I used to be notorious for not finishing books. I skated through high school and college literature classes by skimming through books and
Cliff’s Notes Spark Notes. Post college, I made a resolution of sorts where I basically declared (quietly to myself) that I would finish any book set in my path. The thought process behind it was sometimes books are discouragingly slow, but the ending to book makes up for it. Or, sometimes a book, the language, or the style of writing is dry, but by finishing the book I’ll somehow appreciate the time and effort I put into reading the piece of work (this mostly applies to the Classics). But, like many resolutions, I’ve failed to follow through with this one. So here, my bookish friends, is my very first Did Not Finish Report.
The Shadow Conspiracy II edited by Phyllis Radford and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff (Anthology)
Released: February 2011
Publisher: Book View Cafe
Age Group: Adult
Source: LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer
Summary: The soul of the poet who would be king still seeks immortality — but will it find a home? And will that home be flesh or steel?
All new tales of adventure and intrigue in the age of steam, from the authors at Book View Café.
My Thoughts: The style of writing is what turned me off to this collection first. There is no doubt in my mind that each story is well-written, and the plots of the stories I did finish were interesting enough. However, the writing was reminiscent of those classic novels I avoided reading in high school– old-fashioned and stuffy. Don’t get me wrong, I know there is an audience for this book; I’m just not part of that audience.
The second reason why this book and I didn’t mesh was because I felt like I was reading the same story over and over again. From what I read, each story took a human vs. automaton approach with the automaton somehow always coming out on top. I get that it’s an anthology, so there needs to be some sort of cohesion, but this was excessive. I also realize it was an anthology of Steampunk shorts– but just like there is more to Steampunk than brass cogs and goggles, there is more to Steampunk than automatons and the occasional zeppelin.
I made it through five of the eleven short stories. Of those, “Mad Bad Richard Dadd” by Amy Sterling Casil and “The Maiden Mechanical,” by Brenda Clough were the most notable. Despite my “complaints”, I do see the appeal in The Shadow Conspiracy II– It’s a well-written collection that belongs on the shelves on Steampunk aficionados, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Summary: Ria is an 18-year-old girl who has just started going to the University of Magic, a special university for those who have one of the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. There she meets Michael, a boy whose element is different from hers, which makes their romantic involvement seem impossible because mixing of elements can have horrible consequences. She also feels threatened by Adrian, a very dangerous magic disease carrier. Magic disease, which surged as a result of bad mixing of elements, turns people into cold-hearted killers, who have a strong desire to take someone’s element as they do not have their own. Ria’s best friend, Paula, is fascinated by Adrian like most of the girls at the University and wants him to help her with her research about the disease. All Ria’s beliefs are put to test when she starts having the symptoms of the disease and the only person she can turn to is Adrian.
My Thoughts: The writing in Dangerous was rough. Now, I do realize that this book is self-published. It’s not likely Linwood had access to professional editors, so I’m not even going to complain about the occasional typo or the occasional coma splice. But there is one word that sums up the writing in this book– “inexperienced”. The simple rule, “Show, don’t tell” was broken frequently, so I didn’t have a rich reading experience. I had a hard time visualizing what was happening in the story. I also found much of the dialogue to be awkward or forced, and a lot of it didn’t really add to the storyline.
This book does have potential though. The only reason why I stuck around for 80 pages is because the story honestly was interesting. I appreciated the tension between people born with an element and those who are born without. There was a consistent sense of danger with each turn of the page. There was also a hint of a mystery when Ria, a young woman from a “pure element” family, starts showing symptoms of Magic Disease. I ended up putting the book down because of gaping plot holes and inconsistencies in the world Linwood developed. Like, how does an 18-year-old girl become a master geneticist? Or, if Adrian is believed to have Magic Disease, why is the dean allowing him to attend Magic University where thousands of lives may be at risk? Or, if the majority of civilization has the ability to wield an element, and to be a magic user is a socially acceptable thing, why is letting one’s element show in public frowned upon?
Inconsistencies aside, I don’t think the world Linwood created was as developed as it could have been. The story takes place on Earth and in a time/society like ours. Technology and customs were similar. But there were some differences. Like how the government made such an effort to cover up what they knew of Magic Disease, but this was barely mentioned. It was just a blip in the novel, but I have a feeling the government plays a greater role than that. And, I really would have liked to know why being able to control an element was important in the world when A. you weren’t supposed to use the element in public and B. all the modern technology that people used. These may seem nit-picky, but they were enough of a reason that I was unable to “willingly suspend disbelief”.
I think in a lot of ways, Dangerous by Alycia Linwood is like a precious gem that hasn’t gone through a rock tumbler yet. I think there is something good here, but it still needs work.
Keep in mind, I am not discouraging other readers from picking up these books. My opinion is subjective, so while I didn’t fully appreciate these books, maybe you will. You can check out other reviews for Shadow Conspiracy II and Dangerous on Goodreads where some readers gave rave reviews.