The Netflix Queue: Tai Chi Zero

A few weeks ago, my roommates and I were browsing Netflix and found a movie called Tai Chi Hero, and two things became abundantly clear within the first 5 minutes of watching the movie:

  1. Steampunk tech meets rural China meets kung fu is kind of awesome, in a “WTF I can’t even HOW” way.
  2. This was a sequel to another movie, and if the brief bits we saw in the credits were anything to go by, we desperately needed to see the first one.

And then my roommates started watching Arrow instead and the crazy steampunk Chinese movie was put away.

Temporarily.

taichi0-posterThen, last week, my roommates were browsing Netflix yet again, looking for something to watch (probably because they go through Netflix TV shows like an allergy sufferer through tissues), and I spotted Tai Chi Zero on one of the lists as they were flipping through.

“Hey wait! Isn’t that the steampunk Chinese movie we saw a couple of weeks ago?” I asked.

“No,” said my roommate, Jon. “It’s the first one; that one we saw was the sequel.”

“PUT IT ON.” (I was supposed to be working on my NaNo word count. I didn’t care.)

“Well, I guess we can watch the first few minutes…”

In case you’re wondering, “the first few minutes” actually ended up being “the entire damn thing AND THEN THE SECOND ONE,” because apparently a steampunk kung fu movie set in turn-of-the-century China is something that’s been missing in my life.

It was spectacular. And I don’t mean that in a “it was so bad it’s good” kind of way; I mean that in a “this was legitimately awesome” kind of way.

So here’s the story:

Our hero, Lu Chan, is a skilled kung fu fighter within a rebel force called the Divine Truth Cult, which has been fighting against the Chinese emperor. Lu Chan was born with a horn on his head called “Three Blossoms on the Crown,” which gives him unbelievable ferocity, power, and fighting skill whenever it’s hit. However, each time Lu Chan uses “Three Blossoms on the Crown,” the horn darkens and his life shortens. Whenever the horn turns completely black, he’ll die.

A doctor for the Divine Truth Cult (who I swear is like a Chinese version of Bones McCoy) tells Lu Chan that in order to live, he must travel to Chen Village and learn “internal kung fu,” or Chen-style kung fu. The general of the Divine Truth Cult forbids it, but when their regiment is attacked and most everyone is killed, Lu Chan sets off in search of Chen Village.

Bonk.

Bonk.

It’s like the people behind the movie went “Holy shit! We have a budget? LET’S DO THIS THING.” and then went balls-to-the-wall with EVERYTHING.

We need to show the hero’s backstory? Let’s do it in full-out silent film format!

Doing a journey sequence during the opening credits? Let’s make it COMPLETELY ANIMATED and then have the hero ride a giant fish. And then stab it in the head. BECAUSE REASONS.

Introducing actors? Instead of just putting their name on the screen, let’s ADVERTISE IT, BABY. Whenever a new character shows up, freeze-frame of them with quick info about what else the actor’s done! (Okay, it sounds corny, but it was actually really cool, especially when you’re like “Holy crap, that kid’s a kung fu champion? That guy was a stunt coordinator for Jackie Chan? THAT’S AWESOME.”)

Those are just a couple examples of the over-the-top stylistic choices that pepper this film. But the thing is, they worked with the movie itself. They hit the tone just right, and it never detracted from the story or the characters at all.

In fact, the characters were all fairly fantastic, too. Yu Niang, the main female character, is sweet and gorgeous and badass. She’s so obviously in love with her fiancé at the beginning of the film, and she’s also a very skilled, clever master of the Chen-style kung fu. This girl is not a wilting flower or a passive prize for the hero; she’s an active participant in the story and the protection of her community.

Float like a butterfly, sting like an assault rifle.

Float like a butterfly, sting like an assault rifle.

(Considering the last Asian movie I saw had a female character so two-dimensional she was scarcely better than a cardboard cutout, I wanted to cheer for Yu Niang every time she was on the screen.)

And while Lu Chan acts like a fool, he’s still very loyal and determined and almost perpetually upbeat, even when he’s been beaten in a fight. (Heck, even when he’s won in a fight—his reaction to the end of his fight with Brother Tofu is just adorable.) He’s like a giant puppy dog and you just can’t help but love him.

Plus, Tai Chi Zero has one of the better supervillain backstories I’ve seen. You understand the guy, you feel sorry for him, and you know why he makes the decisions he does even if they’re terrible decisions. I alternated between wanting to slap him and wanting to hug him.

