[Ren] The Iron Duke (The Iron Seas #1) by Meljean Brook

The Iron Duke (The Iron Seas #1) by Meljean BrookTitle: The Iron Duke (The Iron Seas #1)
Author: Meljean Brook
Published: October 1st, 2010
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 teacups

Steampunk alternate universe in which the Horde (Gengis Khan’s Mongols) invaded Europe centuries ago, infecting almost everybody’s blood with “bugs”. Some of the bugs turned people into mindless, ravaging zombies, and most of continental Europe is now a wasteland hunted by those creatures. In England, instead, bugs were used by the Horde overlords to brainwash everyone into slaves. Then, nine years ago, the titular Iron Duke destroyed the tower that the Horde used for mind control, and after a bloody revolt England is free again.

I’m really, really torn about this book. On one hand, I LOVED the worldbuilding. Society is still struggling to adapt after centuries of slavery — for example, the Horde had abolished marriages among the lower classes and babies were raised in crèches, so people don’t even have a concept of traditional family any more. It’s really interesting to see this alternative society in which noblewomen campaign for women’s right to marry instead of going to work.

And the steampunk bits! Aside from the bugs, which are used to make people stronger and resistant to illness or injury, there are a slew of machines and inventions: automatons, mechanical prosthetics, steam-powered carriages, airships… I always felt that a steampunk book is not really steampunk unless there’s an airship in it, and this book has one hell of an airship!

I haven’t even mentioned the characters yet. The protagonist is Mina Wentworth, a detective inspector with the London metropolitan police. She’s half-Horde, which means that everyone looks down on her and she goes everywhere escorted by a constable to avoid being harassed. (Or rather, to be harassed by fewer people.) When the story starts, she’s whisked away from a ball to investigate a mysterious death in the Iron Duke’s residence.

Now for the sad part of the review. I really really HATED the Iron Duke and the shitty romance that ensued. The problem is that the author built such a fascinating world, with such a different society, and then when it came to the romance she went for the rapey tropes that were outdated twenty years ago. The Iron Duke is a complete douchecanoe who falls in love/lust with Mina at first sight. Mina won’t give him the time of the day, so when she needs to go save his brother, he says that he’ll take her on his ship if she agrees to sleep with him in exchange.

Obviously the Iron Duke’s POV is full of crap about how he won’t force her because he loves her sooo much, but Mina is not a mind reader so she’s fucking terrified of the Iron Duke most of the time. Until she realizes she wants him too, and suddenly everything’s okay. What a good romance.

So I was judging the stupid Iron Duke for several chapters, but I couldn’t put the book down because they were on an airship! Things were happening! There were krakens and a threat to all of England! Zombies too! Gliders! My reading experience was a constant back and forth between “YAY STEAMPUNK!” and “EW ROMANCE!” — and I say this as a fan of romance. It wouldn’t have taken much for me to like the Iron Duke, I don’t mind romance tropes, I like romance tropes. I just hate the very shitty ones, like in this instance.

Everything would have been fine if the stupid Iron Duke had managed to behave like a decent human being instead of forcing his stupid self on Mina until she decided that she wanted him as well. And despite all of Mina’s weapons and the fact that her subordinates call her “sir”, that only makes me wonder why she doesn’t use her sword on the Iron Duke every time he gets into her personal space.

I’ve also read a couple of the novellas set in the same universe, “The Blushing Bounder” and “Here There Be Monsters”, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my enjoyment of those stories is inversely proportional to how much of a douche the male love interest is. Overall: awesome world, shitty men. Since the next books are about different people, I’ll try my luck and hope that those gentlemen will actually behave like gentlemen for a change. Otherwise I’ll have to do like Scarsdale, and get drunk or dose myself with opium whenever the Iron Duke is around.

Ren

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[Ren] Arsenic For Tea (Wells and Wong #2) by Robin Stevens

Arsenic For Tea (Wells and Wong #2) by Robin StevensReview copy badgeTitle: Arsenic For Tea (Wells and Wong #2)
Author: Robin Stevens
Published: October 27th, 2014
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 teacups

Once again we travel back to 1930s England, land of murders and bunbreaks, where schoolgirl detectives Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are spending the hols at Daisy’s ancestral home. There’s also some family members and friends staying over for Daisy’s birthday party, and everyone knows what happens every time a group of Englishmen have a party in an isolated country house: someone’s going to get offed. Predictably, Hazel isn’t too pleased with having to deal with yet another murderer while Daisy is jumping at the change to solve the mystery before the adults… at least until she realizes that there’s a very good chance that someone in her family is a killer.

