Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: Soulless (Opening Excerpt & Chapter 1)

At last the beginning of my adventure in reviewing a book one chapter at a time! I'll start with a basic play-by-play, then a review of the chapter(s).
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I will be honest here. I googled and asked around to learn the official name of the excerpt that is sometimes included at the beginning of novels, but I couldn't find an answer. In fact, it's probably called just that. An excerpt. So I'll go with that. (I wanted to call it a teaser, since that's essentially what it is, but oh well.
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EXCERPT: The gist of this scene is the heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, being attacked by a vampire. I had to read the first paragraph a good three times in order to understand it. Being taken out of context (since it's an excerpt from the novel somewhere) I know it's not necessarily meant to be understood right off the bat. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was that the chosen excerpt was an action scene and I couldn't tell whether or not an action was attempted or succeeded, whether or not the heroine dodged the attack from the vampire, or what a "desperate wriggle" is supposed to mean when the vampire was stuck with a wooden hair stick. (I imagined some kind of shimmy with a boa, but that can't be right....)
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In the middle of this fight to the death, which drops them on a tray of food, (the reasons why they're fighting is left to be explained) Alexia worries about food getting on her dress. I know it was meant to be funny, but perhaps the humor was lost along with the context. Similarly in the narrative, which is from Alexia's viewpoint, she likens the nameless vampire's death to "a soufflé going flat" and dubs it the Grand Collapse. Another humorous moment? Bit dry, but again, it's an excerpt.
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REVIEW: Judging it as a sample text that is intended to intrigue me to read on, I wasn't impressed or very interested. All it did was introduce me to what seems like a fumbling heroine with a bland sense of humor. But, as a writer, I will give this piece of writing the benefit of the doubt. It could easily had been a poorly chosen excerpt, which I know happens often. I just hope the rest of the book makes more sense than that snippet of a scene.
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CHAPTER 1: In the very first paragraph Miss Alexia Tarabotti is introduced (in name only) and the narrative simply says that she is at a ball, which she dislikes, but there is no explanation as to why she is there in the first place. It's also a cliché pet peeve of mine to see a stereotypical nonconformist woman in a Victorian setting. I wouldn't mind a story where the hero is a social bug and dresses in the latest fashion and is closed minded and ignorant like their contemporaries. But I digress....
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After briefly explaining her lack of enjoyment in the ball, the narrative goes straight into saying: "... she had retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire. She glared at the vampire." Immediately that strikes me as poor writing. Not only is it boringly direct, but it lacks tension, reason, surprise, and even humor if that was the intent. Hell, I don't even know the main character well enough to fear for her life, let alone the vampire's. Then it's willy-nilly explained that- hey!- she has no soul and apparently that's reason for a vampire to avoid her.
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Without any dialogue even being exchanged, he attacks her. Turns out, her lack of a soul neutralizes anything supernatural, and his fangs disappear as soon as he touches her. The description given of him creeping out of the shadows and touching her is frustratingly vague. How he touched her, where, etc. is not explained. As soon as he lets go of her, though, his fangs reappear and he dives in for another bite. To this, Alexia utters the first piece of dialogue (which doesn't take my breath away at all). She says: "I say! We have not even been introduced!" Ha.
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She then attacks him with her 007 parasol that is equipped with a buckshot and black frills, despite that fact that it is "terribly tasteless" to be carrying one at a private ball. She bonks the vampire on the head with it and scolds him for his manners. Ha.
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From her hair, she takes out a wooden hair stick that she cleverly calls her "hair stake." Ha.
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When the vampire finally speaks, the fangs cause him to talk with a lisp. My eye twitched with what might have been a laugh wanting to come out at that idea, but for some reason it wasn't all that amusing. I think a vampire with a lisp would have been a little funnier if he wasn't depicted as a clown from the get go. Though, that might not work either...
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Finally, an explainer is thrown in the middle of this scene. Alexia is what is called a "Preternatural" because of her soullessness, a name given to her kind by the "Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR), a division of Her Majesty's Civil Services." The scene continues a little as she explains herself to the vampire, but it's interrupted again with a paragraph explaining her appearance. Alexia is described as being "exotic" but not lovely. I'm hoping this actually means the heroine isn't the 'fairest of them all' with all the men tripping over each other to get her. If that's the case, there may be hope for this dry character yet.
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Ah, and here's where the excerpt in the beginning comes in. He attacks her, she kills him, etc. The flattened soufflé and all. Then, a group of dandies from the ball happen to walk in and see her with the dead body. So, she pretends to scream and faint.
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Two men show up at the scene and shoo everyone out but her. The grumpy "Alpha" is Lord Maccon and his "Beta" is a nice little man named Professor Lyall. It's a rather typical introduction of a sour commander character reprimanding the hero, or in this case heroine, for a job sloppily done. One of the paragraphs suddenly switches to Maccon's POV, which is a tad annoying, but not necessarily confusing, so I can let it go... (Though I'm not hopeful future chapters will avoid POV hopping.)
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A following paragraph did confuse me, though. Professor Lyall is examining the vampire's body and inspects the creature's trousers. It goes on to describe him taking a leather case containing steampunk goggles out of his pocket. It wasn't until the professor put them on that I realized he took them out of his own pocket. I had to read it twice for clarification. I know I've been guilty of confusing who is doing what in action narrative, but reading this sort of thing is a helpful reminder to clarify which "he" is which. How was I supposed to know Count Vague-y McVagueness the Vampire didn't carry goggles in his trouser pockets?
