Gail Carriger & Dan Abnett; In which I enjoy alternate English history and ignore immodest head-hopping

For the first week after surgery, I couldn’t get to sleep easily. The pain was disturbing if I lay on my side. My back felt least strained when I lay flat upon it, but I had to endure the screaming-sharp pain of initially putting pressure on my incision. The pain would eventually calm down, but then I’d better not move my legs… I managed to distract myself by reading into the wee hours, until I was so tired the medication finally helped me drift off.

Luckily, I chose wisely for my post-surgical reading. I had picked up Gail Carriger’s #2 (Changeless) and #3 (Blameless) books in her Parasol Protectorate because I’d really enjoyed the first book in the series (see Soulless in “BIG wrap-up of cold season reading“). I picked up Dan Abnett’s Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero because Stephen Baxter described it as “Black Adder crossed with Neal Stephenson,” which certainly sounded intriguing.

English Humor, Victorian Era Style

Changeless and Blameless held my attention, despite my pain. Carriger’s world could be described by Terry-Pratchet-channeling-Jane-Austin-as-she-writes-steampunk. Steampunk, meaning this world doesn’t have our world’s natural laws and there’s plenty of Victorian pseudo-science and gadgetry, although it doesn’t have the dystopian “punk.” It’s alternate history, set in a Victorian England that’s managed to accept vampires and werewolves, but not impropriety or bad manners. The humor is dry, witty, and light (good for me, since I didn’t need any barrel-laughs at the time). I love the protagonist (Alexia Tarabotti) and I highly recommend this series.

English Humor, Elizabethan Era Style

It’s 2010, the Anglo-Hispanic Unity dominates the world, ruled by a line of female monarchs, all styled “Elizabeth Gloriana.” The Magickian’s Union controls the Arte of Magick and the Church, of course, controls the Union. Denizens of London run around with swords and crude powder weapons, while magick provides light and heat for the city. Sir Rupert Triumff has just returned from discovering Australia. His ship was almost destroyed and he returns with no crew save for one “savage,” who expresses surprise that the powerful English/Spanish haven’t yet created the internal combustion engine!

The overall premise is that magick, even though it’s quite powerful, prevents the Anglo-Hispanic Unity’s technological progress. Apparently, you can’t have both in this world. Triumff and his savage friend would prefer not to reveal the wonders available on the Australian continent just yet, given the Unity’s propensity for stomping out other societies. However, others want Triumff to present his findings so the Queen can open up Australia for exploration. Still others want to kill Triumff, for various reasons, some of which have nothing to do with Australia. Some of these bad guys want to kill the Queen, as well. Plots abound and agendas frequently crash into each other.

I love multiple sub-plots and byzantine twists. Abnett’s story has these, as well as a not so subtle Elizabethan-style humor. I’d be remiss, however, not to warn you about the puns. As my husband knows, I frown upon the heavy use of puns (they really are the lowest form of humor and should be used sparingly). As the punnage quotient in this book rose to alarming levels, so did my eyebrows, and I hold Abnett responsible for deepening the frown lines on my forehead.

Wherein We Examine Point of View

Point of view (POV) defines whose voice (whose perspective) is telling the story. This isn’t exactly the same as whether the narration uses first-person (I), second-person (you), or third-person (he/she)—although they are definitely related. For instance, if narration is in first-person, the narrator has to be the POV (unless you’re writing experimental fiction, which is usually where second-person narration falls as well). Third person narration can move the POV from character to character, although this is where charges of head-hopping may ensue.

I tend to be a bit of a purist when it comes to POV, probably because most of the SF/F I read is the same. A lot of Urban Fantasy is told in first-person single-POV, and never wavers from that. Most SF/F employing third-person narration will change POV at scene breaks, not within the scene itself, and this is my personal preference.

Gail Carriger takes a romance-genre approach, where she will change POV within a scene. Many romance authors today do that and if deftly done, like Carriger does it, I’m never confused. I can live with this, particularly if the author is clever and never leaves you wondering why you’ve head-hopped.

Dan Abnett, on the other hand, has a rather chaotic POV approach. If you see on the very first page that William Beaver, Esq., penned the story then you’ll probably wonder why the first 25 pages of the book appears to employ third-person omniscient POV. Then, within a scene, the narration shifts from third-person to first for a few paragraphs. This happens suddenly in several parts of the book (italic in braces are my addition):

His name was Beaver, and being me, your servant the writer, he will have no further words wasted on him.
[…The cardinal speaks…]
“Right ho, Cardinal,” quoth I (Wllm Beaver).

Triumff and Doll pulled away from each other, and looked around.
Your loyal servant, I, William Beaver, stood on the other side of the brazier. […At which point, Triumff is referred to as Cedarn because he’s incognito, so the reader really has to keep a grip on POV…]
“Excusez-moi?” asked Louis Cedarn.

I ground my teeth a bit at the head-hopping partly-omniscient third/first-person-flipping narrative. In the end, I thought William Beaver was an unnecessary character. Making him a semi-narrator took “unnecessary” to “confusing artificiality.” So I’m still surprised that I managed to enjoy the book, even with Mr. Beaver. I’d be curious to hear from anyone who’s read Triumff, and whether they were put off by this style of narration.

Any opinions?

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