Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sci Fi Sunday - Gail Carriger's Soulless

Good morning and welcome to Sci Fi Sunday! At least for now, Reality Check is done. It's been subbed and we're awaiting the results. In the meantime, we'd like to discuss Steampunk, and the new story we're working on. Never fear, you'll hear of Reno and Kay again, but we have new boys to bring you! And theirs is a Steampunk world.

My daughter Sarah wrote a review of Gail Carriger's novel Soulless, first in her Parasol Protectorate series. It's the first modern Steampunk I'd read, and I can directly attribute my reading it to my daughter's review, so here it is, and enjoy!

Soulless: Parasol Protectorate book 1  
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Orbit
American release date: October 1st 2009
Format/Genre/Length: Novel/Supernatural/357 pages
Publisher/Industry Age Rating: Older Teen
Overall Personal Rating: C+
Similar series/titles to check out: Leviathan; Discworld; the Sookie Stackhouse novels

In an alternative Victorian-era England where werewolves and vampires are accepted occurrences and steampunk reigns supreme, it takes a young woman from high society who has no soul to cut through the nonsense and get to the important matters - like when the treacle tart is to be served.


Alexia Tarabotti, half-Italian spinster with no soul who loves food, is greatly offended when she is attacked by a half-starved vampire during a social outing, a terrible breach of etiquette not to mention not very good for her health. She manages to kill the vampire with her parasol and a wooden stake/hair pin, thus bringing the attention of BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry) on her as well as the queen of a nearby vampire hive. Luckily one of BUR's top officials arrives in the form of the dashing upper crust rogue/werewolf Lord Maccon, who is ordered by the Queen herself to investigate the matter; he is already an acquaintance of Miss Tarabotti and swears to protect her from those who wish harm on her - well, if they could stop squabbling at each other and work together in peace. Accompanying him is Professor Lyall, second in command and the arguable voice of reason among BUR, who honestly thinks Alexia and His Lordship could be very close friends if they gave their silly games a break for just one minute.

It soon becomes evident that the problem facing London's supernatural society is bigger than imagined as vampires unregistered and unrecognized start appearing around town, while registered vampires who are associated with known hives are disappearing without a trace. And it isn't just the vampires in a frenzy, as BUR's werewolves are finding out the hard way. Even Lord Akeldama, the foppish gossip king of London, doesn't know what's going on. As a soulless - someone who can drain the paranormal abilities of a vampire or werewolf with just a touch - Alexia becomes an unwilling target for all the blame, and she's not terribly pleased about it. As danger looms nearer, it's up to Alexia Tarabotti to unravel the mystery of these disappearances before her reputation is ruined forever and her status as a soulless is revealed - or worse, a painful and unbecoming death.


I must confess: I have not read much steampunk. I am also not the biggest fan of either werewolves or vampires. I also do not read a lot of Victorian lit, either from the era or inspired by it. Having said that, you would think I'd avoid a novel like Soulless by author Gail Carriger, which combines all of the above into one work. I picked the title up in the name of morbid curiosity, and found myself drawn into a solid story with some bumps in the road that kept it from being excellent. Not terrible, but not golden. Having said that, fans of the genre of fiction that centers around characters of the paranormal persuasion will love this book. Each race of fantastic creatures each have their own mythos that is slightly different than the ones paraded around in Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. Not to mention, they are all terribly polite to the point that it plagues the rules of their species - an amusing side-effect from being born in times of Victorian niceties. In an era of novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it's nice to see someone play the bloody tropes straight and have their world of petticoats and hansom cabs accept the presence of werewolves and vampires without having to outright wage war on them.

Fans of steampunk, I'm sorry to say, should find their cogs and gears fix somewhere else. The most steampunk elements of the book are the interest in science running rampant through academia, an apparent interest in the steampunk aesthetic demonstrated by both vampires and werewolves, the dirigibles in the skies over London (which just remind this reviewer of the zeppelins in the alternate universe on Doctor Who), and Alexia's parasol, which is designed to protect her against unwholesome beasties. Aside from that, there are no grandiose steampunk-esque machines or experiments until the tail end of the book. Alexia, although an avid bookworm and thinker, never rolls up her sleeves and tinkers with machinery. Nothing about average Victorian society apart from the dirigibles suggest a steampunk atmosphere - and it confounds me that they would use it as a selling point when I can't really see it in the text. The bloody cover is more steampunk than the book itself.

