Review: The Mysterious Madam Morpho by Delilah S. Dawson

Last year, Dawson’s debut novel Wicked As They Come introduced one of the most unique and delightful landscapes I’ve come across in the paranormal genre for a long time. The world of Sang is dark, twisted, wonderfully irreverent and impossibly sexy.  In this novella, Dawson plunges readers back into her world, and I couldn’t be happier to return.

The story is rather short yet surprisingly well-developed for its truncated page time. Dawson effectively balances the necessity of reuniting us with past characters (because what Blud book would be complete without an appearance from Criminy?) with further developing the characters and creations that populate her fantasy world. I was so pleased with the pace of the worldbuilding with this novella, as it allows us a better glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the caravan as well as a taste of life in the cities. I adored Mr. Murdoch and could have read twice as many pages recounting the various inventions he has contributed to the circus. Madam Morpho’s talent is equally as enchanting, and while I won’t spoil some of the surprises that are in store by going into detail about how her show really works, I will say that Dawson has succeeded in emphasizing the steampunk underpinnings of her story in a way that I haven’t seen before.

As for the characters, I didn’t connect as strongly with Madam Morpho as I had

The Mysterious Madam Morpho by Delilah S. Dawson

with Trish, which proved to be somewhat of a struggle as I read, but her chemistry with Mr. Murdoch more than made up for any shortcomings I found in her character. I wish we could have gained a bit more insight into Mr. Murdoch’s psychology, as it plays quite an important role in the story and I felt that the story ended on a rather unresolved note. Yet in this regard Madam Morpho‘s ending was rather similar to the resolution of Tish and Criminy’s story in the previous book, and Dawson has shown that she is willing and eager to revisit their storyline, so I’m hoping that further installments in the series give us more insight into how Madam Morpho and Mr. Murdoch’s relationship allows each character to grow past their insecurities.

Overall, The Mysterious Madam Morpho is a great installment in the series and makes me greedy to get my hands on the second book, Wicked As She Wants, next year.

Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

I’ve said it before, and I’ll reiterate: I do not take authors messing with my Jane Eyre lightly. If you are going to attempt to paint a new gloss over something that has already been perfected to my eyes, you’re going to have to bring something completely new to the table. In this regard, I applaud Connolly’s efforts to entwine a fey glamour over the well known Bronte tale, but I can’t say that she pulled off all she hoped to achieve.

Ironskin suffers from a dissonance between Connolly’s desire to adapt Jane Eyre and her desire to write an original fantasy work. The result feels like Connolly’s take on how she would have written Jane Eyre had she gotten first crack at it rather than a reimagining or tribute. Nevertheless, Connolly introduces some interesting ideas and I can’t help but feel that she ultimately did herself a disservice by trying to shoehorn her story into such a well-known mould; she would have done better to eschew comparisons and simply tell her own tale.

Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Jane Eliot is fundamentally different than Jane Eyre. Perhaps, considering our own reactions were we placed in Jane Eyre’s shoes, many of us feel that Jane Eyre should have felt rage at her situation, yet the very fact that she didn’t defines her character. It’s what sets her apart from and above her peers, what gives her the beauty that shines through an ordinary exterior. Where Jane Eliot allows the rage to take root, Jane Eyre lived above it. Where Jane Eliot yearns for normality badly enough to take drastic, disturbing measures to achieve it, Jane Eyre accepted herself with pride and grace if not always with pleasure. This was one of my biggest points of contention with the book, for in the original it is Rochester who needs reminding that Jane is as she is and won’t be changed. In Ironskin, it is Jane herself who succumbs to shallow desires and embraces superficiality. Making the decision a supposedly crucial plot point does nothing to lessen my disappointment in Jane’s decision and underscores the fact that this is not the same Jane I’ve come to love.

Rochert had potential as a reincarnation of Rochester yet, like so many who have tried before, Connolly fails to grasp Rochester’s essential nature. His depiction quite confused me, really. We are told of his internal suffering, but it doesn’t truly play out on the page. Before we learn of his deep, dark secret, I had actually gained the impression that he was in fact a warm man, loving of his daughter and wife both, not doggedly attempting to hold back the defeating force of his past as Rochester was. We are given so little page time with Rochert that he is never fleshed out (never mind the utter lack of chemistry between him and Jane). I rather liked the dimension Connolly added with his somewhat addled composure concerning the fey, but this too is inadequately addressed.