So I was going to do a serious (aka boring) review as usual, but then this happened:

…Okay then. This is going to be easier for me since I only have muddled, incoherent thoughts about this book. Usually when I read there’s a part of me that’s dissecting the plot and the characters and filing everything away for later. In this case however my train of thoughts was more like HAZEL IS MY BABY! OH LOOK BUNBREAKS!!! IS THAT UNCLE FELIX??? YAY DAISY!! OH NO DON’T CRY!!!! LET’S SOLVE THE MURDER!!!!!! FRIENDSHIP!! WHO DID THE MURDER?????? YAY TEATIME AGAIN!


An accurate representation of the reviewer reading the book.

First books are a gamble because I don’t know if I’m going to love or hate a series until I start it. But second books are the real test, especially when the bar has been set pretty high. “Murder Most Unladylike was pretty much perfect, how is it possible to top that?” I wondered as I perused the book’s page on NetGalley. This is totally what I told Isa at that time, and not “oggjhfjfnmas[expletive] i’m gonna request it and then cry when they reject me because our blog is not popular”.


Reviewer’s reaction on receiving an advance copy of the book.

It hadn’t occurred to me at first that not all Wells & Wong books could be set at a boarding school. I do love boarding school books, but yeah, it’d get a bit implausible in the end if they just kept killing off the Science mistress every schoolyear like they did with DADA teachers in Harry Potter. So while I got the change of setting, and I loved Fallingford, also like Hazel I felt a bit homesick for the familiar background of the school from the previous book. Reading about Daisy’s family was just like meeting someone you’ve heard a lot about. Especially Dashing Uncle Felix (yep I’m pretty sure that’s his full name) whom I’d be dying to learn more about since Isa pointed out that he’s the mysterious uncle who taught Daisy how to break into a car and told her that dead bodies are heavy.


In my mind Dashing Uncle Felix looks a lot like Rupert Everett with a monocle.

Everything is very British, including the fact that Daisy’s birthday party is a “children’s tea party”, whatever that means. From what I gathered, it means that there are children around and people serve themselves (shock!) instead of needing a butler to hand them the scones. Obviously it doesn’t take long before one of the guests drops dead… no, wait, it does take a while because apparently arsenic doesn’t work instantly like in the films. Anyway. Eventually one of the guests drops dead, which is very sad.


All that wasted tea and cakes. A tragedy.

Who ruined the tea party?? Hazel would like to go back to a time and place when it was safe to have tea without having to wonder if it was poisoned. If she read more of Daisy’s books she’d know that it’s too late by now: if you solve a murder, you’ll spend your life stumbling into dead bodies. Well-known cosmic law. Just look at Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher, it’s a wonder there was anyone still alive in their village!


But let’s have a cuppa anyway, poison’s no excuse to miss tea.

So Hazel and Daisy are investigating the crime, but (obviously) the house is isolated and (obviously) this means the murderer must be one of the guests. Usually, you know, who cares. The detectives are usually guests themselves, the reader has only just been introduced to those characters. HOWEVER! This time the moment when Daisy realizes “whooops is Mummy or Daddy a possible murderer?” is also the moment when I realized “whooops I’m too emotionally invested in those fictional characters”. So I have my list of suspects, and I’m trying to guess the culprit as usual, but my thoughts are all skewed because I DON’T WANT THEM TO BE GUILTY, DAISY WILL BE SAD!


I AM EMOTIONALLY COMPROMISED BECAUSE OF FICTIONAL CHARACTERS!

Safe to say, I didn’t figure out the culprit before Hazel and Daisy solved the case. I guessed some things, and I might have put some of the pieces together if I stopped to think about it, but I couldn’t stop because for the last few chapters I was glued to my kindle and crossing all my fingers that everything would end well. In between there were a lot of shenanigans that mostly I didn’t mention because I didn’t have suitable gifs on hand, I’ll just say that my favourite scene was probably the one with Daisy under her bed. I think I liked Daisy a lot more in this book (which means I liked her lots and lots, since I already liked it a fair bit in MMU).

I miiight like MMU a little bit more because of the setting (boarding schools yay) but overall: THIS BOOK, I LIKE IT!

So, now that I’m done being excited about the awesomeness that was this book, FIRST CLASS MURDER (WELLS & WONG #3) IS GOING TO BE SET ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (DURING THE HOLS??) AND THAT’S PRETTY MUCH THE BEST SETTING EVER SO GO READ ARSENIC FOR TEA, AND IF YOU’VE READ IT THEN READ IT AGAIN. Or idk go back to Deepdean and the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Regular reviews will resume as soon as I stop flailing, in the meantime you can communicate with me through gifs of British actors and biscuits. Bye.

Ren

[Ren] Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman

Eighty Days by Matthew GoodmanTitle: Eighty Days
Author: Matthew Goodman
Published: February 26th, 2013
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 teacups

A non fiction book that sometimes reads like Victorian speculative fiction, Eighty Days tells the true story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, two Americans who at the end of the nineteenth century raced against time (and against each other) to try and set a record for the fastest trip around the globe.

I have of course read Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days, but I’d never heard about Nellie Bly, so I was excited to discover how the fictional character of Phileas Fogg influenced this very real race. Since this is not fiction, there are no shipwrecks or daring rescues or police chases; but the hazards of nineteenth century travels left just enough suspense that until the last few chapters I was left wondering how it would all turn out. Plus, being females and also real people, Bly and Bisland are much more interesting characters than Phileas Fogg.

Bly was a female journalist at a time when people thought women were only good for writing gossip columns and such. She started her career with an expose of the appalling conditions in mental asylums, and went on from there. Bisland was a more conventional woman journalist, at least outwardly. She was originally from the South and wrote poetry and literary reviews. From the start, their opposing characters make for a good story, with Bly pestering her editors to let her try to make this record journey around the world, and Bisland reluctant to go because of the “vulgar” publicity that she would receive.

Though I didn’t know anything about the subject beforehand, it’s obvious that the author did his research. In reading a novel about historical characters there’s always the doubt: can we be sure that they thought this? did they really feel that way or is the author making it up? Goodman draws extensively from Bly’s and Bisland’s own accounts, and from other period sources, and every line of dialogue is annotated in the appendix. In this regard, he was very thorough.

…Which brings me to my only complaint about the book, but it’s a bit one. In his zeal to paint a complete picture of this world race, Goodman goes off on endless tangents. There are pages and pages about famous characters who are somehow related to the story, like Jules Verne who aside from writing Around The World met Bly when she was passing through France. If Bisland stopped to have lunch at a hotel, the dining room is described, as well as the waiters, plus of course the food, and then there will be a digression on the town and its climate and its people and whatnot.

At first I enjoyed the asides about New York and the publishing industry, because they helped set the story in a place and time I am not very familiar with. But after two thirds of the book they started to become wearisome. I realized at some point that I was reading a lengthy account about the medical problems of Joseph Pulitzer, who was in the book only because he owned The World, which was the newspaper Bly worked for… And I couldn’t care less about Pulitzer’s sensitive nervous system.

So I skipped that bit, and all other digressions I didn’t care about, and I managed to finish the book without falling asleep. There’s just too much stuff in the book, which could and should have been edited out. If it physically pained Goodman to leave out the details about the house where Pulitzer lived, he could have put all that extra info in an appendix. The story of Bly and Bisland and their race is very compelling, but all the extraneous information weighs it down unnecessarily.

Overall, a solid book, but since he quoted him extensively Goodman might as well have taken Pulitzer’s advice and cut some of the unnecessary digressions.
Ren

[Ren] Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia BriggsPick For Me badgeTitle: Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1)
Author: Patricia Briggs
Published: May 12th, 2014
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of werewolves and I’m generally bored by shapeshifters and similar paranormal elements. I started this series because I was intrigued by a short story set in the same universe. All things considered, I thought this book was okay.

The protagonist, Mercy, is a badass werecoyote. She also doesn’t look like the person on the cover of the book, since she spends most of the time wearing ill-fitted borrowed clothes because she tends to lose or destroy her own shirts… but then again, when ever have fantasy covers been realistic. Problem is, for a badass werecoyote, she’s also rather dull. As I was reading, I felt as if the book had the potential to be really entertaining, if only I wasn’t stuck inside the boring POV of Mercy Thompson. Which, you know, is a bit of a problem since the series is named after her. I sat on this review for a while, and after a week or so the only thing I remember about Mercy’s personality is… uh… she has a cat?

