Gothic Steampunk Gaslamp Fantasy. Bringing you uncanny heroines in shilling shockers and adventuress tales.
( As always, enjoyed a review by The More I Read . . . BUT also! This review mentions Alice Guy-Blaché :D ).
The short version of this review is: I loved Dance. Every. Freaking. Single. Word. The long version is going to be, well, long. Sorry. And, yes, there will be too many quotes and excessive squeeing. Again, sorry.
The back cover blurb is a bit lacking: dreams, blah, blah, longing, rekindling a flame, moment of passion, blah, blah, blah... Basically, Marie Du Gard and Sebastien De Saint Vallier had an encounter after she left Nardi at the altar, and Dance picks up three years later, in 1906, to deal with that history when Marie returns to France to ask her father to help finance a film studio.
I loved the setting of France in the early 20th century, a time of convergence of the 'unholy trinity' of Darwin, Freud, and Marx, when the Women's Suffrage Movement gained momentum. 1906 was the year in which Einstein introduced his Theory of Relativity, the Wright Brothers patented the airplane, the first Victor Victrola was made, and Pablo Picasso was winding up his 'Rose' period, on the cusp of Cubism. The motion picture industry was just a baby, short films, no sound.
I remember Marie Du Gard from Bliss as the 'well fed' 28-year-old daughter of Georges, with a slightly militant, bossy attitude, the 'expert in the mysteries and management of rules' (Bliss) whose guiding light was pleasing her parents, especially her Papa. To that end, Marie Du Gard was all 'a proper lady' should be, the young lady 'who played Chopin, who waltzed at soirees, who with her mother paid visits and sent out receiving cards that brought fine guests into the house every Tuesday afternoon.'
Georges, a wealthy industrialist, had his eye fixed on brushing off the bourgeois taint and gaining entree into French aristocracy by using Marie as that ticket into society. Because her worth to him is vested not in who and what she is or can do or become, but in how he can realize his dreams through her. She is just the ...vessel. Marie agrees to marry Nardi first and most importantly because he is her father's choice and because she believes she's unattractive, an idea reinforced by her parents. That's how she found herself engaged to marry one man while being infatuated with his brother, and utterly miserable. Also, boring. I think I have the T-shirt. Yawn...
Until she finds herself standing in a church on her wedding day, yelling 'Non! Non pas! Non! Je ne le veux pas!' (370, Bliss). How did she get to that point? I think it had a lot to do with Nardi's honesty with her and maybe this revelation as he notices she is slimmer late in Bliss and questions her reason (because her parents said to) for dropping about 20 pounds.
'Be leery of those who would invest themselves in you without limits. They will expect limitless return. The trade can even become, Do as I say, as I want. Live your life for me, since I live my life for you.' (Bliss, 362)
Marie Du Gard doesn't walk, she runs from the chapel, the 'echo of a woman's high-heeled shoes on the stone flooring of a cavernous-ceilinged chapel' her battle hymn, 'her wedding gown wadded up in her fists, her veil still over her face, dashed through the middle of the people.' (370, Bliss). She keeps running, till she reaches an old Roman wine cave on the grounds of the chateau where Sebastien finds her.
Marie is 'like a cornered animal', 'bristling with fight', 'smelling of honeysuckle', her wedding dress covered in pollen, and, telling Sebastien she's done living her life by 'absolutes that don't exist.' They are frozen for a moment, appearing poised and posed to dance, there in the wine cave with rain pouring down outside, his hand on her shoulder, then her waist, her hands reaching behind her to free herself.
What happens in the cave, stays in the cave for both of them for three years. The conflagration at the chateau, Georges Du Gard's life-threatening injuries caused by his cigar too close to Nardi's secret stash of ether, Georges' subsequent withdrawal of his affection for Marie, Sebastien's silence after 'seducing, no, ravishing Marie Du Gard' in the cave, and the death of Marie's mother a short time later reinforces Marie's epiphany that since she cannot please her father, or Sebastien, or her mother, she might as well please herself. So she takes flight again, this time across the ocean, as far her small inheritance will take her and she discovers living life for herself is intoxicating stuff.
'It had taken Marie a trip across the ocean to realize what she loved, however, was the plinkety-plink syncopation of honky-tonk ragtime, preferably with a nice contrapuntal. (...) When she had first heard this music in America, it had made something flutter in her chest, not unlike her soul taking wing. Loving it had been the beginning of her discovering who she was, American ragtime becoming a kind of anthem in her dedication to be free of her father's dreams for her.' (60-61)
The second thing Marie fell in love with came as she played 'piano for some nickelodeons.'
