The Fog Diver by Joel Ross

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, was published in 2015 by Harper.

A deadly white mist has cloaked the earth for hundreds of years. Humanity clings to the highest mountain peaks, where the wealthy Five Families rule over the crowded slums and rambling junkyards. As the ruthless Lord Kodoc patrols the skies to enforce order, thirteen-year-old Chess and his crew scavenge in the Fog-shrouded ruins for anything they can sell to survive. Hazel is the captain of their salvage raft: bold and daring. Swedish is the pilot: suspicious and strong. Bea is the mechanic: cheerful and brilliant. And Chess is the tether boy: quiet and quick…and tougher than he looks. But Chess has a secret, one he’s kept hidden his whole life. One that lord Kodoc is desperate to exploit for his own evil plans. And even as Chess unearths the crew’s biggest treasure ever, they are running out of time.

Rating: 1/5

I’m starting to realize that I’m not a fan of books that take place in our world hundreds of years later after some sort of natural disaster or pollution destroys/changes the earth. It lends to some really sloppy worldbuilding, where the writer throws in random references to things without rhyme or reason, simply because he or she thinks it would be funny. That’s the type of worldbuilding in The Fog Diver, where even though it’s been hundreds of years, Chess’s father somehow has a scrapbook of current pop culture that contains references to completely random things that aren’t connected in any way but are cobbled together for humor. Where did Chess’s father even get that information?

So, yes, the worldbuilding in The Fog Diver was not my cup of tea, to put it lightly. There also seemed many things wrong with it besides just random references, such as the fact that even though they live on mountaintops, not only do the mountaintops have green peaks (how high up does this fog go, and why is there never any description of snow at all?) but all the kids know what a camel is (because there are camels on the mountains, apparently), even though there’s no feasible reason as to why there would be camels. Are they in a mountain near a place where camels were? And if there’s camels, why aren’t there horses? Why aren’t there mentions of mountainous animals such as mountain goats, sheep, llamas, whatever? Why do they even know words like “coyote”? I get that people suddenly inhabiting mountaintops might dilute the animal population, but surely these animals would still be around because of the milk, wool, and food possibilities.

Basically, the world makes absolutely no sense; it’s as if Ross just ran with the idea of mountaintop living without actually thinking about what that would actually mean. I’m okay with the kids knowing what wheat is, since wheat can be grown on mountains, but I had shifty eyes throughout much of the book regarding most of what was revealed about the world.

In addition, the writing isn’t that great, and Chess’s angst about who he is is piled on a little too thickly. The book is also poorly paced; the beginning trudges on and by the time the end hits you realize the entire book was about one thing that the group talked about in the beginning and took the entire book to actually complete. I’m also left with zero curiosity about the Fog, any machine that may or may not control it, and anything else having to do with this world and the characters. The Fog Diver is poorly conceived and poorly explained and simply isn’t interesting enough to make up for its worldbuilding flaws.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Dystopian, Steam Punk, Middle Grade

What was going on? Were we running? From what?

I climbed my tether, hand over hand, swinging sideways as the raft turned in crazy angles. I reached the deck just in time to catch a glimpse of Bea vanishing into a hatch. At the wheel, Swedish handled the lumbering three-ballooned raft like a racing thopper, playing hide-and-seek behind white waves of Fog.

I climbed toward the crow’s nest. “What’s going—”

“Mutineers,” Hazel said without lowering her spyglass.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2t4GPrU

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

The League of Seven, by Alan Gratz, was published in 2014 by Tor.

Young Archie Dent knows there really are monsters in the world. His parents are members of the secret Septemberist Society, whose job it is to protect humanity from hideous giants called the Mangleborn. Trapped in underground prisons for a thousand years, the giant monsters have been all but forgotten—until now. Evil genius Thomas Alva Edison and his experiments in the forbidden science of electricity have awakened Malacar Ahasherat, the Swarm Queen, in the swamps of Florida. When the monster brainwashes Archie’s parents and the rest of the Septemberists, it is up to Archie and his loyal Tik Tok servant, Mr. Rivets, to assemble a team of seven young heroes to save the world: the League of Seven.

