Blog Archives

The Way of All Flesh

The Way of All FleshThe Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Women are dying in Edinburgh in the mid-19th Century, but is it murder? That’s the question that Will (our protagonist) asks himself after a lady of negotiable affection, with whom he is well acquainted, dies in apparent agony. His interest is both personal and professional as he has just been apprenticed to an eminent doctor who is the Victorian version of an OBGYN.

The setting and characters are believable. The story moves along well, and the plot is interesting. I was also surprised because the person I had pegged as being behind the dire events wasn’t. The fact that I was wrong and it made sense is certainly worthy of an extra star! I tend to enjoy Victorian whodunits, but it’s the historical medical details that make this one stand out.

View all my reviews

A Very Short Review of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

3 men in a boat (1st_ed,_1889)Title: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)
Author: Jerome K. Jerome
Publisher: J. W. Arrowsmith
Initial Publication: 1889
Genre: Humor

(Digital editions of this book are available free from Amazon and from Project Gutenberg.)

This story relates the mild misadventures of three middle-class men who have decided to spend a fortnight boating on the Thames. The book has no heroes or villains. It is not ‘action packed.’ There is no explicit sex or violence (although they do find a dead girl at one point, but she’s just floating by minding her own business, and her appearance does not delay them long).

You can think of it as a Victorian English travelogue with commentary about the places they pass and the things they observe along the way. I found it delightful. It is witty, lighthearted, and simply pleasure to relax with for a quiet evening’s read.

I highly recommend it.

Book Review – Dodger by Terry Pratchett

This is something different from Sir Terry, a Victorian historical mystery and adventure story. Dodger, a 17-year-old orphan living in the slums of Victorian London, rescues a mysterious damsel in distress. The people who were distressing her want her back — or dead, and Dodger has to use every skill and contact he has to prevent this.

Dodger is a great hero who exemplifies some of the best traits of humanity. He is caring, kind, intelligent, generous… Okay, he’s picked a pocket or two, and he sees nothing wrong with retrieving items that were lost, or about to be lost, but for the most part, he’s a fine young man.

This isn’t an accurate reflection of history, but it does include fictional portrayals of historical figures, some well known such as Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, and Sweeney Todd, and some who are not so well known (so there is no point in naming them).

I did think Dodger might be a bit too refined at times, almost unbelievably unaffected by his deprived environment. This made him almost too good, although to be honest, this is probably why I liked the character as much as I did. He could rise above his poverty, his lack of education, and still be hopeful, considerate, and even wise.

I only have three gripes, and they are not about the story. The first is that the book was not released in the U.S. until a week after it became available in the U.K. Why is that? The second is that the U.S. cover is not as good. I’ve found this to be common with Terry Pratchett books. The U.K. cover is often great, and something far duller and less relevant to the story is used for the U.S. edition. I have no idea why this is.

My last gripe is about how this is marketed. It is not ‘YA’ in that it’s not a kid’s book. It reminds me of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart books, which are also Victorian mysteries that are misleadingly labeled as YA, although Dodger is lighter and more, well, uniquely Pratchett. This book may interest some teens and exceptionally bright and well-read children, but it’s probably not going appeal to kids (sorry, Young Adults) expecting to find a comic book action story or a mindless vampire romance. I’m not saying those are bad, necessarily (although I am pretentiously implying it). What I’m saying is that a YA label may misrepresent what a great, well-written story this is.

Obviously, I enjoyed this book, but then I am a longtime Pratchett fan. There really should be more books like this, charming, witty, positive, with likeable characters doing admirable things. It is a real pleasure to read such a book.

Book Review – The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman

Sally Lockhart is a rare woman in Victorian England. She’s a single mother, competent, independent, and a successful and prosperous business owner. She has never been married, so when she is served with divorce papers, she cannot understand how such a mistake could be made. It soon becomes clear it is not a mistake. The details about her in the document are correct — all except one. She has never met the man claiming to be her husband, the man who wants to take custody of her daughter.

