Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Report: Victoriana

I'm supposed to do an Enchanted, Inc. post tomorrow, but I don't have any questions to answer. Is there something you want to know about the series? I mean, aside from when the next book is coming (which is totally out of my control).

I mentioned that I was on a Victoriana kick in reading. Here are a couple of books I found in my library recently. It seems like once you start reading this stuff, you just seem to find more of it.

First, there was The Mysterious Howling, the first book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood. My agent suggested this one, and she definitely knew my taste. It's actually a children's book -- maybe aimed at tween readers -- but it's one of those books that's probably good for children of all ages. It would make a fun book to read out loud to younger kids (so much potential for funny voices), but I think adults who are well read in the "governess goes to work in a house with secrets" subgenre or who are Jane Eyre fans will probably find it funnier because they'll get all the references and jokes. Sixteen-year-old Penelope has left the Academy for Poor Bright Females to interview for a governess position. She has high hopes that the fact that the advertisement specified that the candidate be good with animals means that the children have ponies, but she's surprised when the interview essentially consists of "Please, please, please work here, and you'll have to sign this letter stating that you won't just run away." Then she hears a mysterious howling sound coming from the barn, goes to investigate and finds three children who act more like animals. It turns out that the earl found these children who'd been raised by wolves in the forest on his land when he was out hunting, and she's expected to civilize and educate them. The kids are bright, but still mostly act like dogs. The big question, though, is why the earl is bothering with a governess instead of just sending them off to an orphanage. Does he have plans for these children?

This book manages to be a perfect spoof of those "governess goes to work in a house full of secrets" books while also being a good example of the genre. I was reading it at my parents' house and kept reading funny bits out loud to my mom. Just the imagery of an inexperienced governess dealing with children who'd literally been raised by wolves cracked me up. And then there was the fact that the kids were so completely distracted by squirrels -- which I learned while teaching Vacation Bible School last summer happens even with children who weren't raised by wolves. The one down side is that the ending is pretty cliffhangery -- not so much the "They're all going to die! Tune in next week to see what happens!" kind of cliffhanger, but the book just rather abruptly ends right at the point when a big discovery is made. The sequel is already out, but if you like books to have tidy, satisfying endings, be warned and have the sequel ready.

Then when I was picking that book up from the library, I ran across a book called Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale. This book demonstrates how blurry the lines between young adult and adult fiction can be. This was published as young adult by a YA/children's publisher, but has none of the usual hallmarks of "teen" fiction. None of the characters are teens -- the main character's age is never given, and while he might have been a teen at the beginning, by the main action of the book he would have to be an adult. I suppose the pacing is faster than you'd find if the book were written for adults, and the subject matter is something boy readers might like. This isn't a criticism, just a mention that if you don't like "teen" stuff, this is a teen book that isn't a "teen" book. Our hero is a thief in Victorian London who was captured when he fell through a skylight while trying to flee across the rooftops. He was badly injured and would have been allowed to just die, but a young surgeon who'd developed some new techniques for treating severe injuries needed a test subject, and so he was saved. Now he's being taken to meetings of the scientific societies to be shown off as a specimen. But while sitting through all these meetings, he listens to the lectures and studies the gentlemen of science. This gives him the idea for a grand scheme. London's new sewer system makes for the perfect escape route from thefts, and someone who acts like a gentleman may have a better chance of selling the stolen property. When he gets out of jail, he puts his plan into action, creating two identities, Scarper the street urchin who steals the stuff and Montmorency, the gentleman who sells it. Once he gets the money, he moves into a nice hotel and starts buying nice clothes instead of stealing them, and he finds that he quite likes the life of a gentleman. But how long can he keep up this double life?

I read this in just about one sitting. It's a real page turner, and I couldn't help but like the main character, in spite of his less-than-lawful behavior. Although we don't know how old he is, it still reads like a coming-of-age story as he deals with the issue of identity. Plus, the capers are fun, almost like a one-man Victorian Leverage. It's the first book in a series and seems to work as a set-up to stories that move in a slightly different direction, due to people he meets and things he does as a gentleman. I've already checked the second book out of the library.

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