'The projectionist at one of them and I borrowed the cinematograph one night after the showings and ran our own film through it. For the projectionist, it was a lark. For me, I was spellbound by my own images up there on the screen in the dark. I bought a machine from the Edison Company then learned most of what I know doing scientific work - filming experiments, you know: the comparative respiration of humans and animals for a university, the heartbeats of a dog during vivisection, the different facial expressions of the mad, that sort of thing.' (184)
Marie discovers one of her passions is putting 'her own parade of flickering images, some sweet, some snarling' on film, images 'leaping from her soul', but more importantly, she uncovers who she is and what she wants.
'In America, she discovered her ability and desire to know her own passions, wild or tame, good, bad, or indifferent, without considering what others wanted for her.' (214)
Marie enjoyed limited success the last year in America making a series of films centered the comical escapades of a heroine named Nelly Brin, who's always engaged to marry but never quite makes it to the altar. Hmmm.. . Despite Marie's success with her films, she lost her shirt in the distribution rights to the films, a hard lesson she won't let happen again. She returns to Paris, $2,000 in debt, hoping her father will back her fledgling film company, and, above all, seeking a reconciliation with Georges, one with joyous notes of respect and affection, her father seeing her for who she is, acknowledging clearly her success, a celebration and affirmation of who Marie is. Because even thousands of miles away, her 'father's displeasure was palpable, like a boulder lowered onto her back.'
Three years living life on her terms have wrought big changes: physically, emotionally, intellectually. She's lighter physically, moving with a 'languorous undulation of hips' over skirts short enough to show 'half a dozen buttons' worth of shoe', skirts more narrow in the fashion of an 'emancipated' women along with a broad-brimmed hat favored by suffragettes. This Marie, who had taken her first breath of independence at the Chateau D'Aubrignon when she declared 'Non!' had embraced equality in that cave with Sebastien, the 'first large gift she had ever given herself without the permission of others.' She has laid claim to a part of her life that will never be ceded to anyone ever again.
I hated that Georges tries to infantilize Marie, calling her his defiant daughter, scolding her by calling her 'Marie-Nicole' not Nicolette; reducing her dreams, ambition and success as just her 'little crazy rebellion', an 'entirely preposterous' and 'cockamamie, faddish scheme about as durable and reputable as a sideshow at a circus.' Men make money in the motion picture business, he says, and though she's intelligent 'for a woman' she's 'not pretty enough to be an actress.' To her father, she's nothing more than 'a foolish, ungrateful old maid who has no right to demand anything of [him].' When he challenges her ability to 'change' the world, she counters by saying she can 'affect' it.
I loved that she gave as good as she got in this battle of wills. Georges' manipulations, insults, intimidations and even the withdrawal of his affection and shockingly disowning her, reinforce Marie's resolve. She is the level-headed one, laying out her business plans like a general, while her father is reduced to flinging insults. Unlike three years ago, when Marie said 'Non!' then ran and hid, she's not going anywhere and she will not give in. She's carved out this piece of herself, and no one gets to take it away.
In America, Marie discovers a power within herself that had weight in a 'slightly provocative belief in herself' rather than in an ideal of feminine physical beauty or ladylike accomplishments. She, who had been powerless for so long, finds this heady 'sway over the opposite sex' a 'glorious thing', loves experimenting with it. Honestly, she's a bit of a 'vamp', leading her lovers in a dance that is a:
'...test of this new province of control being her new ability to keep a man in a state of exquisitely painful limbo, humming at a full sexual pitch like a reed vibrating in the clamp of a woodwind, yet held at bay indefinitely: the challenge being, How long could she sustain the note?' (72-73)
Marie admits to a bit of cruelty in this teasing dance, but forgives herself because 'she didn't always do this on purpose.' She engages in this dance quite deliberately with Sebastien but unintentionally with John Russell-Smith, a septuagenarian rakish American artist, who funds her film project (after her father disowns her), and the first man of imagination and renown to take her work seriously, who sees artistic vision in her flickering images even if his intentions are less than noble.
Dance has one of the best opening paragraphs I think I've ever read. Right away, I know I'm going to enjoy waltzing through Sebastien's psyche, peering into the dark corners, wondering what's behind Curtain No. 3.