The greatest interpretations of character for me were Dorie and Poule, as Jane must work at her relationship with both much moreso than in the original. Though I never warmed to Dorie (in truth, she freaks me out more than a little), her storyline was one of the few that suggested the story would have been better off told as an original work. Poule also intrigued me, particularly as she and Jane formed something of a team here, so unlike Jane’s wary regard of Poole in the original. I wish we could have learned a bit more about Poule’s heritage, as it was one of several threads of fantasy worldbuilding that offered a promising story yet was not fully explained.

Overall, I couldn’t tell if Connolly truly wanted to retell our beloved story. Aside from the character names and a rough outline of the plot, so few critical elements of the original story remain. The pacing barely reflects that of the original, throwing Jane into her new employ on the first page, rearranging key scenes and completely eliminating the character of St. John. Whether this is meant to be a permanent feature of the series or whether Connolly introduces St. John in the next book remains to be seen. Jane’s background is completely altered, which likely goes far in explaining her drastic personality change. Whereas the unforgiving environments of her aunt’s home and Lowood shaped Jane Eyre into a strong woman determined to resist the scorn thrust upon her lowly station, Jane Eliot’s abrupt reversal of fortune at a later age made her resentful and proud.

Ultimately, Connolly seemed to want to write a fantasy, and Jane and Rochert’s relationship suffered for it. While her take on the bedroom scene is a novel change, it failed to make up for the numerous other iconic interactions that defined both characters in the original, yet that were missing from this novel. Though I was initially intrigued by the mask plotline, this too wound but being merely a grotesque externalization of conflict that distorted the subtle genius of the original.

I was also confused by Connolly’s repeated references to other classic works. Surely Bronte was influenced by those who came before her, yet she allowed those guiding voices to shape her story without stealing heavy-handed elements. Connolly not only mentions tales such as Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin, but she goes so far as to incorporate threads of these tales into the story, which merely adds to the disjointed feel. It’s a shame, since, divorced from recollections of her predecessor, I rather liked Jane. The fey world Connolly has created seems rather fascinating, but we are given the barest glimpses of it. I’m also not quite sure that this work is best described as steampunk, but that characterization will suffice. Overall, Ironskin had promise, but ambivalence regarding the extent to which this was meant to be a retelling ultimately resulted in a failed execution of interesting ideas.

“Waiting On” Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a meme created at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases that we can’t wait to read.

Today I was super excited to see the cover reveal for The Mysterious Madam Morpho by Delilah S. Dawson.

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

An elusive woman arrives at Criminy’s doorstep with a steamer

The Mysterious Madam Morpho by Delilah S. Dawson

trunk, begging for a position in the caravan to perform her unique new act. She opens her trunk to reveal a menagerie of brilliantly colored butterflies. The woman, who calls herself Madam Morpho, is on the run from a dark past in London, where she was forced to leave her equipment behind and abscond with only her tiny performers. Playing a hunch, Criminy hires Madam Morpho on the spot. Taking her down to meet Mr. Murdoch, the reclusive talented engineer who keeps the carnival’s clockworks running, Criminy instructs them to work together to design and build a groundbreaking new circus for the butterflies. Amid the magical ambiance of the circus and the hint of danger from Madam Morpho’s pursuers, she and Mr. Murdoch soon find that their scientific collaboration has produced chemistry of a more romantic kind.

I really enjoyed the first in Dawson’s Blud series and so can’t wait to see how she continues to build the world of Sang in this novella.

This title is released on October 2, 2012.

Meandering Around the Interweb

In my various hours of wandering through book blogs far and wide, I’ve come across some pretty fantastic posts lately, so I thought I would spotlight my favorites. Hopefully I can make this a semi-regular feature, although my laziness will test the bounds of my determination to do so, so stay tuned for now.

  • Ever have difficulty picturing a character as you read? Well, next time you’re puzzling over how to visualize the characters in a steampunk work, have no fear. Prada has done all the work for us, producing a gorgeous photo-shoot starring Gary Oldman, Garrett Hedlund, Willem Dafoe, and Jamie Bell wearing all manner of gorgeous steampunk duds.
  • Obviously I’m unforgivably late in realizing that J.K. Rowling wrote this brief Harry Potter prequel. I know I’m not the only one upset that she has stated her intentions not to write a Maurauders-era book, but this just compounds the disappointment.
  • In more Harry Potter-related news, it seems Daniel Radcliffe is the latest of the films’ stars to hop on the music video bandwagon. I tend to agree with the writer of this article in finding DanRad’s performance a benefit to his resume. What do you guys think of Radcliffe’s, Grint’s, and Watson’s performances? Should they stick to film?
  • And since there’s never too much of a good thing, this weekend I’m hoping to try out some of these Harry Potter-inspired cocktails. Thankfully, there are plenty to choose from, because I’m having a hard time choosing which to try first.
  • If you’re like me, you tend to collect unusual words. Well, this article on 25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist in English will give you a few more for your collection. I’m particularly partial to Forelsket and Waldeinsamkeit.
  • I’ve been reading a lot lately about New Adult, how it differs from Adult and Young Adult fiction, and whether it should be classified as its own genre. For the Love of Contemporary, Chachic, Megan Burke, and Catie at The Readventurer have all had their say on the topic. I’m still undecided on my stance; I’d say around half of my favorite “young adult” books technically fit the description for New Adult, but I’m not sure segmenting out a new genre would be a benefit or a hindrance.

Created by droll to echo

  • Tor’s newsletter is always a goldmine of goodies, and this week was no exception. Check out the amazing Sherlock-inspired medieval tapestries at droll to echo’s blog.
  • Emily at Emily’s Reading Room recently wrote a lovely article on what it means to be a member of the book blogging community.
  • Kathy at A Glass of Wine wrote a great post about whether characters have to be likable or not in order for us to sympathize with them as readers. While my initial inclination was to say yes, I have to admit that I do love many of the decidedly unlikable characters she’s mentioned.
  • Courtney Summers recently wrote a great comparison of the book and movie versions of The Woman in Black for The Readventurer. I’ve only seen the movie, and I quite liked it, but after reading what she has to say, I’m on the lookout for a copy of Hill’s classic novel to compare for myself.
  • And finally, I come across a lot of bookshelves that I covet, but this one is in a league of its own.

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Thrifting with Delilah S. Dawson: Secondhand Adventures Await with Steampunk

Starting a new hobby usually involves opening your wallet. You can’t play tennis without a racquet, new shoes, and lessons with a cute pro. You can’t take up music without an expensive instrument. In short, you have to pay to play. The sad truth is that most of us love investing in a new hobby but can’t always afford it.

Not so with steampunk.

Steampunk is a reimagining of Victorian science fiction and fashion centered on technology, rebellion, and adventure. When you get into the steampunk scene, handmade and hand-modified is king. At a steampunk event, people love nothing so much as seeing an interesting device, a unique piece of jewelry, or a modified Nerf Gun with an interesting color scheme. “How’d you make that?” is one of the most uttered phrases. People will ask to take your picture or sit down next to you to find out how you made your bustle. While there are some lovely (and expensive!) costume pieces available, handmade is valued just as highly as professionally made. And for a frugal crafter like myself, that’s thrilling.

Take my Queen of Hearts hat, for example. I saw a corset made of stapled playing cards on Pinterest and thought, “I can do that.” So I found an old deck of cards and some feathers, grabbed my stapler, and got to work. The finished hat took less than an hour to make and was a big hit at STEAMFest, a yearly steampunk festival by The Artifice Club in Atlanta.

And thrift stores are a great place to find inspiration. You might be surprised at what you can put together for practically nothing. With the exception of a few corsets bought on sale from Damsel in this Dress (on Etsy/on Artfire), the majority of my steampunk wardrobe is thrifted. Broomstick skirts can be layered and hiked. Lacy tank tops and blouses go great with vests and corsets. Consider button down shirts with bow ties, jackets, vests, or suspenders for guys. Costume jewelry can be glued together or onto pin backs. And it doesn’t have to be professionally sewn, either—glue guns and safety pins are your friends.

That’s one of the things I love so much about steampunk. For a minimal monetary investment and some imagination, you buy your ticket into an alternative world where you can be a character of your own invention. Whether you want to be a sky captain, a dandy, an exiled princess, an adventurer, a mad scientist, or just an everyday enthusiast, you get to tell your own story through your costume and accessories. It’s the next closest thing to writing a novel, but without all that pesky editing.

And if you need inspiration of the literary sort, check out the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, the Iron Seas series by Meljean Brook, the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and the Infernal Devices YA series by Cassandra Clare. Or my own Wicked as They Come, but you’re going to need a lot of protective clothing, if you plan on venturing near the bludbunnies.

Delilah S. Dawson is the author of WICKED AS THEY COME, the first in a steampunk paranormal romance series from Pocket/Simon & Schuster. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or on her blog, where she often showcases her adventures in thrifting

“Waiting On” Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a meme created at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases that we can’t wait to read.

 This week I’m so excited to finally see the amazing Chris McGrath cover for the last book in The Vampire Empire series, The Kingmakers by Clay and Susan Griffith.
There’s no summary available yet, but it doesn’t matter because this series is solid on every level: action, suspense, worldbuilding, character growth, romance. It’s got it all.
This title is released in September 2012.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays is a meme started over on Should Be Reading that presents a different literary-themed question every week.

This week’s question is: Do you listen to audiobooks? If not, why not? And, if so, what has been one of your favorites, so far?

If I were to try out audiobooks, I could do worse than The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith, since it's narrated by none other than James Marsters.

As I’ve answered this question for a previous Musing Mondays post, I’ll save space and link to my answer here. Although I have to amend my previous statement by adding that I’ve at least contemplated giving audiobooks a try over the past few months. I’ve yet to actually follow through on the impulse, but the boredom during long car trips to visit my boyfriend has made me more amenable to the idea of trying one out. Still, they’re just too expensive for my taste so far.

Playlist: Wicked As They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

I’ve never been one who can listen to music while I read, and can barely even tolerate any background noise most of the time. But sometimes, I can’t help but imagine what the characters in a book would be hearing as a soundtrack to their adventures.

 With a landscape equal parts gypsy, circus, steampunk, and gothic romance, Wicked As They Come by Delilah S. Dawson evoked so many wonderful tunes as I read. I couldn’t resist the urge to compile a soundtrack to accompany Criminy and Tish’s adventures.

Wicked As They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

This House Is a Circus by Arctic Monkeys

Review: Wicked As They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

Wicked As They Come has been on my waiting list since I first heard about it. A blend of paranormal, time travel, and steampunk elements, the story seemed undeniably up my alley. If there is one aspect at which Dawson excels, it’s in her potential for worldbuilding, because Wicked As They Come presents one of the more engaging and exciting landscapes I’ve come across of late. The first hundred pages or so are rather dense reading, for it’s a tall order to introduce readers to the world of Sang. Yet I was on board with Dawson all the way, delighting in protagonist Tish’s introduction to bludbunnies, magic, and a world altogether different from ours that is made all the eerier by the occasional similarities to the real world.

Wicked As They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

Dawson’s construction of Sang and its characters is truly what carries the novel. Sang is the lovechild of Lewis Carroll and Tim Burton, a world that embodies the concept of stepping into a dream. Perhaps the metaphor is a tad heavy-handed, as Tish’s conveyance back and forth between worlds actually is accomplished through dreams, yet the surreal quality that this device lends to Dawson’s worldbuilding is ultimately an attribute.  Particularly well-handled was the concept of blood as currency and the natural evolution of bludded animals into the dominant species. Unfortunately, as the story progressed, Dawson’s attention to detail diminished somewhat, and many elements seemed either inadequately explained (such as the reason behind the Bludded’s scaled hands) or gratuitously included (mainly the submarine and kraken, though at least it isn’t a dirigible). I also found myself continually getting tripped up in the internal logic of many of the plot twists. For instance, though Criminy states that Tish’s world and Sang are but two of many, it’s later speculated that every person from Tish’s world who becomes mentally incompetent or dies winds up in Sang. Why should they not end up in one of the many other worlds? The questions piled up toward the end of the book, but I’m not sure whether they were the result of poorly considered worldbuilding rules or my own failure to pick up on the explanations.

I read that Dawson originally intended her series to be an epic fantasy triad, but her publishers convinced her to turn it into a standard paranormal romance. In this instance, I feel her publishers did her a disservice, for the world of Sang held such potential had Dawson been allowed the opportunity to explore it. Yet, I feel that by forcing her original story into a new mould, Wicked As They Come lost much of its steam; I could sense the excitement petering out only a third of the way in, due in large part to the insufficiency of instalove and a poorly crafted, utterly unnecessary love triangle. It’s clear that the inclusion of the latter was meant to serve as a spinoff for the next book in the series, yet Tish’s affections for Casper felt totally artificial and undermined the disbelief I had already suspended in order to connect to her relationship with Criminy. The mistake apparent in shoehorning the Blud series into the paranormal genre was evidenced by the adequate yet decidedly unsteamy love scenes. I read that Dawson inserted them despite her initial inclinations, and it showed.