Rating: 3/5

The League of Seven takes place in an alternate, steampunk America with a healthy dose of fantasy/horror elements thrown in as well. The worldbuilding is good; things are explained at their own pace yet the development never seems too fast or too slow. Some of the stranger things are handwaved a little, such as Fergus’s circuits, but overall it’s a rich world, with plenty of room for expansion in the following books.

The characters and plot are pretty good, too. I loved the twist involving the roles of the League of Seven and how it made the book deviate from the norm for this type of plot. I loved Hachi’s circus and Hachi, Fergus, and Archie are pretty good characters and mesh well together as a group. Sometimes group mechanics can be rushed, but this one was developed realistically, I thought.

However, despite all the praise I’ve given the book, The League of Seven just wasn’t particularly exciting enough for me. It was good, yes, but some of the writing and just the overall pace and development of the book made it trudge on in places that should have been exciting. I liked almost everything about the book, but the excitement level itself was not there for me. I didn’t find myself eager to rush out and get the next book. Instead, I’m left with an “Eh, I might get the next book if I remember” and that’s not really a good thought with which to leave a book. I can’t even pin down what, exactly, made it so difficult for me to enjoy The League of Seven. I suppose it just comes down to the things that I like in stories, and this book lacked some of those.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Steampunk, Middle Grade

Archie crept closer and closer to where the insects poured over the wall, then peeked over.

The abyss was covered with an enormous stone, like a lid. No, two stones: half circles that met in the middle, each with a huge letter X on it. XX. It was a door. A seal. An old one, with cracks in the stone. That’s wehre the bugs were going. They wiggled and pushed and scrunched odwn through the cracks to whatever was below.

THOOM. The ground trembled. Was it an earthquake?

THOOM. Dust and rubble shook loose from the ceiling.

THOOM. The stone seal on the wall shuddered, knocking insects onto their backs.

There was something inside the well. Underneath the stone seals.

Something trying to get out.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2iKLeOH

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon by S. S. Taylor

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon, by S. S. Taylor, was published in 2012 by McSweeney’s McMullens.

Computers have failed, electricity is extinct, and the race to discover new lands is underway! Brilliant explorer Alexander West has just died under mysterious circumstances, but not before smuggling half of a strange map to his intrepid children—Kit the brain, M.K. the tinkerer, and Zander the brave. Why are so many government agents trying to steal the half-map? (And where is the other half?) It’s up to Alexander’s children—the Expeditioners—to get to the bottom of these questions, and fast.

Rating: 3/5

Although The Expeditioners starts out by dumping a little too much information about the world at once, it evens out and becomes a delightful treasure hunt novel that brought to my mind Indiana Jones, the Uncharted video game series, and Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn. I’m a fan of steampunk lite (“The Steampunk for Kids!” TM) and Taylor does a good job with introducing the world and explaining the differences—although it is, as I said, very heavy in the beginning, and I still am confused about the “how the world got this way” part.

I did like the world and the treasure hunt aspect of the book much more than the characters themselves; Kit had this awful philosophizing first-person voice that I hate, where at any lull of the novel he dwells on something and then goes on and on about it and what it means in the Grand Scheme of Things, and the other characters alternated between flat and semi-interesting continuously. The illustrations are delightful, though, and add a little bit of depth to the treasure hunt/adventure vibe of the book.

There are better treasure hunt books out there, and better steampunk worlds, but The Expeditioners does a good job of joining the two together and getting a decent treasure hunt and a decent—but highly confusing—steampunk world that helped lessen the pain that a handful of fluctuating characters and a waxing philosophic narrator brought.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Steampunk, Middle Grade

“He never returned,” he said in a quiet voice. “It began to rain the next day. Very hard. The theory was that a flash flood tore into the remote canyon where he had seen the mine shaft and the gold. He wouldn’t have stood a chance. He is presumed drowned, though his body never washed up. The canyon near where he thought he’d found the Spanish conquistadores’ store of gold, and where he was lost, is now referred to as Drowned Man’s Canyon.