“Spectacular” is the best word to describe this movie because it is, in fact, a spectacle. The fight choreography, the cinematography (the camera shots are great), the video-game-like visual touches, the steampunk-styled technology: it’s a visual feast.

However, it’s supported by an actual, decent story with actual, decent characters. Yes, the plot itself may be pretty much what you’d expect from a kung fu movie about village traditions vs. encroaching modern technology, but the absolute joy and energy that apparently went into making this one elevates it into a realm of movie-watching fun.

If you like movies like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, if the words “kung fu” and “steampunk” make you light up like a Christmas tree, then get thee to Netflix and watch Tai Chi Zero immediately. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂

Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Author’s note: I won an ARC for this book earlier this year. The book itself comes out in hardback tomorrow, November 5.

Also, if you’re here for the #WriteMotivation update, I’ll be posting mine on Thursday this week.

curtises-and-conspiracesI’ve mentioned before that I kind of adore Gail Carriger’s novels, and while I’m patiently (okay, not so patiently) awaiting the Parasol Protectorate Abroad, I’ve been happily enjoying her venture into YA with the Finishing School series.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is the sequel to Etiquette & Espionage, about Sophronia Temminick and her stay at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. For the first time in recent memory, the dirigible school is making its way to London, which is very exciting. However, the trip itself is more than what it seems, and Sophronia is just the person to get to the bottom of it.

Sophronia was, once again, a delight to read about, and in this book we really get a chance to see her character grow in unexpected ways. That was easily my favorite part of the book: not the plot itself, but seeing how Sophronia faced the challenges the new semester threw at her, and more importantly, seeing how she dealt with the consequences of her actions.

I wish I could say more about it, but so much of that is near the end of the book and tied up in the story that it would be a major spoiler to discuss, and it was so, so wonderful to discover it along the way. I loved how it brought home that all these characters operate in the varying grey areas of morality. They make decisions and make mistakes and they have very good reasons for doing what they do, even if what they do isn’t the right thing by any stretch of the imagination.

Plus, there was this bit, near the end, that sums up Sophronia so succinctly I might have hugged the book:

“Why is it always your problem to fix?”
“Because I see that there is a problem when no one else does.”

That, I believe, is why Sophronia will be my favorite character forever: because of how much she sees and how willing she is to actually get involved. She’s brilliant, and I’m so excited to see how she’ll continue to grow over the course of this series.

For fans of the Parasol Protectorate series, going to London means getting the chance to see some of the other characters we already know and love. The roles they play within this story are important, so they’re not just tossed in as Easter eggs for fans, but it still made me squeal with glee.

I enjoyed the plot, though not quite as much as the character development we see from Sophronia, and a sort-of love triangle was introduced, which I still haven’t decided how I feel about it. I did like getting to see a little more from Vieve, and I loved the friendship that’s building up between Sophronia and the other girls in her age group, but particularly Dimity.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is a great follow-up to Etiquette & Espionage, and I really can’t wait to follow this group of characters into book three.

Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

leviathanAs a steampunk fan, I’ve been looking forward to reading Leviathan for some time. I knew a very little bit about the world, which sounded cool, and I’m always interested to see what different authors come up with for steamupunk worldbuilding.

What I got with this one was a really fun, briskly paced YA novel that kicks off a trilogy I absolutely can’t wait to finish.

Alek is a prince who cannot inherit his father’s throne, but his mere existence upsets a very delicate balance that’s thrown off when his parents are killed. He’s spirited away from his house one night by a small band of loyal men, and now he’s on the run from his own people.

Deryn is a soldier in the British Air Service, serving aboard the massive airbeast Leviathan, with one tiny secret: she’s a girl, not a guy, and she’ll be kicked out if anybody discovers her secret.

With war threatening, the Leviathan is sent on a special urgent mission to the Ottoman Empire. Soon, Deryn and Alek will cross paths, and they’ll both be swept up in an effort to stem the advancing tide of war.

Most steampunk novels I’ve read tend to take place in the mid-to-late 1800s, but Leviathan offers us an alternate take on the beginning of World War I. If you remember history class, you probably remember the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, which kicked off the Great War in 1914. In Leviathan, though, their deaths have a bit more sinister and personal cause, though the ultimate effect—international war—is the same.