'Sebastien knew Marie Du Gard slightly better than her father realized. Sebastien had slept with her once. It had been a fleeting, feverish encounter on a rainy August afternoon that had made no sense then and made even less now. He remembered that afternoon three years ago as a kind of blurred, hysterical dot on the continuum of his otherwise orderly life, a little moment that was easier to pretend had never happened than to explain in the context of his normally sound, exemplary conduct.' (3)
I remember three things about Sebastien De Saint Valliers from Bliss. First, he was almost as pompous and cruel to his ether-drinking, alcoholic artist brother, Nardi, as he was insulting to and dismissive of Hannah who eventually marries Nardi. Secondly, Sebastien had one goal in life: restore his family to their rightful heritage in the Chateau d'Aubrignon and renovate the chateau itself by any avenue available even if it means sacrificing your brother's happiness to do it. He even threatened Nardi with a mental competency trial when Nardi balked at the marriage. Lastly, Sebastien knew exactly how many women he'd had sex with (that would be eight) and counted his orgasms 'presumably to measure his total against some standard.' (293 Bliss) You know, if he can count 'em, well, there's probably not been nearly enough. I didn't like Bastien in Bliss; he was the villain, the manipulator-in-chief, not above lying, sabotaging, pushing Nardi into a marriage he did not want. That's it. All I remember of him.
But Sebastien in Dance is . . . delicious. How did I get from permanently scowling at Bastien to well, falling a little in love with him myself? I think it has a lot to do with execution. Characters and their banter in Cuevas/Ivory books are distinctive in that I always feel I really get to know them, what they like, hate, love, what scares them, what makes them cry, what turns them inside out and upside down. Her characters drive the story and the conflicts are seeded mostly in a battle of the self. Sebastien, more than Marie because she's already undergone a process of self-examination and has accepted/embraced the 'stranger' inside, confronts that part of himself he's kept locked away for forty-one years. Well, except when it escaped for a few minutes one rainy August afternoon three years ago with Marie Du Gard. I think if I went back and counted page time, Dance would be heavily weighted in Sebastien's point of view far more than Marie's. In this instance, Dance is more Sebastien's book than Marie. But it's equally important that it's Marie who is leading this dance, and Sebastien following.
Clothes make the man, as is said, and the way Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas dresses her characters reveal a lot about their characters, how they interact with other characters, how they see themselves. Look at Submit's black silk dresses (Black Silk), Nardi's Alpaca coat (Bliss), Hannah's flashy way of dressing or 'blowsy' as Sebastien says (Bliss), Stuart Aysgarth's fur coat (Untie My Heart), and Marie's narrow cut shorter skirts (Dance). Sebastien, at the beginning of Dance, is never seen without a meticulously starched shirt, high collar, intricate cravat, vest, frock coat, perfectly creased trousers, buffed shoes, a monocle, tamed and brushed hair, neatly trimmed and waxed mustache and mouche. Modest. Graceful. Elegant. Neat. Proper. Buttoned up. Perfect. A walking talking advertisement for a wealthy, powerful gentleman of high birth who probably only has sex on a schedule. And he has this lovely geeky vibe. Lord, I love cerebral.
'Sebastien could absorb whatever new information he required - learn patterns, assimilate details, grasp abstractions - and all pretty much at Einstein's speed of light.' (185)
When Sebastien meets Marie at the train station upon her arrival in Paris, he is shocked that her skirt is short enough to show half a dozen shoe buttons, that she drives a motor car barefoot, that she smokes cigarettes. But he's also 'fascinated by her, down to every last abrasive, provocative - outlandish - idiosyncrasy.' He admires her strength, her 'physical vitality' and 'robust energy', noting that she shares the same confidence and drive as her father. All of which kind of pushes Sebastien's erotic buttons as much as her 'long, elegant toes, high arches, and narrow ankles.' Um, did I mention Sebastien may have a foot fetish? Um, yes. Well. Moving on. At their first meeting, Marie tantalizes Sebastien, and the effects linger long after she disappears for several months.
Sebastien tries to find Marie, and his failure sees the 'sleek elegant ship' of Sebastien's orderly existence hitting rough waters in spite of his increasing wealth, his social position, his expanding power and éclat. He's edgy, anxious for no reason, restless. Worse still, his hands have begun to shake so much that he swears off coffee. To no avail. He signs papers to become Georges Du Gard's heir, signaling the return of the chateau at d'Aubrignon to the De Saint Vallier family, and ennui settles in. Despite his disdain for the machines that disturb the peaceful streets and his shock at Marie driving one, he purchases a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost and a chauffeur. Sebastien, who thinks everything through before acting, gives in to strange impulses. He spots the car Marie drove, gives chase, and forces the driver (not knowing it's Russell-Smith and by now Marie's benefactor) to stop, followed by polite threats to calm the man down. He follows a woman (Dot, Russell-Smith's model) into a lingerie store because she's wearing a hat 'piled high with yellow roses' like the one Marie wore, only to be flirted with shamelessly by a stranger.
Circumstances, fate, a series of freakish coincidences (though Freud says there's no such thing as a coincidence), call it what you will, plunk Sebastien down at the manor house on the grounds of the chateau at D'Aubrignon with a broken leg at the mercy of his bohemian companions Russell-Smith and entourage, two very young art 'models' named Dot and Sally. Oh, and by the way, Marie. He just thought his world was topsy turvy before his enforced vacation amidst 'crazy people and the insanity of naked art and playful women,(...) smoky moving pictures and drunken arguments at dinner.'
Ah, yes. Dinner. In Sebastien's world, one dresses properly for dinner, and one converses about appropriate subjects. One does not allow three young women to bundle him into a dressing gown and slippers with only a night shirt underneath that keeps shockingly riding up over one's knees. One does not lean on those young women's shoulders and hop and lope to the table. And one does not engage in a debate over whether one had salacious ulterior motives for visiting the manor house, like wanting to 'bang Dot' because of a lewd sketch shared at one's gym. One was just being a 'good landlord' and 'sexual frustration' had nothing to do with one's shaky hands and one's malaise. But one is honest enough, privately, to admit to oneself of wanting to 'fug' the 'hysterical blurred dot' previously known as Marie until his eyes roll back in his head.
After that first unfortunate dinner, Sebastien needs tactile reassurance by things that comfort him, that gave him his identity before he fell down the rabbit hole - his monocle (not there), his shirt, vest, and coat (also not there). Sebastien is laid bare, as 'perfectly flayed, deboned, and devoured' as the chicken on his plate. Over the course of seven or eight weeks, his manner of dress becomes less and less 'proper', shedding more than mere clothing, becoming more relaxed, the inner man reflected in his outer trappings. Sebastien De Saint Vallier even engages in fisticuffs for the first time in his life, rolling around on a floor punching a man old enough to be his father. Sebastien never knew he had such propensity to do violence to another human being.
I was just a little amazed at the gradual transformation Sebastien undergoes over the course of his time at the manor house. Marie and Sebastien engage in a 'tease and run' dance, where she flirts and provokes and then pulls away. At first it is just an amusing little game, 'pure joy' for her with a little retribution mixed in for Sebastien stealing her father's respect and affection (as she sees it). But then she realizes she actually likes him.
He murmured, 'I think you have been playing with me, Marie.'
She surprised them both by saying, 'Yes. I'm sorry. I won't anymore. You're different.' She took a breath. 'I didn't realize I liked you so well still.' (189)
But it's just so complicated between them, and their little fandango continues. Marie has real issues with Sebastien and Georges' relationship, trying to reconcile why Sebastien has her father's affections and respect while he withholds those things from her, his daughter. She sees Sebastien as Georges' avatar, hates how her father models himself after Sebastien down to the monocle. In turn, Sebastien doesn't like Russ or Marie's relationship with Russ. Some of the issues are resolved when Sebastien searches for and finds Marie after confronting Russ. He has 'things to tell her, to ask her, things to say' that she won't give him a chance to say because she's always waltzing off. When he finds her in the old Roman wine cave, the scene of the crime three years ago, Marie is shocked by how different he looks:
'Sebastien looked less like himself than she had ever seen. His shirttail was hanging out. His trousers had tan and pink smears on them, paint or something. He wore no coat, no tie, not even a shirt collar. (...) she realized he was unshaven, no morning toilette; no hair oil, no wax on his moustache - it lay just a bit wild across his upper lip. He even had a dark spot on his cheek, dirt or - no, it was impossible - a bluish mark the color of a bruise right below his eye. The usually deep hollow at the bridge of his nose was slightly puffy.' (291-292)
I loved how Ms. Cuevas took the typical masculine/feminine traits associated with heroes and heroines of historical romance and switched them up. It's Sebastien who experiences a sexual awakening and freedom with Marie without so much as a sparkle from a glittery Magic Hoo-Hah and despite his vast experience with eight women. It's Sebastien whose modesty is affronted when Dot spies on him nude, who's embarrassed and uncomfortable saying 'penis' out loud to Marie. It's Marie who has a 'love 'em and leave 'em' reputation and Sebastien who yearns for 'forever.' It's Marie who hesitates about marriage, and who amps up the sexual tension. Sebastien is the one begging to be made an honest man while Marie says there's no hurry to marry. Marie is the one to open Sebastien's eyes that it's all right if he didn't love his wife because you cannot compel love, and she nips his ''I am a monster because I ravished you three years ago' song very definitively by telling him she liked it, that she was not scarred emotionally or otherwise.
I loved reading the author's note about how she found inspiration for Marie in a real person, a French film maker/director/producer named Alice Guy Blache, the first woman director and one of the first to make films that tell a story. Most of her films have been lost forever, but there's a kickstarter project to fund a documentary of her life and to locate as many of her films as still survive. You can see some of her work on YouTube including a really innovative coloring technique she did in film from 1905 titled 'L'Espagne.' Mme. Blache is a fascinating historical character, and a significant player in the early motion picture industry.
I bought Dance by Judy Cuevas (Judith Ivory) five years ago and paid almost $30 for a used copy. $30!! I had to work long and hard to justify/rationalize the cost of this book, but eventually I convinced myself to bite the bullet (in this case lighten up my wallet) by latching onto a couple of tired old cliches: 'You can't take it with you,' followed closely by 'It's only money.' (I went through a similar experience with its prequel, Bliss.) These were the last two books of Ms. Ivory's that I had not read so I decided to treat them like ...well, like I would a magnum of very expensive Dom Perignon, lovingly stored away for just the right moment. I think I believed if I held out long enough Judith Ivory's health problems would resolve, she would begin writing again, and then.... Well, then these would not be the last two books of hers that I had not read. But the plain unpalatable truth is this: If she hasn't written a book in ten years, she will probably never write another word as long as she lives. Which makes me incredibly sad. And the fact is she wrote these books to be read, re-read, enjoyed, pondered over, argued about, loved, or hated. So three weeks ago, I picked up Dance and began to read. Then I read it again. And again one last time. I hope you get the opportunity to read this wonderful book, too!
. . . I'm presently reading "Mrs Queen Takes the Train" and a scene in the book is reminiscent of this pic:
Press Association via AP
It's from this Mother Jones article relating how HRM drove the Saudi king around, and in Saudi Arabia, as you know, women are still not allowed to drive. :)
I have a zillion things going on, so I may do an update post soon, and catch up on all the posts on my Booklikes feed!
Turkish Delights await. ^v^
( I lol'd :D )
Picture this: six people in a cage, held captive by a dragon who has a flock of raptors in his thrall. The raptors spend their days flying across the island in search of prey which they bring back for the dragon's consumption. The dragon has awakened and is looking at his menu possibilities; apparently none of them satisfy his current craving. He speaks:
"Let’s have a story while we wait to see if my birds bring something delicious to eat. If they bring something I like, you might all live to see another day. Now, who has a story for me?” The occupants of the cage were silent. “No one has a story? Then we’ll skip it and go right to dinner.”
Gill stepped forward and said, “I will tell you a story. Long ago, it is said that the mer and human Lushakans were one people. Both races were equally at home on land and sea.”
“Heard it already!” the dragon roared. “You’ll have to do better than that! Besides, I’d like to hear from the one who tastes so strange.”
Ben’s mind went blank. He did not know what to say. Finally he began to tell a Robert Munsch story that his grandmother read him years ago. It was the story of a princess whose castle was destroyed by a dragon. The dragon took the prince the princess was to marry. Ben told of how the princess defeated the dragon by flattery, wearing nothing but a paper bag.
The dragon stared at Ben in puzzlement. Finally it said, “I do not like that story.”
Because of pretty graphic!
"Steampunk, Victorian, paranormal, and Gaslamp. MURDER at the mechanical hotel, with a female psychic detective to stop it. Or will she? ^v^ Hit the Amazon geolink to find out: http://getbook.at/Sundark Or go to Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBookstore, and Smashwords. Thank you! F/F gothic historical fantasy."
It is listed here at BL, I just want the pretty promo to show first! ;)
And my thanks to Nathan for the blurb---if you like WARHAMMER, then do check out his novels as he serves the franchise well. :D I'm still waiting to get the 2nd novel of ULRIKA as that's out of print!
During all that holiday bargain shopping, I took advantage of a 50% off promo from Book Outlet. Thus, a bunch of lovely hardcovers (and nice softcovers), came in. My objective was to get the Ancient Greece: Everyday Life book, and all else were added to make the discount. Everything Sex and Symbol and below are not from Book Outlet but are my personal research books for Dark Victorian: MEDUSA. :D
Mrs Queen Takes the Train is a very lovely hardback with paper wrap around:
And it has ROUGH CUT EDGES. ( swooon )
Yum! Of course now this book must be read quite soonish and with great pleasure. :D
I enjoyed this and marked quite a few helpful tidbits, though perhaps some intense googling would have given up the same. A physical book of lost places, events, and buildings of London in one nifty format is more enjoyable and probably faster research.
This has perhaps a page to 4 devoted to each lost item, so it's not in-depth. It also ranges (haphazardly?) from Roman to Victorian to the 20th c, like mentioning a structure with events occurring in the 1950's. Since I'm biased to looking for Victorian period structures and events, that's a bit jarring, but the anecdotes do inform and entertain. Each entry is accompanied by an illustration.
So I caved (probably thanks to all of Meerkat's comics reviews), and became an actual Comixology paying customer. I'll have to figure out a way to read my new comics (The Wonder Woman '77, first SAGA, first Sex Criminals, um East to West, etc), but here's the discount code: FB
Sundark: An Elle Black Penny Dread is now available on Netgalley! :
Please enjoy, and thank you! ^v^
Who is Elle Black?