“That must have been the title of the map,” I said. “So what happened? Did anyone ever find the gold?”

Zander and M. K. and I waited for the answer.

“No,” Mr. Mountmorris said finally. “Scores of men and women have gone looking for Dan Foley’s treasure, but no one has ever found it.” His eyes gleamed with a greedy delight. “But perhaps the great explorer Alexander West knew where to find the treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2dEvwBU

Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher

Knightley Academy, by Violet Haberdasher, was published in 2010 by Aladdin.

Henry Grim has never been in trouble for borrowing a sword from the headmaster’s private stores. He has never discovered a forbidden room in a foreign castle, or received a death threat over breakfast. All Henry knows is life as an orphaned servant boy at the Midsummer School, bullied by the privileged sons of aristocracy. But all that changes when Henry is the first commoner to pass the entrance exam for the prestigious Knightly Academy, where he will be trained as a modern-day knight alongside the cleverest and bravest fourteen-year-olds in the country. Henry and his roommates, two other students from decidedly un-Knightley backgrounds, are not exactly greeted with open arms by their classmates. In fact, it soon becomes apparent that someone is going to great lengths to sabotage the trio’s chances at becoming knights. But Henry soon learns that there is more at stake than his future at Knightley, and only he can sound the alarm. Is anyone going to believe a former servant on the brink of expulsion?

Knightley Academy is incredibly cheeky in the way that it knows it’s like Muggle Harry Potter and embraces it wholeheartedly. There’s even a line that goes, “Where do you think we are, magic school?” It’s hard to judge the book for being a Harry Potter copy when it’s so honest about it.

But even so, “Muggle Harry Potter” is exactly how to describe Knightley Academy. The main character is an orphan, he’s different from the others in some way, there’s a trio of friends, there’s conspiracy, there’s a rival school, there’s a cruel teacher, and the motto of the school rhymes (a la the Sorting Hat) even though there’s no reason for it to do so. The book is fun, but it’s hard to enjoy at times because of the similarities with Harry Potter. I would say Knightley Academy is more similar to Harry Potter than The Iron Trial is, and The Iron Trial has magic!

As far as plot and mechanics go, I thought that a lot of information could have been revealed much more smoothly. There’s a part where Henry stumbles across a hidden room and is all “Oh, man! This means this which in this world means this!” And I’m left thinking, “Some hints earlier about what this all means would have been nice.” As it stands, I thought the impact was lessened by my own confusion over what Henry was saying and the way it was revealed. It also made my opinion of the rest of the book much lower than what it was before that part.

Also, I’m really sick of the “rich people treat poor like dirt and are mean in every way and there’s not a decent rich person anywhere” trope. At least Haberdasher circumvents that slightly with Rohan.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Steampunk, Realistic, Middle Grade

“Thank you for letting me take the exam,” Henry told the examiners, and then hurried to catch up with Professor Stratford.

“Nice touch, there, collecting the cups at the end,” Professor Stratford said. “I’ll bet anything that was part of the test.”

“I thought it might be,” Henry admitted. “And Cook would just send me back out here to collect them anyway.”

“So it seems fortune would favor the unfavored,” Stratford said, smiling to himself.

“Who said that?” Henry asked, not recognizing the quote.

“I did. Just now.”

Overall Review:

Knightley Academy knows it’s like Harry Potter and is not ashamed to acknowledge it, but even so, I was hoping for more originality. The book was fun, but became grating after a while, especially with the constant verbal clashes, and the big reveal of the book could have been executed much better, in my opinion.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1O3d1Fr

Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Manners & Mutiny, by Gail Carriger, was published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the sequel to Waistcoats & Weaponry.

