Tag Archives: 1890-1899

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Omnibus Edition)

Author: Alan Moorethe league of extraordinary gentelmen omnibus

Illustrator: Kevin O’Neill

My Rating: DNF

Warning: Mature Audience

In England during the year 1898, a mysterious unnamed individual–going merely by M–has begun collecting a most unusual group of people together. Strayed to the outskirts of society and beyond by choice or chance, these individuals have both the will and the abilities to do what many might consider impossible. And perhaps, for the sake of their country, they might even be motivated to have the will to work together and accomplish the task.

First off, apologies to those who love this, admittedly classic, comic book–you should probably stop reading now. Actually, this particular review is for myself more than for anyone else, so that when I look back in 5 years and wonder whatever happened to the characters, I’ll be reminded of all the reasons I stopped reading to begin with. Because The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has the potential to be a wonderful story. The premise is intriguing, the blending of Victorian period literature and style with the superhero comic. I would even say that, at times, Moore and O’Neill manage to pull it off. Certainly, a familiarity with and appreciation of classic literature will certainly increase one’s appreciation of the comic–the incorporation of characters and stylistic elements was one of the things I appreciated the most. So if there’s that much good, why did I stop halfway through with no intention of ever picking this comic up again to finish it? Because I found this comic to also be racist, sexist, violent, bawdy, and offensive in the extreme. Is that seriously necessary?! So yes, I won’t elaborate further, but I can’t recommend The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, nor will I ever read any of it again.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

Author: Oscar Wildethe importance of being earnest

My rating: 5 of 5

As an excuse to leave the dullness and responsibility of country life, Jack Worthing has invented a troublesome brother named Ernest who lives in the city–naturally when his “brother” is in trouble, he has to go to town to take care of him. While in the city, he leaves his true identity behind, going instead by the name of Ernest himself. And it is by this name that he becomes betrothed to the lovely Gwendolyn; imagine his horror when he finds that she has sworn to only ever love someone named Ernest! Later when Jack has returned to his country house and his ward, the young Cecily, he finds that his friend Algernon is onto him and has the tables on him quite dramatically by coming to visit–as Jack’s wayward brother Ernest. Worse still, Algernon and Cecily proclaim their love for each other, or rather Cecily proclaims her love for someone named “Ernest” just as Gwendolyn did. As Gwendolyn arrives at Jack’s country house, the four are in a right proper stew of lies and confusions–but perhaps the most surprising thing is how much truth has been unwittingly told as lies.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of college literature classes (because I’d rather read stories than butcher them), but I’m ever grateful to my school for introducing me to this jewel of a Victorian play. It’s this satirical, hilariously funny representation of the excesses and the absurdities of the upper classes of Victorian England, and it’s a wonderful read. (Actually, it might be even better seen on stage, but it’s fantastic to read as well.) The wordplay in the drama is brilliantly executed–the sort of stuff that will be quoted probably hundreds of years from now. (River Song even quotes it in the most recent Doctor Who Christmas special!) Some of the ideas presented are quite cutting, but they’re also absurdly funny, perhaps even more so because of how awful they are at times. It’s a lot like Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors in the crazy confusion that the plot becomes. And the surprise ending is ironically perfect–just what the characters deserve. I think even if you’re not much into historical plays, The Importance of Being Earnest might be worth at least trying; it’s a lot of fun.

Note: This play is old enough to be public domain and can be found for free on Google Books and on Project Gutenberg.

 

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The Story of the Treasure Seekers

Author: Edith Nesbitthe story of the treasure seekers

My rating: 3 of 5

The Bastable children (all six of them) are aware in a vague sense that their family’s fortunes have fallen: there isn’t pocket money for them anymore, expensive treats are missing from dinner now, they’ve been pulled out of their school on a long-term holiday, and their father seems to spend nearly all his time at work now. And being bright, clever children with lots of spare time on their hands and no mother living to keep them in check, the six siblings determine to seek out a treasure in order to restore their family’s fortunes. Only, they can’t decide quite how to go about the business. Noel thinks he should either sell poetry or marry a princess (maybe both). Oswald thinks they ought to be highwaymen, which Dora (the eldest) disapproves of very strongly. Alice wants to try using a divining rod. In short, everyone has an opinion, and no one agrees . . . and so it is decided that they will try out each of their ideas in turn to see if any of them will work.