Elle Black, an unconventional psychic detective in an unconventional Victorian marriage, leaves her lovely lesbian wife to answer a desperate plea. Guests are vanishing in a mechanical hotel known as the Sundark, and Elle must use her 'anomalous perturbationist' gift–the ability to move objects with her mind–to save herself and the remaining hotel residents from malevolent, sidereal powers. But with apparitions appearing, magnetic lines disrupted, and clairvoyant guests lurking, who is the true murderer . . . or murderess?
There is an observation, and I think this is very true, that when death happens it is not the inspiration for one to become a hero, fighting forces of evil. In reality, death causes shock, paralysis, and a kind of destruction to one's soul. Basically, grief takes one down, and it's harder to keep moving in the world.
So I lack any sort of eloquence regarding such brutal murder, same as what happened when Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone had to die, same as when women are gunned down for no reason than being women. I happened to see this quote from the Qur'an posted on FB and it seems to say what I wish to say.
Celui qui tue une âme innocente, c’est comme s’il avait tué l’humanité entière et celui qui sauve une âme, c’est comme s’il avait sauvé l’humanité entière.'
- Les mots du CORAN (52/32)
Whoever kills an innocent soul, it is as if he killed all mankind, and whoever saves a soul, it is as if he had saved all mankind. '
- The words of the Qur'an (52/32)
Good bye, you wonderful cartoonists. Thank you.
I'm in for this (I usually don't pay attention to m/m, but this is great stuff), and it's currently 0.00 for Kindle at Amazon. :D
In so many ways while reading There Will Be Phlogiston, this phrase from Howard's End 'Only connect! Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted' kept echoing in my head. Alexis Hall's prose reads like it is, at least, one of his passions. Having read a couple of his books, I've decided I just really love and connect with his writer's voice - witty, genuine, and yet clearly recognizable no matter if it's contemporary, paranormal, or a steampunk Victorian sex romp. The connection between author and reader here as well as in his other books stems from a wonderful talent for creating empathetic characters and crafting a narrative that is a window into the soul of those characters and a bridge between my own experiences and those of the characters.
Arcadius, Lord Mercury, is 'the last scion of Gaslight's oldest family' and by the way also 'a catamite and a whore.' At least that's the way he sees himself through the mirror of rigid structures of Gaslight aristocracy. He's also in dire financial straits, i.e., broke.
'But Lord Mercury had a household to manage, factories to run, appearances to maintain, and debts to pay, so many debts. He had been intending to marry money—a devil’s bargain of a different kind.' (128)
Arcadius is a man who is boxed in by all the rules of society: the proper distance between himself and a young lady with whom he's dancing, where and with how much pressure to place his hand as they waltz, the weight of the history of his Gaslight nobility, the proper wine pairing for dinner, the proper way to pay addresses to all the proper people. More personally, his opinions are a reflection of societal expectations and and an awareness of the repercussions if those expectations are unmet.
'Opinions, as far as Lord Mercury was concerned, were derived from social context. They were like a well-chosen hat: framing one's elegance of taste, and proving that one both knew, and could afford, the right sort of hatter.' (145)
He's very much aware of the censure and humiliation that would be heaped upon him if the fact that he is attracted to men every becomes common knowledge. The fact that he constrains himself from acting on those feelings even if rarely and very discreetly is almost as wearying and destructive as keeping that part of himself locked away, that part that doesn't fit in with the definition of what society demands 'real' men do and don't do, in a box labelled an 'aberration of the body.' But his well-ordered, if unsatisfying, life is shaken up by Anstruther Jones, the Phlogiston Baron. Jones kind of explodes all over those rigid rules Arcadius has been forced to live with, and now he is forced to at least admit that of late he has grown weary of 'laying increasingly elaborate façades over broken things', weary of being unable to 'surrender to his inclinations' until he can bear it no more, resorting to clandestine, anonymous assignations to assuage his needs.
Anstruther Jones, the Phlogiston Baron, whose 'mothers were whores', who made his fortune by mining phlogiston (a type of elemental fire which fuels practically everything in this alternate universe including vast airships and makes things go BOOM!), and who now wants to enter society, is about as different from Arcadius as can be imagined.
He approaches Lord Mercury with a bargain: polish his rough edges enough to gain him entree into society in return for money to renovate Arcadius's estate, pay his debts, and replenish his coffers. Why? Because Jones has just one simple desire:
'I want a house,' Jones explained, 'like this house. For my children to call theirs and give to their children. And family. I want to have a family.' (105)
Of course, Lord Mercury doesn't want any part of this vulgar bargain, until Jones begins to pull paper after paper from his duster - vowels, IOUs, debts - the detritus of hundreds of years of gambling and other diversions seen as fitting for his forebears.
'Mortified, Lord Mercury turned his head away. It was one thing for a matter to be generally understood but never admitted to or spoken of. Quite another for an ill-mannered commoner with ideas above his station to scatter the undeniable truth all over Lord Mercury’s last Axminster.' (116)
And so with a handshake (minus the spit, of course), Arcadius as Pygmalion begins the transformation of his Galatea and fights his growing love for this rough, uncouth uncommon commoner. I loved the Pygmalion Galatea/My Fair Lady references as Arkady instructs Jones on everything from etiquette to fashion to smoothing the vowels in his Gaslight accent.
'He did his best to smooth the Gaslight from his voice, but the raihn in Spaihn stubbornly rehned on the plehn...' (140)
Jones is this marvelous combination of fluidity and strength that stems from knowing and accepting who he is, where he came from, and what/who he wants or likes as well as possessing a gloriously tender vulnerability. He's as comfortable in his skin as Arkady, as Jones calls him, is not. Jones bases his choices on one simple thing: happiness, his own and those he cares about. The rest is superfluous and can go hang.
'It was not, Lord Mercury had to admit, that Jones had bad taste. Merely that he made no distinction between, say, the music hall and the opera, and formed his opinions without giving consideration to what others might think of them.' (140)
'...But, for Jones, they (opinions) were a round of drinks at a common tavern: selected purely for personal gratification and shared liberally with all and sundry.' (141)
Jones is quick, intelligent, with a curious mind making Arcadius's job a little more challenging because
'(i)t was not enough for him to simply know a thing was, he had to know why it was. And Lord Mercury was increasingly conscious that his answers amounted to little more than 'Because that is the way of it.'" (135)
I really loved how Jones was so confident in his skin, knowing without a doubt what makes him happy, discarding things he sees as restricting simply forbidden '(b)ecause that is the way of it.' Jones holds close to that vital part of him that makes him the man he is whether he's mining phlogiston in the skies or being introduced to a young lady at a soirée. For instance, despite his fashionable attire Jones still retains the appalling (to Arcadius) habit of shrugging and sticking his hands in his pockets, ruining the line of his trousers. Or how, despite Arcadius's constant remonstrations not to laugh so immoderately, he 'would not be curbed. On any matter. He laughed when he felt like laughing.'
Arcadius's and Jones's mutual attraction grows steadily, and soon Arcadius isn't able to dismiss his feelings for Jones as merely a 'diversion' but he's not able to take the leap just yet. Their relationship sparked with a handshake but it burns bright and strong in the scene in which Arcadius teaches Jones to waltz. It's so filled with tension and yearning and begins with a familiar and funny exchange.
'One does not waltz with one’s hands in one’s damn pockets.'
'One offers one’s most sincere apologies.' (178)
'Jones smiled. Such a smile, his eyes all sky. “One, two, three, and . . .”
And they danced.
For about thirty seconds, Lord Mercury let another man hold him. Protect him. Whirl him round the room where his mother had once danced and dazzled.' (237)
Their affair begins with lots of passion, but Arcadius's inability to allow real intimacy between them, his rebuff of Jones' kiss (because a kiss would wreck the distance Arcadius imposes on his feelings and men do not form attachments like that to other men) is a big roadblock. Jones respects Arkady's boundaries, but the relationship suffers.
'He always had to instigate.
Every single time, he told himself it would be the last.
But he came to pleasure like an opium addict to his pipe, and Jones broke him with ecstasy. Made him sob and scream and beg, utter the most unthinkable obscenities, disport himself with unspeakable wantonness. But he never held him again. Or tried to kiss him.
And it was never quite the same as that first afternoon.' (313)
Anstruther Jones is just as boxed in as Arcadius, Lord Mercury in many ways. He's locked out of all but the lower rungs of society because of his origins. He's a man who has experienced life in its roughest most elemental form - survival. But now he's not just surviving, he's thriving. He wants roots, companionship, family, a home, love. But getting these things are not easy. Especially when the other half of the relationship keeps pushing you away. When Arcadius closes off, Jones is hurt, and he's not too proud to admit it.
'“I came to you because I needed you. I stayed because I liked you.” Soft words from a hard man.' (264)
And then there's Lady Rosamond. I first fell in love with Ros's internal dialogue. Lady Rosamond appears to be a genteel young lady, society's perfect ingenue, meek, charming, amiable and affable, one who had perfected the art of crying prettily, who 'could swoon on demand' (but who had 'never succeeded in mastering the blush',) who was determined to never appear 'grumpy' or 'inelegant' or 'inappropriate' or 'inconvenient', a lady who aspires to become engaged to a proper Marquess. But she's lonely, frustrated by the box she's locked away in, only to be taken out to perform the role that is society's idea of what is proper and what isn't, constrained to be, to do, to say, to wear, to think as every young lady is expected to do. No one *see* her, who she is really, and worse no one cares. Actions that are proscribed as 'unladylike' are ruthlessly wiped out.
But before you feel too sorry for her, you need to know she can be 'grossly unpleasant' at times, is 'spoiled,' 'proud, headstrong, stubborn, and a little unkind.' But Anstruther Jones likes these things about her. I think she likes that he sees her, as a person, warts and all, instead of some 'china doll' without personality, opinions and definitely without emotions.
She's really kind of delightfully subversive with her f-bombs, smoking cheroots with Jones, and her desire to wear trousers as women who work in the sky do. She's very much attracted to Jones, despite his unsuitability. With Jones the real Rosamond is not stifled. He challenges her without judgement or disapproval to reach out for the freedom to be who she is. That's pretty heady stuff. As she dances with The Marquess of Pembroke (whom I nicknamed Lord 'Quite' because that was his reply to most conversational gambits) her thoughts are reluctantly drawn to dancing with Anstruther Jones:
'He danced well. Unexpectedly so for such an impertinently large man. With ease rather than with grace, but there was something just a little thrilling about the way he moved.
No. Certainly there was not
But would it make one feel fragile to be held in such powerful arms? Or powerful too?
And fuck. The marquess was talking to her." (339-342)
And sometimes the truth spills out of her no matter how hard she tries to suppress it:
"Lady Mildred whispered, “there’s a word they use in the undercity, for when somebody isn’t comely but they make you . . . you know . . . fluttery on the inside.”
Rosamond rolled her eyes so hard it was a wonder they didn’t spin in their sockets.
“What’s the word?” asked one of the other girls.
Lady Mildred put a hand to her mouth, and murmured coyly from behind it, “Likerous.”
Rosamond had to concede: whatever it meant, it sounded filthy.
And it suited Jones right down to the ground.
"But," put in Lady Cynthia, "I thought that was a lozenge.”
“You stupid goose, that’s licor—”
At that moment they caught sight of Rosamond, and fell immediately silent, five faces set into blank stares.
“Personally,” she said, “I prefer fuckable.” (578-585)
Or how she painfully and privately admits to futilely seeking the approval and love of her father:
'But if she had been a boy, she would have been sent to university instead of finishing school, and then on a Grand Tour, and she would have been able to run away whenever she fucking well wanted to.
And her father would have cared. Would apparently have torn the city apart for her.' (561)
Rosamond recognizes the same powerlessness in the scream of 'pain' and 'fury' by a carnivorous mechanical horse at the Clockwork Circus, a golden horse being beaten into submission in an attempt to force her back into her box. Lady Rosamond is a lady who smokes cheroots in secret on a moonlit balcony and solicits kisses unashamedly from an uncouth man she says is 'not good enough' for her. That's Ros you hear kicking against the walls of the box. She truly is kind of awful to Jones and to Arcadius, but I saw clearly how she changed, her humanity throughout all the difficulties. It's a very powerful redemption.
The prose in There Will Be Phlogiston is refreshingly honest, funny at times and heartbreaking at others while still other parts are almost poetic. Like this:
'They followed the grey-blue brook as it wound its way past abandoned paper mills and lumber factories, these moss-covered remnants of Gaslight’s fairly recent past. The light was silver-edged as it slid through the trees, spreading its dusty glister over the water. And, finally, there was the waterfall, smaller than she remembered, skittering restlessly over a haphazard pile of algae-slick stone, rushing past her in a flurry of silky white.' (886)
This is not your garden variety steampunk historical romance if there is such a thing. I can count on one hand how many m/m/f or m/f/m books I've read, and, sadly, all were rather too easily forgotten. This is not those books. The author breathed life and passion into all three of the main characters and made me care what happens to them. He gave me characters I can understand, that I can relate to, characters who touch my heart in a deeply personal way. He gave me a narrative that pulls me in to the hearts and minds of those characters. A connection. There Will Be Phlogiston is a marvelous book, one that speaks to family, love, romance, freedom, and choice in such a positive way. Here the passion and the prose combine and connect to render a story that made me want to crawl into the pages and never leave.
Sighhh. *hearts, flowers* The Querkywriter keyboard.
REad more, here: http://www.qwerkywriter.com/
One more goth'y image! (maybe). The deviant page is exceptionally creepy. I find this very well done and evocative, though. "Life between the pages" by dihaze. http://dihaze.deviantart.com/art/life-between-the-pages-340050725