Lessons in the art of espionage aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s floating dirigible have become tedious without Sophronia’s sweet sootie Soap nearby. She would much rather be using her skills to thwart the dastardly Picklemen, yet her concerns about their wicked intentions are ignored, and now she’s not sure whom to trust. What does the brusque werewolf dewan know? On whose side is the every-stylish vampire Lord Akeldama? Only one thing is certain: a large-scale plot is under way, and when it comes to fruition, Sophronia must be ready to save her friends, her school, and all of London from disaster—in a decidedly dramatic fashion, of course.

Manners & Mutiny is a mostly satisfying conclusion to the Finishing School series, with enough new things and surprises to content and satisfy those, such as myself, who became slightly tired out after the third book. To my pleasure, though Monique (sigh) once again returns, she does have a different role to play, and it makes her seem much less bratty two-bit villain and much more fleshed out as a character.

The intrigue and hijinks of the novel were very well done, and the last third of the novel is the best part of the book, engaging the reader right when they’re starting to feel the tediousness of the pace a bit and ensuring that the end of the book is suspenseful, gripping, and a satisfying conclusion.

The part I least enjoyed, though it was meant to be the most satisfying, was the resolution of Sophronia’s romance plot. I do like her and Soap together, but there were a few things that made me a little exasperated. It was a very obvious resolution and Sophronia and Soap said and did all the things that I expected characters like them to do, and it drove home, at the end of the a very fun book, how formulaic the romance was. Which is a pity, because Manners & Mutiny is not at all a trope-y, formulaic book at all, nor is the series one. So, in terms of enjoyment, plot details, and overall originality, the Finishing School series is top-notch. But in terms of originality of romance…well, it’s not that great.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult

“Professor Braithwope, have you seen anything interesting dancing ‘round the school recently?”

“Condiments are scarce in the skies, whot.” The vampire was serious on this subject.

“Not so much as you would think,” Sophronia contradicted, wondering if he was aware enough to actually be referring to the Picklemen break-in. “Lost your mustard powder, have you?” She loaded in a bolt, taking her time.

“No, relish.” The vampire twirled away. Preshea’s shot went wide.

“Thought as much,” said Sophronia.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1QNyX6j

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Waistcoats & Weaponry, by Gail Carriger, was published in 2014 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the sequel to Curtsies & Conspiracies.

Class is back in session. Sophronia continues finishing school in style—with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey hijack a suspiciously empty train to return their chum Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. But when Sophronia discovers they are being trailed by a dirigible of Picklemen and flywaymen, she unearths a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos. With her friends in mortal danger, Sophronia must sacrifice what she holds most dear—her freedom.

In this book, I finally figured out who the Picklemen are, but I can’t really blame my lack of understanding up to this point on Carriger. But replacing my confusion about the Picklemen is my confusion about the prototype/communication device thingy. I don’t understand what it does or why people want it, but I think part of that is supposed to still be a mystery.

Anyway, Waistcoats & Weaponry is yet another delightful installment in the Finishing School series. There’s less distraction and more action in this one, as Sophronia basically hijacks a train with nothing but her friends, her wits, and a bladed fan. As much as I don’t like love triangles, I loved both Soap and Felix as potential love interests, especially since I can actually see either of them as being “endgame” and, perhaps more importantly, I don’t have a preference over one or the other. It does look to be leaning towards Sophronia/Soap, but things get complicated towards the end…

As fun as these books are, I do wish that Carriger would stop bringing Monique back, or give her a different role. She’s no more than a two-bit villain, now, and her presence in this book was annoying. She is “gotten rid of” before the ending, and another person takes her place, but I hope she plays a different role in the fourth book.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult

“Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, what are you doing alone in the garden with a boy!”

“Um,” said Sophronia.

Pillover rubbed his elbow.

Mrs. Temminnick turned her wrath on the unfortunate young man. “Mr. Plumleigh-Teignmott, this is too bad! I am shocked, shocked, I say. After we welcomed you into our home last winter! I trust you will make an honest woman of my daughter?”

“Mother! Pillover is only fourteen!”