I loved the way Westerfeld wove actual history with fantasy and slightly futuristic technology, particularly in regards to the technology on both sides: fabricated beasts for the British, walking war machines for the Germans. The descriptions of both are fascinating, and I especially enjoyed Alek’s and Deryn’s reactions to the other’s chosen technology.

The beasties, in particular, are really cool in how they’re all created for different, specific purposes: the hydrogen sniffers that search the Leviathan for leaks, the flechette bats used in aerial combat, and even the Leviathan itself.

Westerfeld’s technique itself is brilliant, switching viewpoints every two chapters. After the first few, you know exactly whose head you’ll be in when. It’s refreshing, and it gives you a chance to really get the most out of each storyline before jumping to the other one.

Plus, there are subtle differences (and not-so-subtle ones) in the way he writes in Alek’s viewpoint versus Deryn’s. Even though he does a good job of letting the reader know whose head we’re in, you can tell the viewpoint character from the dialogue and internal cadence. Deryn’s voice is spotted with slang and cursing, while Alek sounds very much like the noble he is. It’s glorious.

I adored Deryn. She’s a very quick thinker, courageous and bold, loves to fly and loves being on an airship. She’s very bound to her duty as a soldier, but doesn’t let her pledge to king and country keep her from thinking for herself. I liked Alek as well, but he’s a bit stiffer initially, considering his background. However, he definitely grows on you over the course of the story.

The illustrations littered throughout the book are absolutely gorgeous. I actually paused in reading to soak up the goodness of the art.

If you’re into steampunk already, I think you’ll definitely enjoy Leviathan. If you aren’t, then Leviathan is, honestly, a great introduction to the genre. The characters are great, the worldbuilding is phenomenal, and I really, really can’t wait to read more.

Two in One Book Review: The Strange Case of Finley Jayne and The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

The ebook version I got of The Girl in the Steel Corset came with the prequel novella, called The Strange Case of Finley Jayne. Oddly, I think if I hadn’t read the prequel first, I may have enjoyed the actual novel more.

strange-case-of-finley-jayneBut as it was, while I really liked The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, I couldn’t finish The Girl in the Steel Corset.

In The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, we meet Finley just as she has lost her position in an aristocratic household. Not just for punching the governess, but because Finley did so hard enough to shatter the woman’s teeth and send her flying across the room. Not exactly something a teenage girl ought to be able to do.

Finley is worried about losing her job, worried about telling her parents, and worried more about this strange “darkness” that seems to overtake her whenever she gets frightened or angry enough. It makes her stronger, faster, and enhances her senses, but it also makes her bolder and more violent. She has no idea what’s wrong with her, but it terrifies her.

The very next day, however, Finley is offered a position as a lady’s maid in Lady Morton’s household. The job seems too good to be true, but curious, Finley accepts anyway. It turns out the lady is well aware of Finley’s more violent tendencies, and is hoping to use them to protect her daughter, Phoebe.

I really liked this novella for a number of reasons. For one, the story perfectly fit the novella format, which is a lot harder to do than it sounds. Sometimes authors try to do too much for a short format, but this one works.

Finley’s dual nature is interesting, though sometimes it was difficult to tell which version of her viewpoint we were supposed to be in. It still very much feels like it’s the same person whether her darker nature or her more timid nature is in control.

Plus, even if Finley’s darker nature is more violent, it’s also very protective. She essentially acts as a bodyguard for Phoebe, and does a phenomenal job of it. She punched the governess at the beginning of the story because the governess struck a young boy for trying to take a treat off a cart. It’s great when she’s in that mindset, because she’s bolder and brasher, but not stupid about it. I loved watching Finley investigate the mystery.

I also really liked Lady Morton. She really wants nothing more than to protect her daughter and make sure she’s happy, and she’ll do that by whatever means necessary. She knows something’s not right, but she also knows she’s not in a position to fix it. That’s where Finley comes in.

We don’t get a whole lot of worldbuilding in the novella, but there’s enough that the steampunk aspects don’t feel entirely like window dressing. There’s a great scene with two runaway mechanical horses that was easily my favorite in the entire novella.

There was one little part from the villain’s viewpoint that felt really extraneous—Finley figured out the information shared in that scene in the very next chapter and it didn’t add anything else except perhaps to confirm that said villain was, in fact, a villain.

But really, that scene was the only serious misstep. Other than that, The Strange Case of Finley Jayne was a solidly entertaining novella.

