Friday, 27 February 2015

Ganymede, Cherie Priest

I am reading Cherie Priest's excellent Clockwork Century novels completely out of order (to date I've read the first, last and now the fourth!), and one of the things that makes them so brilliant is that you can do that. While there is an overall chronology, and all are set in a technologically advanced 19th century, where the American Civil War has been raging for decades, each volume works fantastically as a standalone story.

Another of the things that Priest does brilliantly is create a variety of characters. They're not mostly white, mostly male, mostly straight, mostly able-bodied or mostly cis. This is steampunk for everyone. One of the central characters in Ganymede is Josephine Early, a free woman of colour and Madam of a high-class establishment in New Orleans. Her pirate brother has got hold of a prototype submarine, the Ganymede, which they wish to deliver to the Unionists, but it's a dangerous machine and Josephine believes it will take a talented pilot, rather than a sailor, to deliver it. Enter former pirate, Andan Cly, who wants to earn enough to settle down in Seattle and run his own airship dock.

The importance of both the civil war, and the zombie-creating 'blight' gas (and resulting drug) from Seattle is of differing importance in each book. In this one the war takes prominence, with the people of New Orleans keen to rid themselves of the occupying Texians, who are allied to the Confederates. Getting the Ganymese to the Unionists, away from the Texians – who are prepared to raid the pirate stronghold of Barataria to find it – is a priority for Josephine. Nonetheless, the walking dead are becoming a problem, and the people of New Orleans are more prepared to believe in them, and tackle them, than the Texians. Priest cleverly keeps the blight storyline running subtly in the background in Ganymede. There aren't many encounters with 'rotters' in this book, but their presence in the Clockwork Century world is never forgotten.

I suppose if I had to criticise the three books I've read to date, I'd say that I don't get a strong sense of the individuality of the characters. While, say, Josephine Early and Briar Wilkes (heroine of the first book, Boneshaker) have very different lives and histories, I can imagine they'd behave exactly the same in many situations. They don't seem to have much in the way of quirks or flaws that you can dislike or warm to. But that's a small criticism indeed; these are adventure stories and Priest delivers all the fun and excitement of a traditional adventure via an inclusive cast of characters. Personally, I'll take airship pirates, zombies and pistol-packing Madams over delicately nuanced character any day.

I suppose a stronger criticism would be that for a woman of colour in the 19th century, Josephine isn't as concerned with inequality as I'd expect her to be. Priest isn't unaware of that, and race is a much more important issue in Fiddlehead, where scientist Gideon Bardsley is a former slave. I can appreciate Priest not wanting to create the stereotypical Angry Black Woman, but I guess I expected a bit more fire from Josephine. That didn't stop me from enjoying the book, but it'd be interesting to know how African-American readers feel about it, whether they have the same reaction.

I'd still recommend this book, however. If ever a series was crying out to be made into television, it's this one. (HBO, are you listening? Pleeeeease!) All the volumes I've read so far are packed with great settings and plenty of adventure, and I look forward to reading my next one.

Source: a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Two new old brooches

I love my nan. I'm going to be 41 this year, and she still sent me a tenner for my birthday! While I was dropping off some clothes at Age UK, I spotted that they had put a load of brooches in their till-side case. For £1.59 each, it would have been silly not to get one 'from my nan'.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Baby you can drive my... train

Real train drivers don't wear crystal necklaces
Because my birthday clashes with a family funeral (see my previous post), Mr Robot gave me my birthday present early. I think he wanted me to have time to enjoy it, and for him to be able to enjoy my excitement.

He's been planning the gift for some time. He always laughs at me because I love seeing the steam trains puffing past the office and even dragged him to see my favourites, the A4s, at the Great Gathering at the National Railway Museum. So what has he got me for my birthday? I'm going to drive a steam train!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Hug EVERYONE special

I honestly don't know how to start this post, so I'll keep it simple: I'm not being a rubbish blogger, my mother-in-law died suddenly last week and taking care of my husband and helping with all the things that have to be done when someone dies have taken all my energy and time. (Besides, I had no computer access.) I spend a lot of time in vintageland, thinking about things from decades ago. This week has been a real reminder not to forget the people who are still here! Before Christmas I was a bit grizzly about going to my mother-in-law's for Christmas, because I'd had deadline hell at work and just wanted to slump about my own house in my pyjamas, but there was no way I'd have actually tried to wriggle out of it. I'm so glad I didn't; we went and had a great time. The time you fail to go and see someone, thinking you'll do it next time? There might not be a next time.

So here's to my mother-in-law, Joan: maker of the finest Christmas puddings in the world, cat fan, devourer of crime novels and the woman who won at the 1960s. How could she win at the 1960s? Because she did her nursing training in Liverpool so used to hang out at the Cavern, and did see the Beatles there but preferred Herman's Hermits. You could play all the 1960s cards you liked, but she'd trump everyone with that one, every time (though she wasn't boastful, she'd just drop it into conversation as an afterthought. I think I found it far more interesting than she did).

Now go and hug everyone you love, and stop farting about on the internet.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Do you know Susan?

chocolate brown suede handbag clutch from Susan of Bond street
My godmother knows I love vintage, and sends me some ace things. She picks them up all over the place – charity shops, church fetes, all sorts of locations. Yesterday I got a parcel from her containing several things, including this fantastic suede clutch bag. The chocolate brown suede is incredibly soft, and along the top is an ornate goldtone frame. It's in beautiful condition, and even has its original matching purse inside, and a little mirror.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Spring is coming...

Constance Spry's wartime cookbook. Dig for victory!
 I love spring, and I finally feel like it's on its way. Actually, my favourite bit of the year is when late spring meets early summer, around the start of May. Spring doesn't really kick in until the end of February, but I'm already anticipating flowers and brighter mornings. It's been light enough for me to knit in the car on the way to work lately (I don't drive!) which is ace.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Save us, Agent Carter!

It may shock you to discover that I watch telly sometimes… Okay, it's no shock, I'm an unrepentant square eyes. I luffs my telly and radio. One thing I will not be watching, however, is Agent Carter. Why? Because no UK broadcaster is showing it! It's annoying enough when stuff gets snapped up by Sky Atlantic, which I can't get via cable, but I just have to tell myself that I pays my money, I takes my choice there. (And my excellent friend Kai sends me Game of Thrones on DVD for my birthday each year so I don't miss out.) That NO British broadcaster has seen fit to pick up the series is just bizarre. I'm not sure why no British channel has picked up this series. Perhaps they think people who watch period shows won't like superhero storylines, or people who like superhero shows won't want to watch one with a female lead (especially one not in lycra). Well, they're wrong. It's already a big hit in the US, so it could be here too.