“Oh ho, Pillover, is it? What have they been teaching you at finishing school? To meet a younger man in the gardens, alone and unchaperoned…”

“Really, Mother! He is a veritable hobbledehoy. Don’t be silly.”

“Oh, thank you for that,” muttered Pillover, utterly dejected.

Overall Review:

Waistcoasts & Weaponry continues the rollicking good fun of the Finishing School series, although some things (like Monique) are starting to wear a trifle thin. The direction that the book finished in, though, makes me hopeful that things will take a slightly different turn in the fourth (last?) book.

You can buy this here: Waistcoats & Weaponry

Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Curtsies & Conspiracies, by Gail Carriger, was published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the sequel to Etiquette & Espionage.

Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing so far! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia has become mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners. Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a school trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot—one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot—and survive the London Season with a full dance card.

I love the way this book balances on the edge between “serious” and “so not taking itself seriously.” Etiquette & Espionage was charmingly (and surprisingly) droll, and Curtsies & Conspiracies continues that trend with some serious character development in between the shenanigans and ladies fainting.

Speaking of ladies fainting, let me say how much I love that Carriger is portraying awesome ladies as ladies, not as male mimics. Vieve is the exception to that, but all the other girls at the finishing school are learning to be awesome through tea serving, fainting, and sewing. It just goes to show that females don’t have to mimic what men do to be capable and amazing and strong.

I absolutely loved the final part of the book where Sophronia, Sidheag and Soap infiltrate the vampire hive using all the skills that they learned at the finishing school to win the day. Controlling the situation through confusion has always been a favorite trope of mine to read, and it was particularly awesome in this book which is full of delightful confusion everywhere.

However, as with the first book, I’m still unsure as to what Picklemen are. Some sort of supernatural creature? A secret group? Did I just miss the explanation in the first book? My confusion over who these guys are put a slight damper on the otherwise lovely book.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: There’s one part where Sidheag explains the male anatomy to the other girls. It’s played for laughs, but still deserving of a warning.

Genre: Steampunk, Young Adult

“Henri Giffard is scheduled to float, from France, in the very first transcontinental dirigible!”

This was of little consequence. After all, they spent all day every day floating about in an overlarge dirigible. Sophronia waited to be impressed.

“And he has said he will do it in under an hour using aether currents.”

This was met with pure shock. Even some of the boys looked surprised.

Float inside the aetherospehre? Inside the currents that swirled above the air itself? Unheard of!

“Those with the scientific know-how”—Mademoiselle Geraldine gestured at Professors Shrimpdittle and Lefoux—“tell me that he is most likely to succeed due to some exciting new valve technology. It is deemed that such a monumental historical occurrence is worth uprooting our entire establishment to witness in person.”

Sophronia was caught up in the metaphor of uprooting a floating school.

Overall Review:

Curtsies & Conspiracies continues the serious-but-so-not-serious tone of the first book, coupling that with fun shenanigans and an overall wit that really makes the book (and the series) shine. I love the girls’ obsessions with being proper while contemplating how many foxgloves it takes to kill a dinner party. However, I’m still confused about those darn Picklemen.

You can buy this here: Curtsies & Conspiracies

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

The Boundless, by Kennel Oppel, was published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster.

Will Everett has always wished for an adventure. Little does he know his adventure starts the moment he boards the Boundless. There is a murder, and now Will protects a key that can unlock the train’s hidden treasures. Villains are fast on his heels and strange creatures are lurking outside the windows, as the Boundless hurtles across the country. Together with Maren, a gifted escape artist, and Mr. Dorian, a circus ringmaster with amazing abilities, Will must save the Boundless before someone else winds up dead. His adventure may have begun without him knowing…but how it ends is up to Will.

The Boundless is a steampunk MG novel that appears to be set in the same universe as Airborn, if only because the same fictional city, Lionsgate City, appears in both. And as you might know, I loved Airborn and its sequels, so coming back to another steampunk adventure was exciting.