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After a bunch of unneeded banter regarding Alexia's criticism of the vampire's taste in clothing, Lord Maccon asks her what happened, and like any good investigator, takes out a writing kit to get it down. What he takes out, though, is some elaborate writing kit that is more like a small chemisty set with a stylus. Since this world involves normal Victorian England, why not just use a pencil and notebook? Seems more practical to me... Because he apparently used an all-too authoritative voice on her, she gets uppity and calls him a puppy. This is when the author decides to explain that the choice of insults was because Maccon and Lyall are werewolves. Hence the "Alpha" and "Beta" titles.
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Their conversational banter is interrupted AGAIN to explain about her mother, Mrs. Loontwill, who is oblivious to the supernatural aspects of her daughter, and only cares about marrying her off. It seems her preternatural status was explained to her when she was only 6 years old by some silver haired gentleman with a silver cane. An important character later, obviously. (My first thought is that he will turn out to be the main villain, so it will be fun to see how my half-cocked prediction will go!) The exposition here goes on for too long explaining her childhood and becoming quite repetitive with the fact that Alexia is half Italian with a Roman nose, but great curves. All of this interrupts the conversation so much that I didn't remember what they were talking about when she finally replies to Maccon.
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After more dry banter and a segment with a sandwich, finally, a point to the chapter rears its miraculous head! Professor Lyall (Bless you, Lyall!) informs them that if the killing of this vampire can't be proven as self-defence then Alexia could be accused of murder. Some conflict and danger at last! (I don't count the lispy vampire.) But once again, we're subjected to more exposition where it tells us more about the characters than it's showing. It makes the conversations ridiculously difficult to follow when EVERY line is divided by an explanatory paragraph or two.
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Ah HA! A little purpose for the vampire's lisp, other than failed humor! Apparently, his "fang lisp" indicates that he is a vampire with no etiquette, which means that he doesn't belong to a "hive" where they would have surely taught him some. Apparently. Though, I feel as though it was established a hundred times over in this chapter that this "rogue" vampire couldn't have belonged to a hive.
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The POV is switched again to Lyall... ugh... One viewpoint, pleeaaasse.....
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Twice, there has been mention of a hedgehog incident involving Alexia that put her on the BUR's sh**list. I'm a little interested to know what that is all about, I admit.
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The chapter then ends with Maccon and Lyall contemplating the puzzle that is Alexia and why she hasn't gotten married yet.
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REVIEW: Well, Lord Maccon obviously has a thing for Alexia despite her "Roman nose and dark complexion," and there may possibly be some romance between the two. Could be fun. I hope it at least gives Alexia a little more character. Her soullessness is explained as a lack of morals, not emotions, but she is still coming across to me as dry. Gives me cotton mouth just reading it. Her sarcasm falls extremely short and so far she's not a character that I care much for. And though I'm told these characters each have their own mysterious qualities, none of them are intriguing enough to me. I will just have to keep reading and see if this catches my interest...
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Mood at the end of Chapter 1: Bored, but have hopes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) by Gail Carriger

So, I've been too lazy or too at a loss to know what to write for my blog, so finally I've decided to do what I enjoy from time to time: review something. However, my reviews tend to be about movies. This time I've decided to review a book for a change. Seems like a good way to get more use out of my Kindle, if nothing else.
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Since books tend to be more complex than movies (at least, they should be) I am going to attempt a chapter-by-chapter review rather than an overview at the end. Since books have so many words and nuances, it would be hard to cover everything at once. Also, I think it will be fun to make a record of my interpretations and predictions as the story goes along so that I could see just how completely wrong I was in the end!
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My first book of choice is that of the Steampunk genre, which I've been trying to familarize myself with.
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Title: Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate), An Alexia Tarabotti Novel
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Author: Gail Carriger
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Genre: Fiction, Steampunk, Historical, Fantasy, Romance
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The premise is described in the following way on Amazon.com:
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Starred Review. Carriger debuts brilliantly with a blend of Victorian romance, screwball comedy of manners and alternate history. Prickly, stubborn 25-year-old bluestocking Alexia Tarabotti is patently unmarriageable, and not just because she's large-nosed and swarthy. She's also soulless, an oddity and a secret even in a 19th-century London that mostly accepts and integrates werewolf packs, vampire hives and ghosts. The only man who notices her is brash Lord Conall Maccon, a Scottish Alpha werewolf and government official, and (of course) they dislike each other intensely. After Alexia kills a vampire with her parasol at a party—how vulgar!—she and Conall must work together to solve a supernatural mystery that grows quite steampunkishly gruesome. Well-drawn secondary characters round out the story, most notably Lord Akeldama, Alexia's outrageous, italic-wielding gay best vampire friend. This intoxicatingly witty parody will appeal to a wide cross-section of romance, fantasy and steampunk fans.
(Oct.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Sounds interesting enough!
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The cover itself is pretty snappy. Very Victorian with just enough Steampunk that doesn't drown the image in clockwork or brass. Hopefully this will be one of the few novels whose cover is actually true to the book. (Let's face it, we ALL judge a book by its cover.)
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Expectations: The Victorian Era is my favorite. Though Steampunk is a fascinating concept, I have yet to come across an interesting and well executed story in that particular genre. It's usually too many goggles, watches, swords and airships and not enough character deveopment or unique plot. So, considering that the protagonist, Alexia Tarabotti, is apparently Soulless with a big nose makes her sound like a good character that I could like. And there's mention of a gay vampire as her besty. That could be awesome.
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Here's hoping this book is a winner!