I’ve always enjoyed Edith Nesbit’s writing, ever since I first discovered The Railway Children when I was in middle school. Her writing is, naturally enough, a bit old fashioned (being that she wrote in the late 1800’s), but her writing is just the sort of children’s adventure that always feels timely and homey. She understands children very, very well. (Not to mention that her writing was hugely influential on any number of more recent authors, including C. S. Lewis, and has thus, in a sense, passed into contemporary literature more than we’re aware.) In any case, although I generally love her writing without reserve, I am of two minds regarding The Story of the Treasure Seekers, which I just read for the first time. The premise is absolutely smashing, and her execution of it is brilliant–at once both touching and highly amusing. The Bastable children are highly developed as characters, perhaps more so than in most of her other books. And I think this is where the story got off on the wrong foot for me. Because, you see, Oswald is the one telling the story. And he’s remarkably well written. As a twelve-year-old boy who thinks rather too well of himself, who is falsely modest, and who is at times shockingly sexist. Not to mention, he’s trying to hide his identity for most of the book, only he keeps forgetting himself and referring to himself in the first person–exactly the blundering, cute attempts a kid would make, and it really is brilliant, but it’s also annoying to read. I would have enjoyed this story a lot more if, say Noel or Alice had been telling the story, especially Alice with her fierce determination and loyalty. I guess I would leave reading The Story of the Treasure Seekers up in the air regarding recommending it or not; it’s a classic, but don’t judge all of Nesbit’s writing by this one book. I’d really recommend reading Five Children and It before trying this one.

Note: Although I have a Puffin edition pictured here, this book is old enough it’s public domain. You can get an electronic copy for free at Project Gutenberg if you just want to try it before committing to anything.

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The Last Camel Died at Noon

Author: Elizabeth Peters

Professor Emerson makes a habit of deriding his wife, Amelia Peabody Emerson, for her taste in literature–particularly thrillers like those of H. Rider Haggard. Little could he know how like one of those novels his own family’s life will become for a while as they find themselves called away from their archaeological dig in the upper Nile area of Nubia. . . . Called by no less than a note from a friend of his who disappeared with his young wife into the desert nearly 15 years before. Fortune seems to despise the Emersons as they travel west toward the rumored hidden civilization this friend had been seeking–their workers desert them, their camels die off as if poisoned, and even their water supply eventually runs out. But still, they press on into the adventure with the indomitable spirit (and stubborn pigheadedness) that characterizes Amelia, the Professor, and Ramses equally.

The Last Camel Died at Noon might just be my favorite of Peters’ Amelia Peabody stories; if not, it’s definitely up there. While all of these stories are adventure/mystery/thrillers of a sort (and quite an excellent example of such), this particular volume is very intentionally modeled after Haggard’s classic stories of adventure. Thus, it has a slightly different feel, while still maintaining the personalities of the characters perfectly–I really enjoy the “lost civilization” sort of setting, and Amelia’s reactions to it. The combination of confirmed history (like the opening of Nubia behind the army’s advance) with something more legendary is interesting, as is the author’s use of the lost city to show what ancient Egyptian/Meroitic life might have been like. The story’s also full of plots, evil rulers, mysterious maidens, and other classic adventure story elements. And I must confess, one of my top reasons for preferring this volume is that Ramses is old enough to really be involved (quite cleverly) and to be adorably smitten; plus it’s Nefret’s intro volume (she’s probably my second favorite character in the series right after Ramses). I think that for anyone who enjoys an exciting story but who demands quality writing, The Last Camel Died at Noon is an excellent choice.

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The Deeds of the Disturber

Author: Elizabeth Peters

Amelia Peabody Emerson and her small but eccentric family are home in England for the summer. It should be a nice break from their work in Egypt–shopping, socializing, writing various professional works. And it might have been, if that dratted mummy at the British Museum and all the rumors of ancient curses arising about it. And of course the ubiquitous reporters stirring up said story and making claims that the Emersons are going to track down the truth behind the rumors (which of course they will, but without the reporters’ help, thank you very much). Not to mention the two rather detestable children of Amelia’s brother that the Emersons have promised to look after for the summer. But really, none of these extrinsic issues can really be blamed, right? I mean, Amelia draws such problems to herself as naturally as honey draws flies.

As always, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody stories are a stirring mixture of romance, adventure, Egyptology, mystery, and a feminist rebellion again the Victorian norm. The Deeds of the Disturber is set, unlike most of her books, in England itself rather than in Egypt. This gives it a different feel for sure–more like Sherlock Holmes, but with a female perspective and an Egyptian influence. What I love about this volume the most is probably, well, Ramses. To be honest, from the time he’s old enough to have any influence on happenings (which is a lot younger than you’d expect), he is the life of this series in my mind. And from mummification experiments to unusually astute observations, from clever disguises to saving the day in the end, Ramses is a delight–albeit a sometimes pedantic delight. Amelia and Emerson are, of course, also quite enjoyable to read; however, I find their part in this particular volume  somewhat less enjoyable because of the amount of time spent questioning marital fidelity instead of teaming up against the forces of evil and all that. Soap-ish and dull in the extreme to my mind. Still, for those who enjoy Victorian mysteries (and especially those who have appreciated other of Amelia’s stories), The Deeds of the Disturber is likely to be an enjoyable read.

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Two Crafty Criminals!

two crafty criminalsAuthor: Philip Pullman

My rating: 4 of 5

Criminals beware–the New Cut Gang is on the case! For that matter, the innocent should probably be on their guard too, as this rambunctious crew of youngsters are quite as likely to pull their older, slower friends into the chaos as they are to apprehend the crook. Whether it’s aiding a struggling courtship, making a street vendor famous, or breaking someone out of jail, the New Cut Gang is up to the task. And (rather miraculously) they catch the criminals as well!

Two Crafty Criminals! is a fun bundle of hijinks, action, and humor. It portrays 1890s London quite well, particularly in the dialect, but also in numerous historical details and in the general “feel” of the story. The style is a bit younger in intended audience and more hyperbolic that I’m used to seeing in Pullman’s writing, but it works well for the story. Actually, for both stories, as this book was originally published as two shorter stories (around 125 pages each), Thunderbolt’s Waxwork and The Gas-Fitters’ Ball. Both stories go together though, and I’m glad to find them published together. I would recommend them to anyone who enjoys a romping good mystery (or just a good romp).

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Fair Weather

fair weatherAuthor: Richard Peck

My rating: 5 of 5

The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition has come to Chicago, bringing with it a bustling, brightly-lit future. But all of that is worlds away from Rosie Beckett’s small-town farm life–that is, until she and her siblings receive an invitation from their rich, citified Aunt Euterpe. With their socially awkward Grandad stowing away on the trip and their lonely, widowed aunt pining for high society and companionship, the Becketts are on a course through this eye-opening journey that is bound for disaster and mayhem at every turn. But whatever the outcome, this rapidly maturing country family is certain to find the trip life altering.

As always, Richard Peck’s storytelling is spot on. The characters are credible, easy to connect with, and (perhaps most important) fun to read about. The story itself naturally spills from the characters’ being themselves (which is easy to read but difficult to write). Perhaps the most outstanding element of Fair Weather is the profusion of period detail that Peck has woven into the characters’ lives so seamlessly that anyone short of a period historian will probably never realize it’s there. (I’m sure I missed a lot myself!) I particularly enjoyed the use of period photographs of things mentioned in the chapter that were used as postcards at the end of each chapter. These postcards were just the right touch to tie together the whole. In all, Fair Weather is yet another excellent work by Richard Peck that comes with my high recommendation.

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