A marvellous tour de force from Alexis Hall!
Author: Alexis Hall
Cover Artist: Simone
Beverley’s Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Lirtle’s Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
A breathtaking tale of passion and adventure in the untamed skies!
Prosperity, 1863: a lawless skytown where varlets, chancers, and ne’er-do-wells risk everything to chase a fortune in the clouds, and where a Gaslight guttersnipe named Piccadilly is about to cheat the wrong man. This mistake will endanger his life . . . and his heart.
Thrill! As our hero battles dreadful kraken above Prosperity. Gasp! As the miracles of clockwork engineering allow a dead man to wreak his vengeance upon the living. Marvel! At the aerial escapades of the aethership, Shadowless.
Beware! The licentious and unchristian example set by the opium-addled navigatress, Miss Grey. Disapprove Strongly! Of the utter moral iniquity of the dastardly crime prince, Milord. Swoon! At the dashing skycaptain, Byron Kae. Swoon Again! At the tormented clergyman, Ruben Crowe.
This volume (available in print, and for the first time on mechanical book-reading devices) contains the complete original text of Piccadilly’s memoirs as first serialised in All the Year Round. Some passages may prove unsettling to unmarried gentlemen of a sensitive disposition.
From the unique narrative voice,
Give ol’ Piccadilly (’tis me, by way, your narrator) a deck of broads, and he’ll show you a dance to make your glims water…
to the colourful characters, this is a steampunk novel of supreme confidence. The language is to be savoured and enjoyed as much as the elegant plotline. I really loved everything about this novel and will repeat that to anyone who asks.
So why did I love it so much? Well this is a novel where the language is not just a means to an end, but an integral part of the enjoyment. The author has used language which feels at ease in the pseudo Victorian era of a Steampunk novel. He has plucked words like ‘Buffle-noddle’ and ‘blunt’ and ‘phlogiston’ from obscurity and given them pride of place. Alexis Hall is one of the few contemporary authors who can quote Shakespeare, Dickens and Wilkie Collins and have them seem at home in the rest of the narrative. I’ll return to some of the linguistic delights later.
The plot follows the adventures of ‘our hero’ Piccadilly who whilst eeking out a dishonest living in a skytown called Prosperity falls foul of the handsome anti hero, the crime boss ‘Milord’. This meeting leads to Piccadilly being cared for aboard the amazing aethership, Shadowless. On board he meets the troubled, defrocked clergyman Ruben Crowe, the opium addict who sees monsters, Miss Grey, and my favourite the strange and haunting Byron Kae who is also the dashing captain of Shadowless. These characters are sharply drawn without the need to say ‘he was handsome with blonde hair’. I’m not even sure if there were direct descriptions and yet I have a vivid image in my mind of each one. Piccadilly becomes involved in the misdeeds and plans of Milord who joins them on board ship and they all fight side by side for each other, or just for profit in the case of Milord. However, he has a weak link in his sociopathic armour and it will change all of their lives.
This world contains monsters both human and paranormal, in the form of the Krakens. There are two other important characters to mention – one is the ramshackle mining town of Prosperity, which hangs in the sky from four skyhooks, and the other is the sky itself. Even descriptions of the sky and the weather are more than that,
Outside the rain was still coming down, relentless drizzle like it was trying to wear everything away with apathy.
Don’t let that quote make you feel this novel is gloomy in the way steampunk can be because it is saved from gloom entirely by the eternally cheerful narrator, Piccadilly. In the next quote the ship is running silent to avoid krakens,
…we couldn’t even light a gas lamp or heat up water for a cup of tea, which Milord said was like the nadir of his life – for a cove who kicked off his career by sucking some bloke off and then blackmailing him, that struck me as some pretty intense hyperbole.
This made me squeal with delight. I know a lot of the words used are archaic 17th and 18th century language, but I wonder if Alexis Hall created words like; motherswinker or clicketing (of which the latter occurs a lot!). I am going to find occasions for calling someone ‘Buffleheaded’ I’m sure, and how can you not cheer for the English language when you read a phrase like,
‘A recidivist is for life,’ said Miss Grey sharply, ‘not just for Christmas.’
or see that the penis is not just the cock or dick but ‘ol’ arborvitae‘ and the usual ‘happy trail’ is now
the arrow of dark hair that seemed divinely provided for the edification of tourists. Like it were saying This way to the excellent cock.
