Saturday, July 20, 2013

Thief of Shadows

The title: Thief of Shadows
The author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Publication:  Hachette, 2012
Got it from: Indigo Saint John, 2012

This book suffered from an unfortunate case of "lateritis."  I was reading it and enjoying it, and then whoops, I was going away on vacation.  Then I picked it up and started reading it again, and oops, I had to read some books that were due back at the library.  The end result was that my reading of this book was very fragmented.  Which is a shame, because I thoroughly enjoyed it and it did not deserve to be kept on the back burner.  But such is the case when you have a TBR list as enormous as mine.

This is the fourth book in the Maiden Lane series, set in early 1700's London.  (Note - I have not read the other books in the series).  The hero is Winter Makepeace, a very serious, almost humourless manager of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children - at least by day.  By night he is the Ghost of St. Giles, a masked crimefighter who protects the innocent and rescues people in one of London's most notorious slums.  Lady Isabel Beckinhall is a widow who rescues the Ghost one night and likes what she sees.  She is also on a charity committee for the orphanage, and Winter is in danger of being ousted as manager.  Isabel must tutor him in the ways of polite society so he can keep his position.  He doesn't take the tutoring well.

I loved this book.  The 18th century is an unusual setting for a historical romance, and it made the whole masked crimefighter plot more believable.  (FYI - I bought this book for the masked crimefighter plot.  It's possibly my most favourite romance trope).  The differences between the hero and the heroine made for an interesting dynamic.  Isabel is a full six years older than Winter (she's 32), and she's rich, titled, and worldly.  By contrast, Winter grew up in poverty, is very straightforward and practical and has no experience in the world of the aristocracy - and he's also a virgin.  Winter is a great hero and a refreshing change from the usual rogues and rakes.  He cares deeply about the children in his care and uses his alter ego as the ghost to stop their abuse.  It's fun to watch Isabel turn him into more of a badass, in a sexy way.

I have only one minor quibble with the book.  Characters from the other books in the series kept popping up or were referenced and I couldn't keep them straight.  I suppose that can happen when you want someone to read the whole series.  But I can't complain too much since I really enjoyed the book. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells

The title: Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy
The author: Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (editors)
Publication:  Tor Books, 2013 
Got it from: The library

"Gaslamp fantasy," as the introduction to this book explains, is a work of fantasy set at any time during the era of gaslamps (primarily the nineteenth century).  The idea immediately conjures up steampunk, although that is just one subgenre of gaslamp.  (Incidentally, only one of the short stories in this anthology is what I would call steampunk: "Their Monstrous Minds," a Frankenstein retelling by Tanith Lee.)  The stories in this collection are all over the place: some deal with Queen Victoria, others with subjects like the Great Exhibition, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dickens, the cholera epidemic and spiritualism.  All the stories have some aspect of the fantastic.

As with any collection of short stories, I enjoyed some more than others.  The most lighthearted is the title story by Delia Sherman, in which a modern-day scholar discovers that Queen Victoria may have used magic for her own selfish ends.  "The Unwanted Women of Surrey" by Kaaron Warren highlights the vulnerability of women who were considered mentally ill in the Victorian era, set amidst the Broad Street cholera outbreak of 1854 (an event I've been interested in since reading Steven Johnson's fascinating book The Ghost Map.)  "Estella Saves the Village" by Theodora Goss is a fun story of Victorian literature lovers as it imagines a village inhabited by characters from Great Expectations, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre and Sherlock Holmes, etc and in which Estella must solve a mystery a la Flavia de Luce.  The real reason I picked up this book was for Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer's "The Vital Importance of the Superficial."  Fans of Sorcery & Cecelia will not be disappointed by this laugh-out-loud story told in letters. 

But if I remember one story above all others, it will be James P. Blaylock's fascinating and eerie"Smithfield."  In it, Arthur Conan Doyle is photographing a street on London on the last night before it gets electricity.  It's a brilliant meditation on what we lose with progress.  With perpetual daylight, have we lost the ghosts of the past?  It perfectly encapsulates what I find fascinating about the nineteenth century, which I consider the key turning point in history, where the old world meets the modern one.  At the end of the story Blaylock states, "I'm not at all fond of the idea that the world as I've come to know it is passing away."  Any thoughtful person would agree.