It’s rare for me that the characterization takes a backseat to the world, yet neither Tish nor Criminy surpassed my interest in Sang. Tish, at least, avoids the TSTL trap that is so prevalent for heroines in the paranormal genre, though her dogged insistence on maintaining her freedom gets somewhat tiring. For all intents and purposes, Criminy should have been an ideal character for me: a tall, dark gypsy showman adept at prestidigitation and only slightly mad. It’s this last qualifier that was the real draw for me, as I tend to gravitate toward characters who are broken in some way. Unfortunately, Dawson emphasized the “slightly” over the “mad,” and Criminy never achieved the level of cautiously approachable insanity that I was hoping for. Dawson seemed to spend little time on crafting her secondary characters beyond their physical descriptions, and none really held much of a presence. I might have forgiven this had she not toned down the dangerously unhinged quality that I had anticipated for Criminy, but alas, it seems the masses aren’t prone to sympathize with happily mad characters.

While trying to explain to my boyfriend how Dawson’s take on vampirism was refreshingly unique, I realized that the discrete elements of her lore aren’t all that original. Without naming names, I think we can all recall having read stories in which vampires aren’t called by that name, aren’t prey to garlic, mirrors, or the sun, are a living and distinct race, and have increased longevity and healing powers. Yet, the way that Dawson conveys these points manages to make the tired vampire tale feel new.

Wicked As They Come started out as a four cup novel, but Dawson never reached the potential that I saw early on. I’ll probably stick around for the second novel, hoping beyond hope that Dawson allows herself to follow some of her original instincts and lets Sang become slightly creepier, stranger, and more dangerously seductive.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish that allows us to list our top ten answers to a different question each week.

This week’s theme is: Top Ten Books I’d Recommend To Someone Who Doesn’t Read X

I’m going to cheat a bit, since I can’t decide among the genres I usually read, and do five books each for romance, fantasy, and young adult.

Top Ten Books I’d Recommend To Someone Who Doesn’t Read Romance

1. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

This one might not be considered a romance in the strictest sense, but it is simple and innocent and so lovely.

2. The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley

This novel defies romance reader expectations, going against the grain to deliver a hero unlike any I’ve seen in the genre before.

3. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

Crusie infuses her novel with enough humor and palpable chemistry between her leads to win over even the harshest critics.

4. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

Considered one of the seminal historical romances, Chase’s dialogue  is highly engaging and the plot substantial enough to pique picky readers’ interest.

5. When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

James creates a relationship between her two characters that is sustained by mutual equality and respect rather than misunderstanding and manipulation.

Top Ten Books I’d Recommend To Someone Who Doesn’t Read Fantasy

1. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Any Gaiman work could win over fantasy-wary readers; Neverwhere just happens to be my favorite.

2. Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

Card effortlessly weaves Russian folklore into a tapestry of fairy tale, horror, romance, and coming-of-age triumph.

3. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

While not an urban fantasy, Snyder’s writing has all the accessibility of the genre along with a unique plot and a heroine to root for.

4. The Native Star by M.K. Hobson

Part steampunk magic, part romance, and part western adventure, Hobson’s world is unlike any I’ve encountered before.

5. Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Each book in the Toby Daye series is better than the last. This is one of the best urban fantasies out there, with fae, folklore, romance, a genuinely relatable and capable heroine, and humor to spare.

Top Ten Books I’d Recommend To Someone Who Doesn’t Read Young Adult

1. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

It does a disservice to Marchetta’s writing to limit it to young readers. The complexity of her stories can appeal to young and mature readers alike.

2. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

A lesser known work by the author of the much lauded The Book Thief, this coming-of-age story is thought-provoking and highlights the beauty that can be found in even the most dire circumstances.

3. The China Garden by Liz Berry

Sadly overlooked amidst the masses of paranormals, this is a quiet modern fairy tale that treads new ground without abandoning its simplicity.

4. The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

A novel in verse that explores the divergent yet resonant voices of high school students.

5. Beauty by Robin McKinley

This Beauty and the Beast adaptation transcends generations. It remains one of the best and most beautiful iterations of the tale.