I would not have labeled this a YA book. There is nothing juvenile about it. It is a suspenseful Dickensian story of vengeance, greed, cruelty, and corruption, which vividly captures the social conflicts of the time. The images of Victorian London are detailed and clear. The contrasts between rich and poor, worker and owner are sharp. The only YA aspect may be a carryover from the first book in the series, The Ruby in the Smoke, in which Sally is first introduced as a 16-year-old orphan. I didn’t see that book as specifically YA either, though.

My only criticism, and it’s not a strong one, is that I thought Sally should have been a bit quicker on the uptake in identifying the real force behind her troubles. I figured it out long before she did, but then I, as a reader, understand this is a novel and therefore must make sense. Real life, of course, is not like that.

I highly recommend this book to all readers, especially those fond of Victorian mysteries. It’s a great story.

Related Post:
Book Review – The Ruby in the Smoke

Book Review – The Wonderful Visit by H.G. Wells

First Edition Cover courtesy of Wikipedia

First Edition Cover

In a parallel dimension, creatures of myth and fantasy live their magical lives without care, or pain, or need of food. One day, a rift opens, and one of its inhabitants falls through into late Victorian England. It’s an angel. It’s not really much of an angel. Its only miraculous ability seems to be an unnatural talent for playing the violin, but it does have wings and other angelic features.

The local English vicar, Mr. Hilyer, hears rumors of sightings of a large, strange bird in the area, and, being an amateur ornithologist, he does what all good naturalists of the time would do. He grabs his gun and heads out to bag the beast to be catalogued, stuffed, and added to his collection. The scene in which Wells describes this particular series of events had me cracking up. (This is one area in which I think modern society has made some progress.) Of course, Hilyer ends up shooting the angel and injuring its wing. After that, what’s a Victorian vicar to do other than apologize politely and invite the mythological winged gentleman to be his houseguest while he recovers?

First published in 1895, Wells does here what he is well known for — satirical comment on Victorian society. The angel, coming from an alternate reality that knows nothing of human culture, provides an outside perspective from which to examine it. Wells allows him to do so, and Mr. Angel’s innocent and nonjudgmental observations can be quite charming. At one point he asks, insofar as people do not like pain, why is it that they keep inflicting it on one another. Good question, I thought.

Biases about race, gender, and social class are dragged out for dry ridicule, as are such things as clothing styles, beliefs, values and other attitudes. In one scene, Wells, as narrator, pops in briefly to apologize to the reader for making a servant appear too much like a real person and promises that he’ll make sure they’re portrayed more accurately as mindless stereotypes in some future story. This cracked me up, too, but I suppose I’m easily amused.

From an outside perspective, these Victorian conventions all seem somewhat arbitrary, if not silly, but perhaps no more so than our current ones. (I’m sure you can imagine a few examples.) The point Wells is trying to make, I think, is one that cannot be made too often. Question your assumptions. Question your values. Do they make sense? What do they say about you? This advice is as good today as it was in 1895.

I suppose I could pick on a few things to criticize about the book. It could have been funnier; the satire could have been sharper, but somehow I think Wells was intentionally trying to be, if not subtle, and least not blatantly offensive. His audience, after all, included people who held the attitudes he was holding up for ridicule, and you don’t want to upset your readers too much. They might stop buying your books.

Both the beginning and the ending leave questions unanswered. How did the rift between dimensions open? Suddenly the angel simply appears here with no understanding of how. It leaves, presumably returning, in the same way, possibly taking with it a human housemaid, which it was previously explained does not happen. No one new ever shows up in the angel universe. No one is born, no one dies, and no one visits. Except for this, we don’t know much about the parallel dimension that is home for angels and hippogriffs and magical beings of other types.

That’s about as critical as I’m prepared to be. I found this book humorous and charming. Insofar as it is readily available free as an e-book, it is well worth the cost. (I snagged a freebie Kindle version from Amazon.) It is also worth the time it takes to read. I highly recommend it.

 Applicable Links:
The Wonderful Visit (Wikipedia entry)
The Wonderful Visit (Free on Project Gutenberg)

%d bloggers like this: