by Adrienne Kress
Dial Books, December 6 2012
young adult steampunk
ARC received from publisher (thank you!)
Cora knows how to smooth out her East London accent, handle explosions on a daily basis and build lethal weapons. Nellie can smile her way out of most situations, discombobulate anyone with ruthless cheer and look her best at the same time. Michiko can wield a katana, mock her boss without him even realizing it and follow the samurai way of life... mostly. When serendipity pushes them together onto the tail of a series of murders across the city, you can bet they'll be ready for it.The cover:
That font and the radiating stripes in the background totally fit the time period. I adore covers with photographs obviously taken for that specific book, and here the three girls fit the story perfectly. Plus in person it's even better, guys. There's a very light film treatment over the colouring that makes it look old-timey but not in a hokey fashion, more like Instagram's Nashville filter.
The girls carry this story. There's a flair to the third-person, anachronistic narration style that identifies each protagonist; it's this style that somehow distinguishes Cora (sarcastic, pragmatic) from Nellie (frank, cheerful; she's how I imagine a typical American Southerner to be like) from Michiko (dry, focused), and it's all done well. A few quotes to illustrate what I mean:
Lord White had her [Cora] put on the goggles he'd had custom made to fit her tiny ten-year-old frame, handed her the strangest-looking gun she'd ever seen, pointed it in the right direction, and told her to pull the trigger.
Just like that.
So she had. And the dummy's head in front of her had exploded into a million pieces.
"Great aim!" Lord White had laughed enthusiastically for a good five minutes after the destruction.
She had been in love with things exploding ever since.
What she didn't love was green goo.
Cora turned and looked at Nellie, who seemed surprise that the progress of her tying [Cora's corset] had been interrupted.
"It's petty. And it's not your fault. I hate seeing other girls get on with Raheem [Nellie's boss]. Especially girls my age. Women are okay, and they make fools of themselves flirtin' with him. But you... he seems to like you. And I don't want him likin' you better than he likes me. He's like a father to me, see."
Cora just stared at Nellie, who seemed perfectly relaxed and amiable.
"That's how I am. But don't worry. I know it's not your fault. And I know it's just me being all insecure and everything. I'll get over it. And I like you too much to let it bug me. Now turn around so I can tie you off."
One of Callum's footmen opened the door slowly and peered around it. Callum [Michiko's boss] only had two, an older man, over sixty, and this one, a boy younger than even she was. Michiko had taken to nicknaming them "Shuu" (dried meat) and "Koukou" (baby chicken). Of course, nobody knew the meanings of the words, they just put up with her calling them that.The issue of Michiko speaking little English and thinking in Japanese also is excellently executed (*cough* Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer *cough*):
"Someone is in the alley to see you."It's heartwarming to see Cora bounce off Nellie's nearly irrepressible cheer, and to watch Michiko decide whether she can dedicate herself to the samurai lifestyle. And the variety of secondary characters is wonderful: Raheem shows that not all older men are insufferable or self-centred; Hayao's bubbly personality allows Michiko's softer side to peek out. Our antagonists aren't as well-developed, but we still get a thoroughly creepy vibe from Dr. Mantis and understand the true antagonist's motive for turning so evil.
She understood most of the sentence except for "alley".
They stepped outside into the alley behind the row of terraced houses. Ah. So "alley" meant alley. Good to know.
As for the potential love interests: Andrew is... an interesting character, and definitely an unusual one, and Cora's reaction to him is authentic and helps to develop her own character at the same time. And the scene in which Nellie and her policeman go on a date is a refreshing departure from the now-common intense lurve-filled dates of YA.
The mystery is pieced together with cute-if-useless policemen, break-and-enters into mansions and investigations in Parliament. Throughout it all, bits of worldbuilding slide neatly into place like puzzle pieces -- Cora provides a commentary of Parliament, Nellie squees over a steam cab and Michiko rolls her eyes as her boss carries on an affair with a client. Action scenes occur in the London Tower (or "Bloody Tower") and in a tunnel used for London foot traffic.
The finish is wonderful, pulling together the best elements of the writing style, the action sequences and the ultimate feel-good interaction between our gals. This is a book I'd reread. I hope most desperately for a sequel.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5