I loved the worldbuilding in this book. I loved the train; its many, many cars; and all the little details that Oppel puts in that makes the book at once familiar and new. Although it was slightly unexpected, I did like the additional supernatural touch that Oppel added, which was integrated smoothly and in a way that made it ambiguous as to whether supernatural things were really going on or not.

However, I must say that the tense used really bothered me. I’m not fond of the third-person present tense, and the entire book just felt slightly off because of it. I felt like I couldn’t be immersed as fully as I could be because the tense just kept popping off the page and shouting in my face. It kept me from enjoying the novel as much I wanted to, sadly.

I also didn’t particularly like the ending; I didn’t like what Will decided to do. His decision also didn’t particularly fit well with his character, since the choice he rejected at the end was the choice that I felt Oppel was leaning more towards with Will’s development. So, to me, the choice was almost a betrayal of what we had learned about Will. It wasn’t completely without merit, but the option Will chooses at the end wasn’t set-up or developed nearly as much as the option he rejects, in my opinion.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Some scary and violent scenes.

Genre: Steampunk, Middle Grade

“The Boundless is the longest train in the world. When we’re finished coupling the last of her cars, she’ll be pulling nine hundred and eighty-seven.”

“Is she strong enough?” cries out a reporter whose body is all angles.

Will’s father looks astonished. “Is she strong enough? Gentlemen, look at her!”

Overall Review:

The Boundless had a fantastic premise, with great worldbuilding and all the magnificence and fun you can expect when a traveling circus travels on a novelty train. Even the supernatural elements were nicely melded with the world. However, the tense kept me from really enjoying the book, and I thought Will’s choice at the end compromised his character. A good one from Oppel, but not great.

You can buy this here: The Boundless

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger, was published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than in proper manners—and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage—in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.

So, I took one look at the cover for this book and expected some sort of gritty, steampunk fantasy mixed with some The Agency vibes. But then I started reading it, and I was completely thrown off, and then intrigued, by the droll, almost absurdist tone that the book has. This is definitely a case where the cover almost misleads you as to what the book is about, especially since the girl on the cover looks about 10 years older than Sophronia, who is only 14.

This book is so steampunk; it’s delightful. There’s also some supernatural/paranormal thrown in as well with the inclusion of werewolves and vampires, and before you roll your eyes and groan, picture the werewolf with a top hat tied securely around his ears so it doesn’t fall off, and then picture the vampire saying “whot, whot?” all the time. Yes, it is that awesomely silly.

I did think some of what happened in the book was a little vague; I didn’t really get an accurate picture of what the Picklemen were like or why they wanted the prototype, or why exactly the prototype was important. But since there were so many unfinished threads in this book, I expect a clearer picture to come about in the next.

I also admit that I’m not a huge fan of the Action Girl trope, at least in some of its iterations—but I absolutely adore the type used in this book, which is the “don’t get rid of your corset/dress/knitting/feminine accessory—use it to your advantage!” type. Women should still get to be awesome when wearing dresses.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult

“When defending yourself against a vampire,” said Professor Braithwope at the start of the lesson, “it is important to remember three things, whot? He is a good deal faster and stronger than you will ever be. He is immortal, so debilitating pain is more useful than attempted disanimation. He is most likely to go for your neck in a frontal assault. And he is easily distracted by damage to his clothing or personal toilette.”

“That’s four things, Professor,” corrected Monique.

“Don’t be pert, whot,” replied the vampire.

“Are you saying,” Sophronia ventured, “that it’s best to go for the waistcoat? Say, douse it with tea? Or possibly wipe sticky hands on his coat sleeve?”

“Exactly! Very good, Miss Temminnick. Nothing is more distressing to a vampire than a stain. Why do you think containing blood is so important to us? One of the tragedies of any vampire’s life is that in order to survive we must continually handle such an embarrassingly sticky fluid.”

Overall Review:

Etiquette & Espionage’s tone and overall feel was not at all what I was expecting, thanks to the dramatic cover art. It was a fun, droll, rollicking good old time through an awesome steampunk world. I found a few things unclear and confusing, but for the most part it was good fun through and through.

You can buy this here: Etiquette & Espionage

Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

Illusionarium, by Heather Dixon, was published in 2015 by Greenwillow.

Far, far north, in the cold aerial city of Fata Morgana, apprentice scientist Jonathan is preparing to leave for university. He doesn’t know about fantillium, the newly discovered chemical that allows people to share hallucinations—sometimes wondrous ones, sometimes appalling. He doesn’t know he holds the rare skill to control the hallucinations—to become an illusionist. He doesn’t know that fantillium can also open gateways to parallel worlds. Or that he will soon begin an epic journey, crossing cities and worlds, to save his family, his friends, and his very reality. He doesn’t know any of that…yet. And when he does, will his compass continue to point true north? Or will it break apart?

I haven’t read any fairy tale adaptations recently, so that means Fairy Tale Friday will be on hold again for a little bit. Until then, every Friday enjoy my review of books published in 2015!

Illusionarium is a hodge-podge of steampunk and fantasy, and while I didn’t love it nearly as much as I love Dixon’s Entwined, I thought this was a fabulously unique, humorous, pretty awesome adventure all the same. The humor is definitely more understated than in Entwined, but Jonathan has these hilarious inner monologues and comments that strive to make what could have been scary scenarios into something a little less tension-heavy. It’s as if Dixon pays tribute to the darker steampunk and even dystopian novels by adding those elements to her novel, but with a lighter twist (although, let’s face it, somebody growing another face on their body is scary, humor or not).

I do think you have to approach this book with a grain of salt, however. There’s this weird tension between reality and illusion, and while Jonathan is reversing formulas so that they become anti-formulas, I was thinking both “Is this actually a thing?” and also “Well, wait, it’s an illusion, right? So does it have to be ‘a thing’?” And the idea that illusions, where you are basically making things up, have such a rigid structure behind creating them only contributes to the reality/illusion thing.

Illusionarium has an interesting world (well, worlds) and I wished that we could see a little more. The book felt short to me, but perhaps I was just enjoying myself so much that I didn’t want it to end. But I thought Dixon did a good job with worldbuilding, for the most part, and it was certainly one of the more interesting worlds I’ve read about in a while.

As for plots, no complaints here. There was nothing spectacularly striking, nor was there anything glaringly bad. I did guess a plot reveal, if only because it made the most sense based on what I knew about the characters. Lockwood’s side plot was probably the most disappointing of the book, if only because it was pretty obvious. I do like how Dixon left it slightly ambiguous as to the true meaning of Nod’ol’s “prophecy,” though. And despite some of the tiredness of the plot tropes and the lack of spectacularity overall, I did enjoy Illusionarium.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, some creepy scenes involving mutation.

Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult

Sky came first, the thoughts pulling themselves from my head and fingers. I spattered stars over the theater with quiet movements, pinpricks of light, and willed them to sparkle over the room. You could reach up and flick them.

I envisioned ice, and it formed upon itself in the center of the stage. The energy radiated from my fingers and neck like a fever and I pushed it out, the wake forming into white tendrils and flakes and shimmering around the audience, in the aisles and up the gilded walls.

Towers grew. Rows of housetops, vertical docks, and the observatory dome. Bridges formed over the audience, making them gasp. Airships made of ice hung, connected to docking towers with delicate ice threads. The theater filled with ice of every transparency, forming the city I knew by heart. I’d even created canals of generator offal, the rivers of white rolling over the sides of the city and billowing into the feet of the audience.

Overall Review:

Illusionarium, while lacking some of the funnier, and downright crazy, moments of Dixon’s other work Entwined, is still funny—and a darn good story, too. The book grabbed me from the beginning and wouldn’t let me go, despite some of the weaker plot elements and the moments of “Is that really how that works?” It is not a spectacular novel by any means, but it is an entertaining one, and the world is original enough, and developed well enough, to feel fresh.

You can buy this here: Illusionarium