Team Mecha Dragons
Synthetic leather wings cut through the cool night air. A snap of electrical discharge, a quick whiff of ozone, and they are gone. Long have the techno-mages tried–and failed–to study these mysterious creatures. The Mecha Dragons have left their eyries, and they are READING.
- With special guest star Kori
Book 1: The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone
Authored by Geonn Cannon and published by Supposed Crimes in 2015, The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone is the first of two books featuring the titled Trafalgar and Boone. Set largely in a steampunk London in the year 1919 after a Great War fought with airships, archeologists travel the world to seek the forgotten relics left behind by ancient civilizations. Trafalgar and Boone have spent long years opposing each other in the hunt and feel little but resentment for each other. After a deadly plot aimed at not only their lives but the lives of their fellow archeologists, the two rivals must put aside their differences to discover those responsible and stop them from bringing a powerful evil into the world.
What do you think of the book’s setting?
Ian: I haven’t read much Steampunk. I am more so familiar with the cosplay. I was afraid that it would hit us over the head with the tropes, but it wasn’t that in your face, and I appreciated the aesthetic. I was a bit puzzled by the use of a plague doctor’s mask. That seemed weird and unnecessary.
Oh, one more thing, sorry, Boone’s Dracula glasses.
Jenna: So I hadn’t read anything from any steampunk genre before, unless you count Legend of Korra as being moderately steampunk (airships). I’d seen the fashion, seen caps from some anime, and generally knew the tropes, but I hadn’t had any actual hands-on experience with it before — I’d never thought of it as a genre so much as, like, a subcategory that could be applied to other genres. It was more or less exactly what I expected, and I appreciate that kind of consistency.
It didn’t throw me off guard or anything, and the steampunkiness was written well, to my laymen’s eyes.
Katie: I feel like I should like steampunk! The aesthetic has always seemed kind fun for me. I like clocks and vaguely clockwork designs. I like brass, and telescopes. I recently complained on Facebook that there weren’t enough blimps in the world. But I also strongly dislike Victorian literature. 19th century London is a literary turnoff for me, and even all the airships in the world can’t quite save it. So it’s not my favorite genre, but not enough to get me to write something off.
I guess this was technically 20th century, but still.
Priscilla: I’m a huge fan of works like Uncharted, Tomb Raider, or Indiana Jones, so I was excited about the archeologist/explorer adventure thing. I never read any steampunk either, but I love the aesthetics, so I’m cool with that too. Though I feel the steampunk elements were there *just* for the aesthetics (in the sense they don’t affect the plot and are not really required for the story to work), but that’s a fair reason to have them too. It was well done for my unfamiliar eyes – let’s just say this was the part of the worldbuilding that *did* feel right.
Bo: I’m mostly familiar with video games, and I feel it works great there. I love the idea behind steampunk, though it often feels convenient to whatever the author wants. If you want something super advanced, well steampunk allows it. If you want to keep technology limited, same thing. Not used to reading it, but it worked for me here. And airships are just cool, so I loved that.
Katie: I did enjoy the airships. I liked the (relatively) slow-motion race across Europe.
Jenna: Haha! Yeah, that was kind of a funny image. “We’re racing across Europe…we’ll know the results in like a day.”
Priscilla: I agree, airships are cool. The whole steampunk genre always seemed very cool to me; I don’t know why I never read more about it.
Katie: I feel like the setting fit the personalities of the characters fairly well too – I can imagine Boone getting really into steampunk goggles and stuff.
Bo: I’m with Ian about the plague mask the inventor wears. It’s covering up the deformity, so it has a purpose, but it is kind of weird. Maybe I’m just used to plague masks from like, Assassin’s Creed.
Ian: Same with Boone’s Pince-nez. With blue lenses. I just kept thinking of Gary Oldman’s Dracula.
Jenna: Hm. I’m kind of a fan of things being there because they look cool, but it does mess a little with the coherent feel of the world if it doesn’t actually belong or whatever. They tied it into the story okay, but…eh. I could take it or leave it.
Bo: Trafalgar’s finger blades were pretty awesome.
Katie: I liked the finger blades too!
Priscilla: Yeah, I like the Emei piercers.
Did the characters resonate with you? What did you think of them in general?
Priscilla: Oh characters… I feel I could talk about every single one of them at length, perhaps because characters are always what matters the most to me in a book.
Well… I mostly like the cast, though with a few caveats. I appreciate how diverse the book was, but diversity is not good enough if you can’t handle certain groups well. Still, it was refreshing to see. I have to confess that I was expecting both Trafalgar and Boone to be equally important to the narrative and was disappointed that this wasn’t true, especially because I like Trafalgar much more than Boone. There’s something to talk about for every character, I think.
I think Trafalgar was my favorite, but some aspects of her background and motivations don’t make sense.
Katie: I had some trouble with the characters to be honest. I wanted to like them! I liked that they were a diverse group of ladies, but I felt like overall they were *very* flat characters. I can’t name any of them that had a substantial arc over the course of the book (with the possible exception of Beatrice?). I feel like their actual personalities were often pretty interchangeable. When Boone & Trafalgar first meet, Boone seems like she’s the hot-headed one and Trafalgar is the cool, rational one. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s a fine way to set up their relationship and rivalry. But then like 20 pages later when they’re breaking into the house, Trafalgar is the one walking up and bashing the door down, and Boone is freaking out that she’s not coming up with a plan first. That could work, but there’s no reason for it. They just sort of bounce back and forth depending on the scene. To pick a favorite, though – Trafalgar probably? Or Beatrice? Lady Boone grated on me, a bit.
Ian: Ok, the one thing I have to say is that when Adeline died, I feel like the most interesting character in the book died. I instantly fell in love with that character, and then she got killed.
I was super bummed out. I want a whole book about that character.
Katie: I think Adeline worked because you had a really strong, intense sense of how her powers affected her life every day. I didn’t always get that with other characters.
Jenna: Adeline was the best. RIP Adeline.
Bo: I wanted much more of the inventor, too. I feel terrible that I can’t remember her name. The little glimpse we got was amazing.
What didn’t work with the novel?
Ian: For me, the part that didn’t work was definitely the graphic sex scene. I felt like it didn’t match with the whimsical adventure vibe of the rest of the story.
It was more so a tone thing.
Kori: I guess for me I didn’t mind it, because I’m so used to seeing every hetero thriller/sci-fi/genre story always include a sex scene, and I was just happy a wlw pairing got to have one.
Bo: Very true about most books in this type of genre including that kind of scene, but I find it a weak spot in those books as well.
Ian: I don’t think it was the inclusion of a love scene so much ad how graphic it was, and add to that the master/servant nature of Beatrice and Boone and it was just sort of squicky.
Katie: I didn’t mind the sex scene so much on its own terms. But Beatrice’s relationship with Boone was a bit icky to me.
Kori: So the power dynamics weren’t working for you with Beatrice and Boone?
Bo: I think that’s what most of us agree about with the sex scene, and their relationship as a whole. It felt too much like Beatrice “owed” Dorothy, and that subservient nature to it felt exploitative.
Katie: I believe Ian mentioned that so much could be solved with their story if Beatrice were simply a curator or something like that, rather than Boone’s maidservant.
Ian: If they were on more equal ground, yes.
Priscilla: Beatrice and Boone’s dynamics didn’t work for me as well. The sex scene was a bit too graphic, perhaps compared to the tone of the book – it’s not a book focused on romance or anything, so it feels a bit misplaced. But the dynamics are what made the relationship “squicky.”
Kori: For me, the power dynamic makes it hard to completely root for the two of them. Again, from the wlw perspective, I’m just happy we have a seat at the table. But I would enjoy it a whole lot more if the ground for those two was more even.
Bo: Or if instead of Beatrice pleasuring Boone, it was the other way around to make it clearer that they do not have an exploitative relationship.
Kori: That would have been a fun dynamic to explore.
Bo: Beatrice represented the majority of what didn’t work for me (and also what did, so it’s weird). Her relationship with Boone was one of the sore spots of the book, and she is also a prime example of the book’s habit of characters knowing or being capable of things that we had no idea about. Too often events felt unearned for that reason.
Katie: I liked a lot of aspects of the book, but the characters felt like a weak spot to me. There are charming elements to them – they’re led by two competent, quippy archaeologists, after all! – But I found them to be lacking in depth and development. With Beatrice as one possible exception, no one had a character arc. And even if you start out with some fun characters, if they end up in a very similar emotional place to where they start, it’s hard for me to be really, fully invested. And Boone & Trafalgar’s personalities felt a little too interchangeable at points for me to fully invest in their relationship.
Kori: Yeah, I think the book went a little too far with showing, but not enough telling to give the “showing” the proper context.
What did work with the novel?
Katie: I enjoyed that wlw was the norm in that society. It was just a matter of course.
Priscilla: Yeah, I like to see that same-sex relationships were normative in this society.
I hate when fantasy writers have the opportunity to write new, fantastic worlds but they resort to the same issues our own society faces. Sometimes it can work, it can be a commentary, but sometimes it’s just… lazy. I’m glad it doesn’t happen here
Bo: It’s clear that they do care about each other in a positive way and both like their relationship. And of course, it’s a good thing that you have two women in a happy relationship at all because it doesn’t happen enough. Not without tragic endings.
Ian: It was definitely nice to see so many women working together.
Kori: Definitely. The fact that the society was okay with the relationships was a highlight for me. I think with a little more time, and extra length, the depth of the characters would have been able to better handle the fast paced story.
Because the plot was MOVING.
Bo: And I love how the plot moved, even if the characters are left behind at times. It kept the book exciting.
Katie: Haha, yes! This is the first book in a series, right? I can imagine the series delving into character dynamics more as things develop. If that’s the case, I can imagine enjoying this a lot more in retrospect once I have a better handle on the characters and their journeys.
Kori: I hate fantasy/sci-fi books where it takes three-quarters of the story for the plot to get into gear. Like Tolkein. (Sorry Katie!)
Bo: Shame *ding*
Ian: I knew you couldn’t resist Kori.
Kori: Someone had to say it! I like my plots to MOVE, and the first installment is anything but boring.
Priscilla: I do understand Kori’s issue with Tolkien. As much as I love him, it’s not the kind of book I would recommend to anyone.
Katie: I feel like this book needed more slow, thoughtful landscape descriptions. Perhaps some questionable jewelry.
Priscilla: Say what you want about Trafalgar & Boone, but the book has a great pacing.
Katie: The pacing for this book was one of its biggest strengths.
Kori: Too many authors spend more time than needed to try and set up their fantasy world, instead of trusting that the reader can pick it up as the plot moves.
Bo: LOVE the pacing. I normally get stuck on single pages where I read them over and over, but that didn’t happen at all.
Priscilla: For me too. I was in a reader’s block of sorts over the past year, so a short book with great pacing was very welcome.
Ian: I didn’t feel any parts drag. Once it got to the balloon chase, it was over before I realized.
Katie: I’d agree, Bo. There were lots of interesting character elements! I liked the idea seeded a few points that Trafalgar (after her capture as a child) was unsure of how much of her brain was actually *her* as opposed to the creature that almost possessed her. That was fascinating to me. I just wish it was explored a little more.
Priscilla: Yeah, I like that bit about Trafalgar too. And the way Boone tries to be nice to her was one of the first moments between them where I could see the relationship developing from truce to partnership.
Kori: It’s been a while since I’ve gotten a series that lets its characters be imperfect and leaves them that room to grow.
Bo: Seeing two women main characters start as rivals and become actual friends was something new. Usually, they start as friends and stay friends or become enemies.
Katie: That’s a good point, Bo. I hadn’t thought about that.
I could totally see the series turning into something fun & great. I just feel as if it could already be there with just a few character tweaks here and there. Not perfect characters, but interesting dynamic ones.