(And as for the cover itself? Alexia Tarabotti looks slim and pale skinned, not the lightly tanned and curvy Rubenesque young woman described in the novel. Plus, she is wearing a stereotypically steampunk hat that isn't even hers. This isn't the kind of whitewashed cover that Justine Larbalestier's Liar got, not by a long shot, but it pretty much wipes out the fact that Alexia is half-Italian with a complexion to match and is not a 'perfect hourglass' figure.)

Having said all that, Soulless is not without its merits, despite it sounding like there are none. For example, it is obvious that Derriger did a metric ton's worth of research on the intricate details of Victorian era living, from the foods and clothing to the dining etiquette and social manners that were so prevalent during that period. Like any good English Victorian novel, it is packed with dry wit (which, as I hear from self-declared Brit John Oliver, is something the English invented themselves) and manages to make even the most simple social slip-ups remarkably hilarious. I love that when Alexia is in the face of mortal danger from a vampire her biggest worry is on the lines of how scandalous her untied hair must seem or that she really picked a bad day to wear her best evening gown.

Alexia Tarabotti herself is the perfect kind of main protagonist you want narrating a tale of supernatural going-ons in prim and proper London. She is a spinster with a dark complexion and curves to spare, a woman who loves to read and is far too intelligent for her own good - aka the kind of woman their mother despairs over because she'll never marry, and society pretty much dismisses her as a never-do-anything because of it. Does it bring her down? Of course not. She does what she wants, is capable of protecting herself thank you very much Lord Maccon, and once she sets her mind on something that something usually gets done no matter what. Alexia is stubborn and clever in a pinch and her constant snarky Victorian-era point of view as she straddles upholding social standards in all situations and navigating the waters of the vampire/werewolf realm brings a clarity to some of the more convoluted aspects of the time. Even the golden age of scientific discovery, it seems, can't stop society from upholding ridiculous moral and social attitudes that make things overly complicated, even for someone who was used to it.  It's a shame that, in ostracizing Alexia from society and thus making her a candidate for BUR's meddling, that they over-emphasize her Italian features and body shape. I understand that it is a Victorian viewpoint and it is Alexia herself telling the story, but there must be more subtle and better ways of separating one from the pack without resorting to overly describing her physical characteristics. (There's also the fact that the prose seems confused on whether she is barely tan or very much tan, but that could be another thing chalked up to the narrator's own self-perceived flaws.)

Alexia's foil presents itself in the form of Lord Maccon, and the back blurb of the novel describes him perfectly: loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf. I often find that when a writer tries to integrate the wolf-aspects into the human form's personality, it doesn't end well and seems painfully forced, but for Lord Maccon his werewolfish tendencies while still looking very much a human are a delight to read. He is just as stubborn and snarky as Alexia, and every time they butt heads over BUR policy or a social disaster you can practically smell the romantic tension building up between them. I found myself cheering for their very dysfunctional romance, and I'm not the type to cheer for the main characters to become couples straight out of the gate. When Alexia learns via Professor Lyall that Lord Maccon has actually begun courting her werewolf-fashion, her responses to his advances from then on are some of the most amusing and titillating scenes in the book. Yes, things get very steamy between our Victorian heroine and her dashing rogue friend, but never does it become embarrassingly explicit or unnecessarily detailed. After all, it's not a smut book, it's a mostly-general supernatural fantasy set in steampunkish Victorian England, dang it! This is the era of the Brontë sisters and Wilkie Collins; fade to black or be gone with you!

The only other time that Soulless outright addresses sexuality is through Lord Akeldama, whom upon meeting him for the first time you'd be foolish not to notice that he is English, intelligent, and gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide. It is never expressed in those words, but you'd have to be blind, living under a rock, and have never interacted with any sort of media to not realize Lord Akeldama prefers vampires his own gender - and probably those who share his extremely vibrant and garish taste in clothing. Reading Derriger's descriptions of his usual outfits, you can imagine how many times Alexia has to look away from the vastly technicolor nature of his design. But Lord Akeldama is also one of the most intelligent and clever people in the entire novel, someone who has ears practically everywhere in England and is a very useful informant when Alexia or BUR needs some intel on what's what. This is why, when Akeldama admits to Alexia that he doesn't know what is going on with the disappearances, you can feel that it's not right. Akeldama, the man who knows too much, knows nothing? The fact that this happens only briefly after first meeting him and yet has the power to affect the reader's perception of the problem at hand should highlight some of the skill in which author Derriger wields her control over the ongoing drama than runs through the main narrative; under all the English humor and romantic situations there is always a hint of danger on the horizon, a clue that something more sinister and dangerous is approaching for the cast that will test the lot of them in unthinkable ways. This is what kept me reading page after page despite its flaws: Derriger made me want to know what would happen next. An author who can effectively grab a reader's attention and then slowly pull them in like a sinkhole until the very end is one to be remembered with great respect.

