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.

“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.

Book Beginnings on Fridays

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme hosted at Rose City Reader designed to feature the book you are reading right now by sharing the first few lines of the story.

After work today I’m digging into Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost.

Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost

“I parked my bike in front of the restaurant, wiping the perspiration from my upper lip.”

An odd way to start a romance novel, and one that’s as burning hot as it’s title suggests from what I’ve heard, but I have no doubt that Frost will deliver. Fans have been waiting for Vlad’s story for years, and the first part is finally here!

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

 She’s a mortal with dark powers…

After a tragic accident scarred her body and destroyed her dreams, Leila never imagined that the worst was still to come: terrifying powers that let her channel electricity and learn a person’s darkest secrets through a single touch. Leila is doomed to a life of solitude…until creatures of the night kidnap her, forcing her to reach out with a telepathic distress call to the world’s most infamous vampire…

He’s the Prince of Night…

Vlad Tepesh inspired the greatest vampire legend of all—but whatever you do, don’t call him Dracula. Vlad’s ability to control fire makes him one of the most feared vampires in existence, but his enemies have found a new weapon against him—a beautiful mortal with powers to match his own. When Vlad and Leila meet, however, passion ignites between them, threatening to consume them both. It will take everything that they are to stop an enemy intent on bringing them down in flames.

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.

While I’m drowning in the tears that can only be brought on by The Reichenbach Fall, perhaps I’ll drink away my sorrows with some of these delightful Sherlock blend teas. I’m particularly curious to try Moriartea.

Heroes and Heartbreakers had some interesting television news this week. Apparently, come fall we will have a new Beauty and the Beast adaptation, this time with an update of the classic 80’s TV show. I can’t help but be rather disappointed with the trailer (and not only because I was an adamant Lana hater during the Smallville years). I’m sorry, but a little facial scar does not a beast make, especially when the monstrous attitude is replaced with a penchant for altruism. From the snippets we get here, it looks like he might become a tad more beastly when he’s in angry mode…but, no, wait- scratch that, he’s still handsome. Oh, well. At least we still have time to hope that the Anne of Green Gables modern update is better. But honestly, I’ll take Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie any day.

The Piper’s Son happens to be my favorite Melina Marchetta, and Kat Kennedy over at the Cuddlebuggery Book Blog recently wrote a wonderful review that expresses all the reasons I love this book more eloquently than I could. In other Marchetta-related news, according to Goodreads, the fourth book in the Lumatere Chronicles has a name, and it’s…Ferragost. Thoughts? Do you think this the official title, as it doesn’t really fit in with the first three.

There’s some interesting discussion of late about just what dystopian actually means, and how it differs from post-apocalyptic fic.

I’m guaranteed to track down this Princess Bride-inspired wine pack for my next dinner party. And don’t worry, according to the website, the Inconceivable Cab holds no traces of iocane powder.

I can’t help but love reading Amber at Down the Rabbit Hole’s reactions to recently completing her first viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While I don’t agree with everything in her post about why Buffy and Spike are meant to be, she makes some good points nonetheless. I’m even more interested to hear what she has to say about her foray into the world of Season 8 comics, as I’ve abstained from them myself. Personally, I love how Whedon ended the show, and while I’m somewhat intrigued by what I’ve read of the comic continuation, I’m also too apprehensive to delve in myself.

The world lost a wonderful writer last week. As always, Neil Gaiman’s words regarding the love he held for Ray Bradbury’s work are beautifully poignant and a lovely tribute.

A Spell of Vengeance by D.B. Jackson

I’ve been salivating for D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker since spotting the gorgeous Chris McGrath cover last year, and was so excited to receive an advance copy from NetGalley. The short story, “A Spell of Vengeance,” written for makes me all the more excited to read it this weekend.

Once again, the scientific community has made a discovery that has gone shockingly unremarked-upon by the general populace. Bulgarian archaeologists have uncovered human remains from the Middle Ages with iron stakes protruding from their chests. These skeletons serve as evidence of actual vampire hunting back in the day. Beware, ye squeamish; the link leads to some relatively graphic images.

Jeaniene Frost and Ilona Andrews had a Twitter battle on behalf of their respective heroes, Bones and Curran. I think this speaks for itself.

Lynn Flewelling has written a short story in which Seregil from her Nightrunner series and Bast from Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind have a cage fight. I’ve never actually read Rothfuss (I know, I’m getting on it), but regardless, my money’s on Seregil every time.

And possibly one of the best things I’ve ever seen, Super Mercado has graced the world with Game of Thrones of Muppets. While they’re all super clever and fit in with the real cast surprisingly well, I think I stopped breathing when my eyes landed on Petyr Beakish and Dr. Varys Honeydew.

Title and Cover Release: Lover At Last by J.R. Ward

Earlier last week, J.R. Ward teased fans that we should be expecting an exciting reveal soon. Well, this morning she delivered on her promise, revealing not only the title of the next book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, but the cover as well!

Fans have been clamoring for Qhuinn and Blay to have their story elevated from a sideplot for years now. Last year, Ward stated that she believed her publishers would allow her to tell Qhuay’s story in a novella. Then, late last year, Ward hinted that she had huge news to reveal at the signing for Lover Reborn. Qhuay fans rejoiced and crossed our fingers that our wishes had actually been granted, and in March of this year our waiting finally paid off as we received the news that the next full-length installment in the BDB series would in fact be Qhuay’s story.

Lover At Last by J.R. Ward

Lover At Last, indeed, as this story has been fueling the series slowly on the sidelines since Lover Unbound was released back in 2007. Not only am I very pleased with the final title selection for Qhuay’s novel, but the cover is nearly perfect. I love how Qhuinn is depicted quite differently than the rest of the Brothers who have come before him; that sweatshirt hood really works wonders to set him apart. And it definitely is Qhuinn, based on those electric blue and green eyes. My only regret is that the publishers didn’t push the envelope that last inch and let Blay grace the cover alongside his partner, but if only one character could get the cover spotlight, I’m glad they chose Qhuinn. Though I love both characters, I’ve found Qhuinn’s development over the last few books to be the more dynamic of the two and, if indications from Lover Reborn play out the way I expect them to, then Qhuinn will soon be inducted as the newest member of the Brotherhood, so it’s only fitting that it’s him on the cover.

What do you guys think? Has the wait been worth it? Are you happy with the title and cover, or would you have gone in a different direction? And most importantly, is everyone as anxious for March 2013 to get here as I am?

“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.

Review: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Julie Kagawa’s The Iron King and I got off on the wrong foot. While struggling through the first in her Iron Fey series, I continually felt as if the blogging community had pulled one over on me, because for the life of me I simply couldn’t see the awesomeness that everyone else was gushing over. It was a serviceable take on fey lore, at best, and Kagawa’s reliance on pretentious metaphor was about as subtle as a semi truck. Yet, recently the blogosphere has been alit with excitement once again for The Immortal Rules, the first in Kagawa’s new Blood of Eden series. So before I wrote Kagawa off for good, I decided to give her one more shot to wow me, this time with vampire tropes in tow.

I’m sure there are many readers who appreciate a headstrong, stubborn female. Many

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

will see her as a welcome divergence from the weak-willed women who rely on others to save them, the damsels in distress who give reliant women a bad name. I am not one of those readers, because for me, it takes more than sheer determination to demonstrate strength of character. Allison has determination in spades, and unfortunately it’s the kind I dislike the most. She makes her own decisions, dependence be damned, yet those decisions aren’t reasoned, at least not to any degree reflected in the narrative. I’ve forgone many series for failure to connect with the main character, due mostly to my inevitable distaste for women who act before they think. Rose Hathaway from Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series springs to mind as an exemplar of this most detestable of character types. Standing in contrast, Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels and Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax are wonderful examples of female characters whose strength is demonstrated not only through physical skill, but also through their abilities and willingness to utilize the fellow human resources at their disposal.

Honestly, Allison barely undergoes enough interactions with others to provide her with the opportunity to work together rather than blindly be contrary, yet the opportunities she does have, she squanders. Her decision to aid the ragtag band of humans she encounters speaks less to the connections she forms with its members than it does to the fact that she is fighting against her new vampire nature. While this might be an understandable reaction, it’s not groundbreaking, which rather sums up my reaction to the entire novel. As with her interpretation of fey lore, Kagawa has seemingly reconstructed the well-known tropes of past vampire legend in The Immortal Rules. Granted, literature, to a large extent, is necessarily a process of rehashing previous ideas into new formations. Yet while the most successful authors accomplish this feat seamlessly, Kagawa’s edges are so sharp, they basically point directly to her source material.

Nearly every aspect of vampire mythology described in The Immortal Rules is a derivative of earlier, better vampire stories. Yet perhaps the most troubling similarities I spotted are shared with the author who seemed to spark the current young adult vampire craze. I won’t name names, but surely I’m not the only one who noticed the parallels to two of a certain author’s series, one young adult paranormal and the other adult science fiction. An angst-ridden, self-loathing vampire? Present. Innate ninja skills upon being sired? Check. An uneasy alliance with a distrustful band of survivors seeking to eradicate the existence of your race (with a leader named Jeb)? Done and done. A beautiful boy who overcomes his initial hatred of girl’s inhuman existence to find le love? Got it. Girl’s rechristening as Wanderer? The list goes on.

I won’t spend much time analyzing the formation of the romantic relationship here, because even amidst the sea of hormone-induced instaloves rampant in young adult literature, there is no foundation for Allison and Zeke’s attraction. More confounding is the evolution of Allison’s relationship with her band of humans after they discover her true nature. A little calm, reasoned lecturing and she is able to make first Zeke, then Jeb- religious zealot Jeb- recant the convictions that served as their sole buoy for most of their lives in order to trust her. Well before the halfway point, I began to miss Kanin’s presence if for no other reason than the fact that, unlike vanilla Zeke, I enjoy the strong, silent trope. Unfortunately, given Allison’s reaction to her vampire “brother,” I suspect that Kagawa is going to develop this relationship in a decidedly paternal direction. It’s rare that I request a love triangle, but in this case I think it could only improve things.

When I read a rather mediocre redo such as The Immortal Rules, I fear that kids will neglect the classics of the genre-Dracula, Anne Rice, Let the Right One In, I Am Legend (from which The Immortal Rules essentially stole what little plot it provides)-in lieu of these derivatives. And it’s not an original derivative at that. See authors such as Delilah S. Dawson, Ilona Andrews, and Clay and Susan Griffith for some new takes on the classic vampire theme. Suffice it to say, I am not a Kagawa fan, and while her sentences might flow nicely, her substance is severely lacking.

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.