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Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

Thursday, July 18, 2019 - 07:53

I am frustrated in my desire to love this series. I love the concept (all the sff/fantasy/gothic novels of the 19th century were true in the same universe) and I love the characters (the daughters or female creations of the men in all those novels come together in a found family and have adventures). But this is the second book in the series in which I found the plot thin and the narrative style ponderous and somewhat bloated. The characters do a lot of traveling around across Europe and having episodic encounters with the antagonists, but I found it hard to get a sense that there was an overarching storyline. And (without spoilers) I felt that Our Heroines didn't really do much in the final climax other than show up.

Goss has a fractally detailed familiarity with the literature she draws on, and with the historic and geographic settings she uses, but those details were included in the narrative at about two levels above what would have worked for me. Rather than sketching out the setting just enough for the reader to get an impression and fill the rest in, we are told in detail exactly how the rooms are furnished and what the characters are eating, and are repetitively told things about their relationships to each other that we already know. This adds to slowing down the narrative sufficiently that I wasn't sure I was going to stick with it to the end. (I did.) Often at this point in a review, I'll say something about how the writing was solid and the story just didn't hit my sweet spot, but in this case the overall concept was totally sticky with my sweet spot, but the writing kept getting in the way of enjoying it as much as I wanted to. 

I was also disappointed for a very personal and completely unfair reason. Other readers had promised me that this all-female-protagonist series was getting a bit of same-sex romance in book 2 and I was totally there for it, despite there being no hint of the fact in the promotional copy. But--and I don't consider this a spoiler--the same-sex element was simply the inclusion of Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla among the literary characters who make up the supporting cast. Carmilla is canonically attracted to women and comes from exactly the sort of literature this series is based on. But I confess I was hoping that maybe we'd get a bit of queer rep among the protagonists. Who are all fascinating and indiidual characters. And who I'd love to read about in a story that had a more engaging structure.

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