Priscilla: I love the trope of enemies turned allies turned friends, so I was excited once I saw this is what we would get.
Kori: I think with each new installment, we’ll get more time to settle in with the characters.
Bo: I am quite interested in the sequel (more than others here, I think) because I did see a lot of good that could make for a really good book with the flaws ironed out. I want to see if the author manages that because I could find myself really enjoying this series.
Ian: I would have liked a bit more character development, but I actually LIKE Tolkien, so…
Kori: Hey, some people like watching paint dry, I don’t judge.
Priscilla: THAT WAS MEAN.
Katie: Kori I feel like you’re pushing my limits here. 😞
Priscilla: GO BACK TO LOTHLORIEN AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU JUST SAID.
Bo: As much as Beatrice represented things wrong with the book, she had some of the best development that would draw me to the sequel.
Katie: Agreed. I wanna know what happens to Beatrice. And her magic tree tattoo!
Priscilla: Overall the characters worked for me, though their motivations sometimes were unclear or underdeveloped: why Ivy became an assassin? Why Beatrice left her family to live in the streets? If Trafalgar became an explorer so she could dismantle the Watershed Society, why she knows so little about them when the story starts? And so on. How much this bothers me depends on the character in question.
Bo: I agree, Priscilla. It made the moments of really strong character like Adeline and the airship captain stand out because they were so much more defined that the other characters.
Priscilla: I like how much the minor characters like Araminta, the Petric Twins, but ESPECIALLY Adeline came to life with so little page time.
Ian: I fell in love with Adeline immediately, and they took her from me.
Katie: Ian, I feel like you never forgave the book for Adeline.
Bo: Adeline was Garnet from Steven Universe. They killed Garnet. 😞
Priscilla: I wish I could get Steven Universe references.
Katie: ANYWAYS. Yeah, the secondary characters were good. There’s a good roster of people here for future installments.
Kori: And Cannon did really get us to feel for a character.
Bo: And he does it a few times. That’s what makes the overall development feel weaker, because some of the secondary characters have pretty great development and characterization in very short moments on page.
I loved the world as well. It managed to take the right amount of tropes and create an interesting background setting.
Katie: I think overall I’d say the book is a little shaky on the character front, but it’s also a potentially promising start to a series.
Priscilla: I enjoyed most of the worldbuilding – I like the steampunk elements, though I’m not the best person to judge the genre, and I especially appreciate the references to the War, because they’re subtle and peripheric, but you can tell how much this event affected characters and setting – yet the magic powers aspect needs more clarity as to how magic works, who knows about it, who can do it, etc. The characters are very nonchalant about magic displays, suggesting it’s a natural/well-known occurrence in that world – but if so, why so few people use it? I feel those rules should be clearer for the reader and it doesn’t help that magical powers often appear as the plot demands. You never know what a character can do until they do it, which feels a bit “deus ex magica”. But a little more seeding and explicating the rules of magic would have taken care of that.
Priscilla: Yeah, it can’t be too infodumpy, or it will be everything Kori accuses Tolkien of being AND HE ISN’T BECAUSE HE’S MY BABY.
Kori: I only speak the truth.
Katie: Guys, the subplot of our book club is going to be Kori and I as Tolkien rivals that slowly develop into Tolkien friends as I win her over.
Kori: Over my dead body!
Ian: Final verdict? A fun breezy story with some interesting characters. Tonally a little uneven, but otherwise enjoyable.
Bo: I’m a fan of the book and I see a ton of potential. I do plan on reading the next book because it could be a surprise favorite of mine. Just iron out the more troublesome character moments and worldbuilding issues, put a greater emphasis on showing rather than saying, and Trafalgar and Boone could be a winner.
Priscilla: ELVES, DWARVES, HUMANS AND HOBBITS WILL UNITE AGAINST KORI.
Kori: And now we’re going to have to draw to a close before I’m overrun by hobbits. THE DRAGONS ARE REVOLTING.
Ian: *dragon noises*
Image courtesy of Supposed Crimes LLC