The secondary characters are marginally more interesting, though my enjoyment of Adam was slightly dampened by the fact that he looks like a corner of a love triangle. The worldbuilding and lore is by far the most interesting part of the novel, even considering that I don’t care much for werewolves. In fact, I didn’t mind when the action was paused for a bit of info dump, though it might be annoying if you’re into whatever Mercy is doing at the time.

As for me, I’m on the fence about this series. Bits of it were really cool but I think I’ll need a break of several months before my next dose of werewolves, especially since a love triangle seems to be looming over the horizon.
Ren

[Ren] Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Horrorstör by Grady HendrixReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Horrorstör
Author: Grady Hendrix
Published: September 23rd, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazongoodreads

This is a horror story with a cover that looks like an Ikea catalog. I don’t know about you but that caught my attention right away. I’m not usually a fan of horror because I’m a scaredy cat, but sometimes it’s nice to read outside my usual genres. As such I don’t know if this story is original or if it’s full of tropes, I only know that I enjoyed it a lot.

The story is set in the Orsk store which (even the characters admit) is an Ikea knockoff. Someone has been vandalizing the store, so some employees decide to spend the night patrolling the show to catch the culprits in the act. This is obviously a Very Bad Idea because the vandals are not human.

I’ll leave it at that, because part of the fun for me was not knowing just what exactly was wrong with the store — was it ghosts? monsters? a curse? — and I liked the shift from normal slice-of-life account of a day in the life of an Orsk employee to the really creepy stuff going on at night. It helped that I read this book as I was travelling to visit Isa: if you’re alone on a train before dawn you can really appreciate the creepiness of usually crowded spaces when they’re empty and silent.

As for the characters, the story is told from the POV of Amy and I really like her. She avoids most of the usual pitfalls, such as suggesting to split up, and I was really rooting for her. I also rather liked Basil, and the Big Bad is suitably creepy. Some of the characters left me indifferent though, and there was at least one death when I thought, oh well, one less character to keep track of.

There is death, and creepy things, and bloody gory bits that I really hope I won’t dream about at night. Like I said, I’m squeamish. And then the chapter headers that look like pages from an Ikea catalog make a really jarring counterpoint. For me, it works really well.

Again, horror is not my genre so I couldn’t predict the ending at all. I really liked it though, it solves the plot but leaves a couple of things open-ended so I can wonder what’ll happen next. (Not in a baiting-for-sequel wait though, just… I can imagine those characters living on after the end of the book. And I always like it when an author does that.)

I haven’t been converted to horror and I doubt I’ll read other similar books in the future, but I think Horrorstör is an experiment that works and I’d happily recommend it to anyone, though if you’re like me you might feel tempted to keep the lights on at night afterwards.
Ren

[Ren] Precious Metals by L.A. Witt

Precious Metals by L.A. WittReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Precious Metals
Author: L.A. Witt
Published: October 27th, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

I was not a huge fan of the previous book in this series, but I do like L.A. Witt so I immediately requested Precious Metals when I saw it on NetGalley. This book is set in the same universe as the other, in a kind of steampunk gold rush era. The characters are all different though; the protagonists are Joseph, who’s chasing after his kidnapped brother, and Paul, a mountie tasked with escorting him north. I really liked their story.

It’s difficult to talk about just this book, because I keep drawing comparisons with Noble Metals when I think about what exactly I liked. For example, the steampunk element is much more marked here. In the first book there were just the mechs, which are a kind of mechanical cart that gold diggers use to haul stuff around. Now there’s mechs and airships and a gold-digging machine and Joseph’s prosthetic leg, oh my! It’s way more steampunkier now, if that makes any sense.

The relationship between Joseph and Paul was also engaging. There still was some insta-love, given that the book is rather short and only covers a timespan of a few days, but I felt like it was handled in a more realistic way, as in “we almost died so I’m going to make a move NOW because life is short”, etc.

There are quite a lot of tropes in the story, but let’s be honest: I love tropes. Sharing the only bed roll? Huddling together for warmth? Give that to me. And the author does write steamy scenes, which is always a plus. If I had to complain about something, it’s that both sex scenes were from Joseph’s POV and I was hoping to get one from Paul’s POV instead. Then again, I did like Paul better so I was always looking forward to his chapters. (Not because Joseph is a bad character, mind, it’s just personal preference.)

I’m glad I read this because it definitely redeemed the series for me, and I wouldn’t mind reading more stories in this universe. And the good bit is that this book is a standalone, so you can skip Noble Metals and enjoy this excellent adventure through the snow.
Ren

[Ren] The Heiresses by Sara Shepard

The Heiresses by Sara ShepardPick For Me badgeTitle: The Heiresses
Author: Sara Shepard
Published: May 12th, 2014
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

Summary of the story: there are five rich girls, who all have rich girl problems. My problem is that five is way too many characters, given that they all have the personality of cardboard cutouts. No, wait, cardboard’s too cheap… faux marble statues, maybe. The beginning was rather dull. I read on the back cover that one of the poor rich girls was going to die, and I looked forward to that because it meant one less POV to keep track of, but I still had to spend several long chapters reading about her organic baby food and her designer footwear. Then she died! Hooray!

But the book remained dull. I feel very disappointed, because I was in this for the torrid affairs and illegitimate love children and dirty secrets, but everything was told in such a dull way! This might be the problem: things were told. Every time that there was some buildup because a character hinted at some dark secret in their past, a couple of chapters later they told me about it. And those flashbacks were so dry, it felt like reading a newspaper article. Not even a juicy gossip magazine, just a boring newspaper that only gives you the bare facts. Oh, look, this character is a murderer. This one had an affair. This one likes to party. Yawn. The few bits of suspence came from Poppy’s death. Here at least the action took place in the present and there was something a stake. Was it murder? Were the other heiresses in danger? I was hoping more of them will die because I didn’t like them very much, but at least that part of the plot was entertaining.

The characters were also a disappointment. I read Pretty Little Liars and it was entertaining enough, but the characters were kind of immature since they were all dumb teens. This book has adult characters, so I assumed I would like it better — wrong. Despite their age, the Saybrook heiresses all act like dumb kids. The dialogue is a gold mine.

“That hat is hideous, by the way,” [Elizabeth] added, turning back into the bedroom.
It’s Hermès, Aster wanted to snap.

Poor Aster hasn’t grasped the idea that things can be both hideous and expensive. She might be my favourite character, just because she’s the dumbest. She spends the book miserable because her allowance is being cut and she’s forced to work and she doesn’t, like, know how to use Excel or anything.

Again, the plot about Poppy’s death is the one redeeming thing about the book because the girls finally start putting their heads together and they try to figure out the Big Dark Saybrook Secret. There was quite a lot of red herrings, and at one point nothing seemed to make sense, but the solution was very neat and made me want to smack my forehead because of course that’s what happened, that actually made sense! I was actually very pleased with the end and with the fact that tiny rays of character development started to appear over the horizon.

…Is what I would have liked to say, but then the epilogue is like “fuck that, maybe I was lying before and that is not the real solution of the mystery, maybe there are many Bigger Badder Darker Secrets yet to discover, so get ready for the next 12 books!!!” so I’m back to disappointment after all. If (when?) book #2 comes out, please bludgeon me over the head so I won’t read it. It’s for my own good.
Ren

[Ren] Black Dog (Bannon’s Gym #1) by Cat Grant

Black Dog (Bannon's Gym #1) by Cat GrantReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Black Dog (Bannon’s Gym #1)
Author: Cat Grant
Published: April 1st, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblegoodreads

Ever since Isa called it the “dog book by cat author” this book makes me giggle. It’s actually a pretty sad book about a runaway kid with an abusive father who is taken in by the owner of a diner. Then the kid starts training with the same boxing trainer who used to go out with the diner owner, but of course there are Issues and Emotional Baggage to deal with before everyone can get their happy(ish) ending.

What threw me most about this book is the three different POVs, one of which is in first person POV for whichever reason. That bothered me so much because it was like it made Eddie the protagonist in a way, while overall it felt as if Tom’s narrative was the most important. Even though at the end Eddie and Danny are together so by M/M romance standards this is “their” book. I don’t know, I felt as if my attention was being pulled in different directions without a clear focus. The ending too felt unfinished, like this is just a piece of a bigger story rather than a standalone book.

Character-wise, though, I liked all three protagonists and quite a few of the secondary characters. I actually got emotional towards the end because I was so invested in Tom’s story. To be honest I’m basing my rating almost only on feelings here; I might complain that the ending was predictable but it still had me worried sick over the fate of the protagonists.

I’m definitely going to check out the next book, and hopefully with a longer page count every character’s storyline will be tied together in a more cohesive way. For now I don’t feel like recommending this book to everyone, but if you’re looking for a quick read that first sucker-punches you in the feels and then pats you lovingly, this book is your book.
Ren

[Ren] Bloodline (Whyborne & Griffin #5) by Jordan L. Hawk

Bloodline by Jordan L. HawkAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Bloodline (Whyborne & Griffin #5)
Author: Jordan L. Hawk
Published: October 7th, 2014
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

In this new instalment of the series we go back to New England and foggy Widdeshins for a mystery that’s centered on Whyborne and his family. That’s… more or less all I can say without spoiling the story, but suffice to say that it’s a very solid entry in a very good series. I like some books better than others but so far there isn’t a single “bad” entry in the series — which is the highest praise I can think of. Every book has its place in the series, and all those details about the Whybornes that we learned in the previous books come together in Bloodline.

I complained a couple of books ago that the interactions between characters were starting to feel repetitive. It happens sometimes, with longer series, when the author finds a formula that they like and they don’t want to change it for fear of alienating their readers. I thought that was happening here too. I stand corrected: Bloodline not only changes the status quo, it blows it to smithereens.

Whyborne is still himself but he’s slowly gained confidence about his magical powers and he’s not second-guessing himself at every step like he used to. The genre doesn’t feel like horror any more, though, it’s more of a suspenceful story with occasional monsters. Maybe I’ve become inured to cosmic horrors after a while but I miss the chill down my spine that the first two books gave me. The mysterious fish people from the sea weren’t very scary at all, though they were certainly entertaining to read about.

Some of the plot twists (especially the one about Whyborne’s sister) were easy to guess but others were complete surprises; I still can’t believe the author went there! It’s a gamble, and I’m sure it will alienate some readers, but personally I loved that Jordan L. Hawk had the guts to take the characters in this direction. For the last several chapters I was convinced that this was the last book, because so much was happening and it felt like a series finale. And then in the last page… the announcement for the next book.

It will be interesting to see how the series goes forward after this. Whyborne and Griffin (and Christine!) are still favourites of mine and if you like M/M romance you owe it to yourself to check out this series.
Ren

[Ren] The Circus of the Damned by Cornelia Grey

The Circus of the Damned by Cornelia GreyReview copy badgeAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: The Circus of the Damned
Author: Cornelia Grey
Published: November 3rd, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

The summary of this book ticked all my boxes — steampunk, m/m romance, set in a circus! And written by an author who’s from the same corner of the world as me. I was very curious to read this, and happily it did not disappoint. The Circus of the Damned is about magician Gilbert Blake, who has to skip town in a hurry after he’s caught using his magic to cheat at cards. He joins the titular circus to have a place to hide, but he realizes too late that all the performers are cursed never to leave the circus, not even after death.

I flip-flopped for a long while on the rating, because while I did enjoy the story a lot there were also some parts that made me roll my eyes. I even made a list of pros and cons. The pros were that it was a quick read, despite the 300+ pages I finished it in two days. I liked the minor characters (Humphreys!) and the setting was great, I loved the atmosphere of the circus. The reveal about the devil Farfarello was completely unexpected and I enjoyed that very much. Also, that sex scene with magic.

The pacing was mostly good: the book started off in the middle of Gilbert trying to cheat some guy at cards and then things kept happening one after the other. Unfortunately that made it even more noticeable when the action lulled. I felt like a couple of chapters could have been skipped entirely because nothing at all happened and they felt like padding. Some of the minor characters also felt like padding, there were so many people in the circus that I couldn’t keep all of them straight in my head. Is the bear Mildred or Matilda? And who the hell is Ramona again?

The cons were that I’m not completely sold on the two leads, there was a bit too much instalove and I much prefer UST and pining. For being as old as he is, Jesse acted like a fucking teenager who didn’t consider the (obvious) consequences of his actions. Also, I expected a little more out of the ending; after all the build-up to the final confrontation, everything was tied up too neatly. Gilbert’s mouse was completely useless: she’s mentioned often in the beginning, and then less and less, until I kept forgetting she was even around. I didn’t get the point of the mouse. Also, there was some weird phrasing here and there. My biggest pet peeve is that I have no idea where the story is set. The only city mentioned by name is Shadowsea so I’m thinking fictional universe with magic. But then the author mentions Italy and Asia, so… I got nothing.

Overall, though, I think this book is better than the sum of its parts. There are books where after a week I remember only the bad bits, while with this book what I remember most is that it was fun! So, four full teacups, and I’d definitely read a sequel or another story set in the same world, wherever that may be!
Ren