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Gaslight Chronicles, Boxed Set #2: Cards & Caravans, Ashes & Alchemy, Dragons & Dirigibles SPOILERS

All by Cindy Spencer Pape. Apparently _Ether & Elephants_ will be coming out in a few months, altho the pre-order button was not up for me yesterday.

The Gaslight Chronicles is a series of Victorian Steampunk with vampyres, werewolves and Magick, including the Order of the Round Table and Lovelace College founded by Ada Lovelace. There are Babbage engines and smoke tinted goggles and all sorts of wonderful things.

Judging by the reviews on some of the books, a few caveats are in order.

(1) There is, generally, sex. So if you tend to read historical romances because of their comparative chasteness, you might not find this to your liking. (Also, if that is you, you should probably not be reading my blog.) (Also, these aren't historicals. You did see the bit about vampyres and werewolves and dirigibles and Magick and all, right? They aren't even properly alternate history, because it's a combination of paranormal and steampunk.)

(2) This is a series in which secondary characters from earlier novels becomes protagonists in later novels and protagonists from earlier novels continue to be present, on-stage and off, in later novels. If that sort of everyone-knows-each-other-already thing tends to bother you, don't drop into a book in the middle of the series.

(3) These are very plot-y books. The characters _are_ distinct and not interchangeable, but there is not a lot of character development in any given book. To the extent that you really get to "know" people, it is the core crowd that appeared as older children/younger adults in the first book and that is gradually finding their romantic partners later in the series. And the reason that is working is basically for the same reason that Sherlock Holmes and other series characters work -- you don't get inside their head for any length of time, but you do see them in action over time and that is what character development there is. Hence, plot-y.

(4) If your preference for world building, in the speculative fiction sense, is parsimonious, this place is gonna piss you off, over and over and over again. Like ST:TNG, new crap is invented in every book and may never be mentioned again. As much as you might like to see that particular item re-appear, it probably will not.

The books themselves are novella length, more than novels, which given all of the above is actually a good thing. The arc of the story is basically, Hey, Here's a New Person! in spectacular trouble. In the course of trying to deal with their trouble, someone we already know shows up (obvs not in book 1! Where we are first meeting everyone), they have some amount of instant reaction to each other, which they conceal poorly. They then work on extracting the New Person from the difficulty, and discover that it is a Problem for the Order (of the Round Table, natch), more people show up and the crowd investigates, deals with further attacks, wins out in the end.

AND NOW THE SPOILERS! Sort of. Run away or the Witchfinder will get you!!!!

So: in Cards, Belinda has been convicted by the village of witchcraft and is supposed to burn in the morning. Her Great-Aunt Zara (who we met in an earlier book) has a vision (or similar) and Connor is dispatched. Connor attempts a variety of things, and ultimately extracts her, brings her to Kay Tower where they marry, and then a crowd proceeds from the wedding to investigate the conspiracy against Magick, track it to its source, etc., obvs using the circus as a cover. Because, circus!

In Ashes, Minerva (there's a thing: it was "Linnie" in the previous book and "Minnie" in this one. Boy, watch out for anyone with the surname Engle, too!), ventures out into a winter storm to find help for her feverish four year old (with pointy ears who has never been sick a day in her life -- oooh! We've seen this before!) and fetches up on Sebastian Brown's doorstep. When Seb and Minnie return to where Jane is keeping an eye on Ivy, they are horrified to discover Jane murdered. Fortunately, Ivy is just covered inside and out with black dust. Weird. Everyone troops back to Seb's place, cleans up, sleeps and then we gotta find out what's up with the black dust oozing out of Ivy.

In Dragons, Melody Mackay (Connor's remaining unwed sibling) crashes an experimental airship at Black Heath, with what may well be the best opening paragraph of all time. Inevitably, sprained ankle (come on, it's a romance novel. What were you expecting? A broken back and ensuing paralysis? That would be a _very_ different book!), carried to the house by the burly Victor. Like a certain island in the Hebrides in an earlier entry in this series, Black Heath has been under sustained if somewhat covert attack for a while now. Victor's brother has already died in a steam car accident that knocked his daughter unconscious for a couple days. But Emma is still around, altho both her parents are gone. Do you smell instant family? I DO! This is the most problematic book of this trio, because of the racial stereotypes that appear surrounding the villain. Racial stereotyping is trigger-y throughout the series, mitigated in part by the very, very assimilationist nature of the extended families that provide the glue that binds the series together (lots of adoption, not everyone is hetero, biracial children, etc.). The big issue that I am noticing is that biracial relationships in this series tend to involve white men and brown women, and the women are ... long list of non-positive characteristics. Seb's past fiancee, Vidya, I could probably have excused, but Fleur (who is Chinese) has all the exotic/erotic/treachery/grasping stereotypes going on. Not sure whether I will continue with the series, but for sure you should be aware of it going in. I don't want to oversell Teh Evil here, because it's roughly on a par with stuff that people manage to excuse in movies like Big Trouble in Little China and similar, but it is much more recently written and thus less okay, imo. YMMV.

One of the things I LOVE about the series is the certainty possessed by so many of the characters (<-- not sarcasm. I am serious about this). They will _blithely_ make decisions that turn out to be incredibly bad in retrospect, and, honestly, not that hard to see as bad ahead of time (I'm going to bundle you off out of the action to be safe ... where you will promptly be kidnapped or worse). They _instantly_ trust people who turn out to be incredibly duplicitous. And then _instantly_ trust someone else, next, who turns out to be fine. Certainty -- even when wrong -- allows for definitive, aggressive action, which makes for a rollicking tale. When you try to write an action tale and fill it with people who suffer from Hamlet-level indecisiveness, it is a fucking chore to read. This is a much better and more believable approach. Do the characters sometimes take a step back and go, how did I not see that coming? Sure! But as soon as they get distracted by the possibility to go do something, the game is, once again, afoot.
Tags: book review, paranormal fiction
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