I’m sorry I could wax lyrical for hours about this novel. Don’t expect the ordinary. Don’t expect to understand everything from the outset you have to get into the rhythm of the narrative, and when you do I guarantee you’ll have a very enjoyable experience.
I want to end this review praising the inventive use of literary devices and subversion of familiar texts throughout, below a couple I loved.
It’d only been a handful of days, nowt that should matter in the span of a lifetime, but to quote some other fella, them handful of days had been the best of fucking times.
…’twas like being a crumb tossed about in wrinkling sheets…
Oh and if this review wasn’t joyful enough…this is the beginning of a series.
The first thing I realized not long after I started reading this: it has all of the cool aspects I experience while reading Shakespeare. Not in a haughty, stuffy, let’s drily examine the text kind of way, but rather the language is unmistakable in its humor within an imperfect world. I found myself delighting in the rhythm of the prose, letting the words sink in and wash over in whatever ways they pleased. By page four, this book felt like it had been written for me. I love when that happens.
When I first rolled into town, there weren’t much in the ol’ brain box except turning the usual tricks and running the usual rigs. – Dilly
There’s a film of merriment that attempts to cover the undercurrent of darkness as we’re introduced to all of the characters and their personalities, and how they inhabit Dil’s world and said brain. Before the words appeared, I could feel it, that darkness, or at least my anticipation of it.
And the things you filch ain’t even the things you want, and I reckon living itself is a filched business.
Being up on your Brit-speak isn’t a requirement but it will probably aid in the speed with which you acclimate to this language Hall has staking claim in this world. Although, it also has nooks and crannies filled with words that would feel most comfortable in the American Old West. It also has language that would be most comfortable in dens of iniquity, a party filled with people in their teens and twenties, and right here in my own sarcastic corner of the world. Context counts for a lot and I was smiling in the darkness.
Milord, Ruben Crowe and Byron Kae. They’re all introduced in deliciously deceptive ways, causing immediate assumptions that were roundly destroyed. For me, they each represent different parts of Dilly, whether he knows those parts are alive and waiting for him to recognize them within or not. They’re there. In front, behind and all around him. Brilliant.
To that end, it brings me to that idea that, sometimes you meet a person and all at once they’re a surprise and yet fated to be in your life, for however long. They help break down walls and feed your ability to share, and to see the world in even broader and brighter terms. Kindness. It’s such a simple thing but sometimes terribly difficult to give and more so to accept. This concept is wound all throughout this story.
Language. A subject that, by its very nature, encourages and demands discussion, dissection and appreciation. Hall is having a blast with language in this book. The coolest thing? It reads smoothly, making the realization that is came to be through a barn load of blood, sweat and tears even more awe inspiring. If you get even a little giddy at the idea of diving into “new” languages, this is a book for you.
In all manner of ways, this is a diverse group of beings attempting to make their way in this world of Prosperity and beyond. Identity is fluid, as are personalities and their quirks. Milord is quiet complicated, inside and out. Yet his motivations couldn’t be any simpler than if they were embodied within an amoeba. Ruben is intuitive, so aware of others and their feelings, and he accepts them as they are. Byron Kae is sweet, bashful even with his quick to blush self, while showing incredible strength, both physical and in morality, his morality. And Dilly. I don’t want to give anything away. Just know that you can trust him as the voice through which we learn everyone’s stories. Oh, but I can and will tell you that he made me snort. With regularity.
What a ride. Emotional: everyone struggles with reaching for and accepting the love we need, the love that could be right there in front of us. Silly: the self-deprecating humor, the teasing and blushing, the ability to speak the start truth in trying to cut through the fear while danger surrounds. Honesty: see “Emotional”. The encompassing warmth, bittersweet realizations, intense passion and heat, and the adrenaline, they all got my heart racing. The discovery that your desire for life as the living, and not just the surviving, can be, well, earth shattering, even without ground beneath your feet.
Dil, Milord, Ruben and Byron Kae, I leave you (for now) having been utterly satisfied yet filled with many a question. Mind Miss Grey and Miss Alis or they’ll kick your ass, and you know it.
Creativity. It’s addictive. Engaging and demanding. I love every pixel of it, of this.
If I had to choose one word: Inspirational.
Two words? Fuck yeah!
Three words?? I want more!!!
A fine piece of fiction, this is. Take a ride on the Shadowless and find out for yourself. 😉
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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