The second book in the series, Changeless, is on my list of books to read. I think that as a second book, it will be more satisfying that the first as it will be a story with an already establish universe and therefore will not suffer from the growing pains that are evident in the world-building process that goes on throughout Soulless, at times reading more like mindless exposition than thoughtful background information. It's clear that Derriger took great pains to set up this alternate universe of machines and manners and beasties all meshed together, but the effort getting there seems to have seeped through the actual prose too well. I can't help but think that if she had laid off on revealing some of the information introduced in the first chapter until it didn't seem like such a pile of info that the entire process would have read a lot more smoothly.

In all, Soulless is a solid read for fans of the biologically strange and socially astute, and is a fascinating look into a world hopefully expanded upon in the following books of the series. I can't help but be intrigued and attracted to the character of Alexia Tarabotti, and as long as she is headlining this steampunk world of high society and secret magics, I will continue to follow her continuing adventures until their conceivable end.

Overall Grade:  C+

An intriguing tale of paranormal dilemmas in steampunk London, led by a fascinating main protag; not much steampunk to actually qualify the tag, descriptions of certain characters were jarring and at some points flat out unnecessary.

This review was just to whet your appetitite, there'll be more, I promise. Any questions? Any comments? I'd love to hear from you!

Until next time, take care! Don't forget to check out Sui Lynn's blog, 2 Cents, and my blog, Full Moon Dreaming!

♥ Julie and Sue

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Touching on Thursday

As Three Dog Night once said, One is the loneliest number. Love exists in twos - hope you enjoy this loving look at some very loving - and hot - couples.

Just a little good clean loving!

Mmmm, your ear looks good enough to eat!

I could lay here with you like this forever...

Let me hold you as long as I can, lover.

Let me help you with those, dear.

Sittin' in the love chair with you, nowhere else I'd rather be.

If you like these guys, let us know! There's more where they came from. If you love men who love men as we do, we'd love to hear from you!  And don't forget to check out our other blogs - Sui Lynn at 2 Cents, and myself at Full Moon Dreaming

Until next time, take care!

♥ Julie

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Silver Flash Wednesday - More Two for the Price of One

Happy Wednesday everyone, and happy Hump Day!Thanks for coming back for another week of flash fiction with the authors of Silver Publishing! This week we have our very first Guest Prompt Diva - Reese Dante, our lovely cover artist, who has given us:  :  ...will you stop doing that!  I can't concentrate when you're ....

And the alternative prompt, from our very own Ryssa Edwards is: 

Use these three elements in your story: a full moon, an iron gate, suitcase

This could lead to some rather interesting possibilities, don't you think? As for myself, I have brought both my series to the table again this week, unable to choose between them. In Lust Never Sleeps, the plot thickens as we learn more about the slippery Sawyer, while in Scent of a Wolf, Cameron and Jareth come face to face... or is that nose?

Don't forget to check out all the divas, their links follow my tales!

Scent of a Wolf 4

For a moment, the startled Cameron forgot to breathe, staring into those dark velvety eyes. But when the admittedly good-looking man drew closer to him, practically inhaling him, then Cameron automatically reacted, pushing the intruder summarily away. Shifter or not, he didn’t care for the man’s far too intimate manner. And the unhealthy way he was eyeing Cameron up, like he was some cut of Grade A Choice Beef snack. Raw, and on the hoof, so to speak.

“Hey man, what’s your trip? Ever hear of personal space?” He jumped up, debating with himself whether fight or flight should be the order of the day. While not afraid of fighting, this wasn’t necessarily the venue for it. Especially without a better reason than this.

“Excuse me…” Another country heard from. Hopefully a saner nation. Perhaps it was the other man’s keeper; that would explain much. Where the first was tall, dark and handsome—as clichéd a stranger as any found within the pages of a romance novel—the second man was blonder, stockier, and seemed to at least possess something of his own wits about him. Whereas the first man’s sole mission in life seemed to be to get as close to Cameron as he could get, his nose twitching  at him in an almost sensual way. Cameron found that it turned him on, in spite of himself.

“I’m sorry, I must apologize for my friend,” the blond began. He grasped his companion by the forearm, pulling him back. The well-dressed brunet strained against his keeper’s tenuous hold, and Cameron found himself carefully backing away from him. ‘”He’s not himself today. Jareth!”

To Cameron’s surprise, the blond placed his hand over Jareth’s nose, pinching it shut, a move which made no real sense to him. But for some reason it worked, as he instantly ceased from making any untoward movements in Cameron’s direction. That was a start.

“What the fuck?” Cameron growled.

“Shaw, must you do that?” Jareth protested, reaching for the offending hand. Suddenly he stopped, his own hand arrested in mid-aid, staring about him with confused eyes. “Where on earth are we? And why?”

“He’s why.” Shaw nodded at Cameron. “I don’t have time to explain where. Or anything else. I suspect his pursuers are either close at hand, or waiting just outside.”

“My what?” Cameron looked between the two men. Someone was certainly crazy around here, and it wasn’t him. They were very lucky that it wasn’t any closer to the full moon, for at such a time, he was less prone to self-control.

“Look,” Shaw said, attempting to be as patient as he could under the circumstances. Between having to keep a tight rein on Jareth’s nose and watching out for the gruesome twosome, he wasn’t exactly in the mood to play professor. “We know what you are. I don’t know why Jareth is so damned attracted to you, but he is. That’s beside the point. You’re in grave danger from two hooli—“

Just then, Jareth’s nose came loose from its imprisonment. He leapt toward Cameron.

“You know what? I hear your loony bin calling, they want you back,” Cameron murmured, before he did a quick vault between the two men, just as Shaw threw himself toward Jareth. Thanking the powers that be for his wolf reflexes, Cameron leapt down the stairs three at a time, banging his elbow painfully against the wall as he did so. At the bottom, he hurtled himself through the front door and back out into the miserable drizzle which was still falling, calling an apology over his shoulder to the owners of the establishment. With any luck, they wouldn’t ban him from the premises for this lunacy.

It was definitely time to go home. He’d had more than enough excitement for one day.

Too engrossed in evading the melodrama that was no doubt playing itself out on the second floor, Cameron failed to take note of his surroundings. A most grievous error on his part.  A hand emerged from nowhere, clamped itself about his upper arm. Cameron’s head whipped backward. He felt a shockwave of pain run down his arm, as he was jarred into momentary immobility.

The hand squeezed tightly; Cameron winced, drawing on what inner strength he possessed to fight the pain. He changed his mind—he wished it was the full moon. He’d rend this bastard limb from limb, given the chance.

From the corner of his eye he saw a long lean man with weasel’s features. He opened his mouth, revealing sharp pointed teeth. “The show must go on, dear boy,” he said, grinning.

Cameron pulled as hard as he could, one foot coming up in a self-defense kick which caught his captor in the groin. He doubled over, and Cameron ran. He dashed across the street, glancing about for some means of quick escape. A bus was approaching; he feared that would not do. He turned into an alley instead, hoping to lose himself in the shadows.

His arm began to scream; he held it close against his body, his feet lithely dodging the accumulated detritus that blocked his way. An abandoned baby carriage. An upended garbage can. An empty suitcase. Collective pains in his ass.

He dared a quick glance behind him—nothing. Veering course, he ducked down a second alley, speeding along it in desperation. At least he was on familiar grounds, hopefully an advantage his pursuer did not share.

Pursuer?  That’s what the men in the bookstore had said. What the fuck?

Ahead of him, he spotted the entrance to an abandoned shoe factory, its workers long ago relegated to the unemployment line. If he could scale the iron gate, he could slip inside, catch his breath, and plot a course of action.

He reached the top of the gate, swinging one leg over the top when he felt the arrow strike the base of his spine, toppling him. He fell to the ground, unconscious.

“Excellent work, Chambers!” Rutledge hooted.

to be continued

Lust Never Sleeps 11: What is the Real Truth?

“Wait, wait, wait! Let me understand what you’re saying,” Amandine protested, holding up one gloved hand, as if to dam his words. “You let the actual diamonds out of your hands? And into theirs? Sawyer, how could you?”

“Amandine, please, this is no time for reproach. You can beat me over the head later. First things first, my dear, and that is to retrieve my diamonds.”

Your diamonds?” She arched a silken red eyebrow at him, receiving an annoyed scowl in return.

Brushton let out a long low whistle. “Bugger, Sawyer, I hate to say it but I think you’re royally screwed. The thing I don’t understand is how you’re still alive? I mean seriously, I’d have thought Sue would’ve flayed you like a prime filet for losing the family jewels. I know that forgiveness is a nunly trait, but honestly, that goes above and beyond—“   He paused in mid-sentence, setting his half-empty glass of champagne onto the table so abruptly it imitated a drunken sailor, sloshing onto the tablecloth. “She doesn’t know, does she?”

“Of course not, that’s why he’s here.” Amandine glared at her ex, who refused to meet her gaze.

“No, she doesn’t know,” Sawyer reluctantly admitted. His eyes fell upon Brushton, whose hand was busily scratching at one of his udders.

“Will you stop doing that!  I can't concentrate when you're playing with yourself in public like that!”

“Am not,” he insisted, continuing to rub away at the large teat, “but this damn suit itches. There are worse places I could be scratching, you know. Want me to show you?”

“NO!” Amandine and Sawyer cried in unison.

Darryl was having difficulty in following the back and forth and give and take among these three people, who obviously possessed a great deal of very interesting history among them.  It was like watching a tennis match without knowing anything about the sport, or any idea what the rules were—a lot of pointless head turning with himself none the wiser. He cast his eyes upon Sawyer, who kissed him softly, as if that explained everything.

Brushton released his hold on the udder, reaching for his glass, to a collective consensus of relief. “I say, old beaner, you’re in a bit of a jam here. I mean it’s not like you can just go up to them and ask for them back, now can you? Say pardon me but you filched the real thing and not my fakes, would you hand them over, please.”

“Hardly.” Sawyer snorted derisively.

“Fakes?”  Darryl echoed.

“Sawyer’s the best forger that ever was.” Amandine praised her ex, who did his best to appear to be modest, but somehow failed. “He’s so good, he leaves his victims feeling that they all have the real deal, no questions asked. Of course, they’re forbidden to show them to anyone either. Part of the price they pay for having such expensive trinkets in their collection. So no one can compare notes. Or figure out just how many copies of everything Sawyer’s sold.”

“As long as I keep track of who has what, no harm done eh?” Sawyer insisted. “The point here is what can I do to get back what is rightfully mine?”

“Yours and Sue’s,” Brushton pointed out helpfully.

“Let’s not quibble about semantics,” Sawyer brushed away his assistance. “Let’s think of something.”

“”What about your…” Darryl didn’t know what to call the ability which Sawyer seemed to possess. But he’d seen him touch people and bend them to his will, at least to some degree. So why not use it on Schrodinger and Salisbury?

Sawyer frowned. “That’s a simple parlor trick,” he replied evasively, “of limited usefulness. I would if I could, my love, I assure you. But those gentlemen are too savvy to fall for that.”

“In other words, they caught onto him in that regard a long time ago,” Amandine laughed. Sawyer flushed, but he didn’t deny her words.

“So let me see if I have this right.” Darryl fought to make sense out of the disjointed bits of information. “You forge things and sell them to these two men? Yes? But for some reason they ended up with the real thing, and not the forgeries? Do I understand the situation correctly?”

“Yes and no,” Sawyer equivocated. “I brought the real diamonds to bait the trap, but once I learned who the client was, I intended to give them the fake ones. It’s worked beautifully before. Jewels, paintings, sculpture…”

“You can do all that?” Darryl was impressed.

“And more.” Sawyer broadly winked. Darryl flushed at the implications inherent in that simple motion, his groin tightening with desire.

“So what happened tonight?”

“Good question,” Sawyer glumly replied. “All was going well, until that thief and his bosom companion had to interfere.”

“What about the gypsy who killed the thief? Can you be sure he took the diamonds to those two men? Maybe he kept them for himself?” Darryl was trying to cheer up his lover by looking at the cup as being half full, not half empty. But even he wasn’t sure if that was a better idea or not.

“Milosh? No, he’s one of theirs. As is Mondo.”

“What do you mean, one of theirs?”

“I mean he’s a creature whose purpose is to do their bidding. A servant to do their dirty work. As for Mondo, I’d swear that he’s a golem, actually, although I’ve no real proof of that.”

A distinct shiver traversed Darryl’s spine. Or  it might have been because of Sawyer’s blatant hand pressing 
against his crotch.

“Darling,” Amandine interrupted their tête-à-tête, “I do hate to be crass, and while I do adore the free bubbly, I’m not quite as enamored of watching you and your dear darling Darryl mindfuck one another. Is there a reason why I’m here? Other than to be admired, of course?

Before Sawyer could either explain or apologize, their ears were assaulted by a maddening din.

“AIR RAID!” Brushton screamed. “Everybody dive for cover!”

to be continued 

Now visit the other intrepid Silver Flashers and see what they have to offer! 

Lily Sawyer    m/m 
Ryssa Edwards    m/m 
Catriana Sommers    m/m 
Chris Quinton     m/m
Lindsay Klug     m/f
Elizabeth LaVey    m/f
LM Brown    m/m
Freddy McKay     m/m

 I hope you're enjoying our humble efforts. Feel free to drop a comment, make a request, or just say hi!

Until next time, take care!

♥ Julie