And I enjoyed it enough that I was looking forward to reading The Girl in the Steel Corset, which started off well. Once again, Finley is facing trouble at her job, but this time it’s from the young lord of the house, who is trying to force himself on her. With the help of her darker nature, Finley beats him into unconsciousness and then runs away—straight into the velocycle (motorcycle) of Griffin King, the Duke of Greythorne.

girl-steel-corsetWhat Finley doesn’t know is that Griffin and his friends have special powers, much like her, and for the first time, Finley starts to feel like she might be able to belong somewhere. However, a devious criminal mastermind called the Machinist threatens to tear their group—and England—apart.

The novel starts off great. I loved the scene at the beginning between Finley and Lord Felix, their fight, and the terror and excitement warring within her. Unfortunately, as soon as that scene is over, the story seems to dive right into solidly mediocre territory and stay there.

My biggest problem with the novel came because of the apparently fluid nature of Finley’s darker side. In the novella, Finley gets violent, but not murderously so. She never hurts Phoebe or Lady Morton, and only neutralizes people she perceives as threats to those she cares about. And she’s much the same way in The Girl in the Steel Corset, only she’s protecting herself.

So it really surprised me how quick others—and even Finley herself—were to accuse her of murder. It just seemed so at odds with how she’d acted, even when her darker half was in control, that I couldn’t really reconcile it.

Then there was the standard love triangle with Finley, Griffin, and an underground crime lord named Jack Dandy that I think was supposed to illustrate the difference between Finley’s two natures and what they found attractive, but really just made me roll my eyes.

Honestly, none of the viewpoint characters were really that interesting to me and the ones that were—like Emily—weren’t on the page enough to make me feel like reading was worth it.

Then I had a number of issues with the writing itself.

Problem the First: Finley’s dual personas
Once again, there wasn’t a marked difference in narrative between Finley’s split personalities. While that wasn’t as big of a deal in the novella, in the full novel, it’s an issue, particularly since reconciling Finley’s dual natures is a plot point.

Her darker nature didn’t seem to be awful enough for me to understand why she was so upset about it, particularly since she’d made it work for her so well in The Strange Case of Finley Jayne. It’s almost like she takes a step backward as a character by the beginning of the novel.

Problem the Second: Plot and character inconsistencies
There also seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies between the prequel novella and the novel. For example, in The Girl in the Steel Corset, Finley thinks, regarding a ball:

She’d never been to one before—not as a guest. She’d sat in a stupid room with other ladies maids and tapped her foot to the music while sipping warm lemonade, but never had she been one of the dancers or a debutante in a beautiful gown.

However, in The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, Finley attends an engagement ball not as Phoebe’s maid, but posing as her cousin from the country. Considering that scene and that plot point are such a huge part of the novella, you’d think Finley would have remembered. That kind of character and story inconsistency is, sadly, prevalent throughout the entire novel.

I can totally understand the prequel novella was most likely written second. But in that case, you really ought to make sure that the character and their life story syncs up with where they are at the beginning of the actual novel.

Problem the Third: Pete and repeat were on a boat…
Cross tends to repeat herself in the narration, so certain paragraphs or exchanges feel twice as long as they should be.

Jasper made a face at his mention of the subterranean railway. The cowboy didn’t like tight spaces any more than Griffin did.

“No,” Griff remarked with a small smile. “I don’t like it either.”

How is “The cowboy didn’t like tight spaces any more than Griffin did” any kind of necessary if Griffin is going to tell us in the very next line that he doesn’t like the subway either?

This kind of repetition is annoying as hell to read, and it happens multiple times throughout the book. It’s almost like another editing pass could probably have cut another thousand words out just by removing superfluous sentences.

Problem the Fourth: Whose head are we in?
Cross occasionally has some absolutely wonderful lines, like this one at the beginning of chapter 5:

If the city of London was a body, Whitechapel would be the groin; a great unwashed area that only showed itself under the cover of darkness, and only for the most salacious of entertainments.

Unfortunately, this is then tempered by the fact that it then takes three pages to get to whose viewpoint we’re in (there are three different viewpoint characters), so by the time I found out it was Finley, I had already spent two paragraphs thinking it was one of the guys. It was jarring to realize I was wrong, which threw me out of the story.

Finally, at chapter 14, when I realized I was reading more out of duty as opposed to getting any real enjoyment out of it, I called it quits. It wasn’t necessarily bad, per se, but overall it seemed to be solidly mediocre, with enough irritating bits that the few good things couldn’t quite compensate.

