Mild, naive Sam comes from a repressive family in the country. Hardened, hermit-like Alistair is hiding away from life after being very badly hurt by his time as a soldier and its aftermath. They’re brought together because Sam’s cousin — who took him in when he fled his family — has been murdered, and Sam needs help in navigating the gangs and other dangers of Prohibition Chicago.
Plus, Alistair is a familiar, a shapeshifter, and he’s realised that Sam is his witch, the one person in the world whose magic best works with Alistair’s — but he has his own reasons for refusing to bond.
Sam is a lovely character, well-meaning and brave, despite the emotional damage from his family who belittled him constantly. He’s naive, but not as judgemental as he could be: he accepts the Gattis and what they do, even as he steers his own path (not drinking, for example, and not being terribly willing to work with a gang boss). He seems a dangerous big cat shifter and thinks, “Hey, can I pet him?”
He’s the ideal person to bring Alistair back out of his shell, and we see that happening in and amongst the actual action of the book. The pace of their relationship worked quite well for me, and it was really sweet… though I’m sure they have a ways to go to a proper happy ending.
I haven’t actually read the other books in this world, but that was okay; this worked well for me as an introduction, it was very clear what the basics were. I’m sure there’s more to understand in the other books — and I’m eager to read those too — but it works perfectly well on its own.
Glamour in Glass follows the Vincents as, early in their relationship, they take a trip to the Continent to study and work glamour together with one of Vincent’s friends. This time, Kowal explores the way her magic system might affect pregnant women, while playing with the historical backdrop as well. The Vincents find themselves at risk from Napoleon’s followers, and their trip becomes less about the glamour and more about spying out what exactly might be happening — perhaps even betrayal from the people they call friends.
This was where the series took off for me, the first time I actually read this book, and while I’ve come to appreciate the first book, this is still where I would say the series really gets interesting. This is where Kowal starts to work out the implications of the magic and how it changes society, eclipsing the primarily romantic plot of the first book. I’d say the third book is even stronger in that sense, but this one is certainly nothing to sniff at, either. It’s all up from here, and this has really become a series I think about fondly.
I think this is the second time I’ve read Farthing, and it gets more chilling all the time. It’s an alternate history in which Britain compromised with Hitler, and documents the creeping anti-Semitism and losses of freedom. It’s about compromising with the devil — and in the case of one of the characters, knowing exactly what you’re doing, hating it, and knowing you’re not strong enough not to do it. I love Carmichael, but god, I hope I’m not like him (though I fear I am; one can only hope that when they get offered a choice like that, they have the brains to see it and the guts to say no).
It’s particularly painful for me to read because I do see it happening in Britain now; gradually, people are becoming more and more negative toward foreigners, and it’s all been legitimised by Brexit. I hate it, but I’ll be honest: I’ve started hesitating to admit that my wife is European, gauging the audience to make sure it’s going to be okay. I’ve been told I’m a race traitor for marrying a European; I’ve been told I’m an EU collaborator and a traitor to the UK — etc, etc, all that sickening crap that comes from a certain kind of Brexit supporter. (Not saying all Brexit supporters are doing that and saying things like that, but it’s happening and it’s shocking how little anyone cares apart from to assert it’s not them saying it!)
I imagine US folks would probably have much the same experience right now, and more so.
Despite that, it’s also a deeply entertaining book — Lucy’s narrative voice is great, and the Golden Age crime fic pastiche is great fun. This was the first of Jo’s books that I ever read, and it had me hooked — and it did again this time. She’s excellent with character, with mood, with description, with pace… Honestly, I can’t think of any complaints I have about Farthing, except perhaps that it’s far too on the nose right now.
I think my enjoyment of this book would be greatly enhanced if I knew my US history a bit better. As it is, it’s an alternate history, and yet I can’t judge the cleverness of it and what it’s trying to show. I feel like I might’ve got into it more at novel length, even without more history knowledge; events might have come upon me a little less abruptly, then.
It’s definitely readable and pacy; that’s not the issue at all. There’s some great lines, including some bitterly funny ones (“We call them engineers. It’s from the Navajo meaning… engineers”). The world building is intriguing, but I just didn’t know enough — either about the world being built, or about the world it is building on. There’s great action scenes, but.
After the whole concept of his King Arthur retelling totally failed for me, though, it’s good to have tried some more of Broaddus’ work. I think I’ll pick up something else by him if I get the chance.