little more focused than Harriet the Invincible, although Danny didn't work quite as well for me as Harriet did. Harriet was fearless, smart, and brave. Danny was fearless but didn't always think before he threw himself into potentially dangerous situations. Wendell had to be the voice of caution, and even then he rarely managed to rein Danny in.
Wendell was basically me. I couldn't help but laugh at this bit: “It was one thing to bring Cousin Edward along – Edward was mythological, after all, and used to this sort of thing – but Wendell was an iguana. Epic tales of heroism and disaster were notably lacking in iguanas. His best friend just wasn't cut out for high drama.” (121) If Wendell had been the star of the story, the whole thing would have taken place in a library.
The story itself was a bit of adventure plus some fairly straightforward edutainment. Danny and Wendell learned about the bends, sea cucumber defense mechanisms (gross), jellyfish, anglerfish (one of which was correctly referred to as female), and more. Mixed in with the real-world stuff was the lost city of Atlantis and a Kraken.
In addition to their underwater adventure, Danny and Wendell also dealt with a bully. Like the rest of the book, these parts were pretty light-hearted. The fierce potato salad was great, and I really liked that it was technically Wendell who got rid of the bully the second time around.
All in all, this was pretty good. I may try the next book in the series.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)