Book Review – Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

etiquette-and-espionageIf you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you may recall that 1) I like steampunk a lot, and 2) I kind of fell in love with Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series last year. So you can imagine my absolute GLEE upon finding out her next series would be a YA steampunk series called The Finishing School, set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, only about 25 years earlier.

The first book, Etiquette & Espionage, came out earlier this year, and I snapped it up the second I got a chance. And I enjoyed it just as much as I hoped I would.

Our main character is Sophronia, a 14-year-old who is far too curious (and not nearly ladylike enough) for her own good. When her mother finally despairs of ever getting Sophronia to be presentable, a solution appears in the form of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. In less than an hour, Sophronia is packed off to the school to, at the very least, learn to curtsy properly.

What Sophronia finds, though, is that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s isn’t just any old finishing school. The girls there are being trained in covert operations, as spies and assassins.

But the finishing school isn’t the only surprise for Sophronia. Someone at the school has stolen something very important, and there are a lot of very powerful people who want it back. Sophronia’s first year at finishing school promises to be an interesting one.

We have a whole slew of brand-new characters, a couple of old familiar faces, and a whole slew of new settings, not the least of which is the Finishing School itself.

“My goodness,” said Sophronia. “It looks like a caterpillar that has overeaten.”

And it did. It wasn’t so much a dirigible as three dirigibles mashed together to form one long chain of oblong, inflated balloons. Below them dangled a multilevel series of decks, most open to the air, but some closed off, with windows reflecting back the dying sun. At the back, a colossal set of propellers churned slowly, and above them billowed a massive sail–probably more for guidance than propulsion. A great quantity of steam wafted out from below the lower back decks, floating away to join the mist as if responsible for creating it. Black smoke puffed sedately out of three tall smokestacks.

Sophronia was enchanted.

Allow me to reiterate that:

AIRSHIP. ASSASSIN. SCHOOL.

It is just as cool as it sounds. Sophronia, being a very curious character (and being at a school that encourages such things as long as you can get away with it), spends much of the book exploring Mademoiselle Geraldine’s and all its myriad nooks and crannies. It’s fascinating, and I loved what we got to see.

Sophronia herself is a great deal of fun. She’s such a proactive character, clever and quick on her feet, and usually the one to figure a way both into and out of trouble. I really enjoyed being in her head and watching her figure out the mystery at the school.

(Also, I read Bumbersnoot as a steampunk K9 from Doctor Who. I think that actually makes it a little better.)

Plus, as a fan of the Parasol Protectorate series, it was great to see the younger versions of characters I’d come to love from those books. Each familiar face made me squeal with glee, but they’re introduced in such a way that you don’t have to know anything about the previous series to enjoy them.

Carriger’s writing is, as always, an absolute treat to read, with a perfectly hilarious and Victorian voice that makes her novels so much fun. Between that and the amusing character names, I don’t think I quit grinning throughout the entire book.

If I had a quibble, it would be with the final fight scene. I was a little confused at times about what was going on, and I was surprised Sophronia could slip in and out of it as well as she did. But the rest of the book was good enough that it didn’t really affect my overall enjoyment of it.

If you like steampunk, you really need to read this book. If you’ve never read a steampunk novel, then Etiquette & Espionage is a really good place to start.

Book Review – Clockwork Blue by Gloria Harchar

Back in July I went on a Kindle binge, buying up a lot of really cheap or free ebooks because they all happened to be on sale the same weekend Clockwork Blue was one of the books I grabbed.

Clockwork Blue CoverReading Clockwork Blue was ultimately frustrating for a number of reasons: poor editing, a jerk of a hero (for at least the first half of the book), and way too many extraneous genre elements.

It’s a shame, because there were parts I liked and I think it could have been a good story.

Synopsis, courtesy Amazon:

Mission… Impossible: The pixies’ mission—if Allegro and Glissando are to accept it—is to secure the future of a troubled England. To achieve this, the Earl of Falconwood, better known as the Black Falcon, must marry Nicola Moore. Never mind the woman is a hoyden who makes the most atrocious hats decorated with machine parts, which she then dyes with her famous Clockwork Blue.

And certainly forget the earl is atoning for his brother’s death by purposely hovering on the fringes of the ton. Add to the mix Glissando’s tendency to slip to the side of the Mrasek, the ones who work to free the evil Lord Sethos.

But Maestro depends on the pixies—for better or for worse. To release the magic trapped in the Clockwork Blue dye—a magic that will safeguard England’s future—Malcolm and Nicola must not only wed, but they must also fall in love.

For the first half of this story, I got so irritated with Malcolm, our “hero,” that I wanted Nicola to punt him to the curb. With the whole forced marriage thing, we’re so much in Nicola’s point of view that it is difficult to ascertain Malcolm’s (or Falcon’s) motives.

Everything he does is, ostensibly, to get ahold of the dye. Which is fine, but Nicola alternates between seeing it in that light and seeing him as a project that needs to be fixed. And the back-and-forth gets really, really frustrating, particularly since he has given her NO reason to think he wants anything other than the dye.

It also doesn’t help that Nicola is constantly manipulated and pushed around for the first half of the book. She doesn’t win any victories with Malcolm. He occasionally accedes to her, but not because she’s outsmarted him or pushed him into a corner. I get the feeling that it’s all, very consciously, his decision. I hated that Malcolm saw Nicola as “malleable.” He doesn’t think he’s won a skirmish with her; he thinks he’s manipulated her into doing things his way. And that doesn’t endear me to either of the characters.

Fortunately, that aspect changed about halfway through the story, when we started getting more from Malcolm’s point of view and seeing why he thought and acted the way he did. It made him more sympathetic, but by that point I was so angry at him that it took most of the rest of the book for me to come around.

It bothers me especially because there are a few parts—a line here, a conversation there—where the characters intrigued me or made me laugh out loud, where I could see the glimmer of a relationship building. But it wasn’t enough to outweigh the problems.

Also, I have no idea why this is steampunk. Yes, Nicola puts clockwork gears on her hats and has a “barrelabout” (a…I don’t even know), but that’s it. Steampunk plays absolutely no part in the actual plot, which would’ve worked just as well as a regular historical romance.

This note on the Amazon page has been added since I read the book:

Note: This is a Christian New Adult Fantasy Romance. There are equal parts of Fantasy and Romance with hints of the Steampunk wave which is starting to become popular in the Alternate World. In Book 2, The Copper Tuners, the reader will see the Steampunk wave affecting society more.

I kind of wish this had been there when I’d picked the story up, because I would’ve expected less from the steampunk part of the story. That being said, I still wish those elements had been integrated more into the story instead of being so much window dressing.

In fact, it was the genre parts—particularly the stuff with the fairies—that made me keep rolling my eyes.

Now, I’m normally all for throwing in magic and fantasy wherever you can, but it just didn’t work quite as well here. I liked Allegro and Glissando well enough, but I was much more intrigued by the story between Nicola and Malcolm. There were a few parts where the fairies came in handy, but I don’t think it would’ve hurt the book at all if they hadn’t been there.

Besides, it seems Glissando got a makeover at some point, because the novel alternates between describing him as fat or thin or as having orange hair or green hair. I’d totally buy this if it had mentioned fairies could change their appearance at some point, but it never did, and Allegro’s description was consistent throughout the story. So I’d have a picture of Glissando in my head, and then I’d have to revise it every time I came across a conflicting description.

Then there are the Mrasek, or rather, aren’t the Mrasek. They show up in one scene early on and then vanish from the story, so completely that when one of them showed up at the climax (only mentioned by name; he doesn’t say a word) I had to search his name to figure out who he was. Why mention these super-evil villains if you aren’t going to DO anything with them?

And really, none of this extra stuff was needed. I actually liked the normal plot: Malcolm wants the dye, which just happens to be Nicola’s dowry. She doesn’t want to get forced into marriage because she saw how horrible it was for her grandmother; she wants to marry for love like her parents did. He, however, is up for doing just about anything to get said dye. There is plenty there for conflict and tension in the relationship.

Plus, there was the interesting stuff going on with the stockingers and the hosiers and the Luddite Rebellion. All of that would have been MORE than enough to craft an engrossing historical romance, but then there were fairies and “steampunk” for no good reason I could ascertain.

I don’t mind the addition of those things at all. But it has to be necessary to the story. There has to be a world built up where that’s a part of it. It has to be an ingredient in the cake, not just a decoration thrown on top at the last minute.

Now, this is the first book of a series, and maybe the fantastical aspects of this world play a larger, more integral role in future stories. (The added note on Amazon makes me think this is so.) But I really wish that had been brought in more in this book. As it is, it feels like too much was crammed into what could’ve been a really sweet historical romance.