by Adrienne Kress
To be published by Dial
On December 4, 2012
My summary: After a murder, three girls cross paths in Victorian London: Cora the lab assistant, Nellie the magician's assistant, and Michiko the assistant to a Japanese martial arts expert. The three join forces to catch a murderer.
My take: In the interest of full disclosure, I am still on the fence about steampunk fiction. Gadgetry just isn't inherently that interesting to me, so I'm always looking for YA steampunk books that have compelling characters, a gripping plot, and maybe a little steamy-punk romance to keep me turning the pages.
Happily, based on those critieria, The Friday Society mostly succeeded for me.
The book's characters are a fun trio. At first I pictured them as Charlie's Angels, but then I decided they were more like Nancy, Bess and George from Nancy Drew.
Cora is Nancy, the brainy, confident one. Cora is a sort of "My Fair Lady" character, a lowborn girl was taken under the wing of Lord White, a frequently drunken nobleman who does wacky experiments. Nellie is Bess, the pretty girl who is constantly underestimated. A former burlesque dancer, Nellie is the eye candy for her magician employer. Michiko is George the tomboy. She was the servant to a geisha, but then became the assistant to Callum, a self-defense expert.
When Nellie finds a dead body in her sitting room, the girls try to find the murderer. To me, this was an exciting prospect, because I just knew all the girls would get to use their special talents and gadgets, from Cora's experimental night vision goggles to Nellie's sleight of hand to Michiko's swordplay skills. The three follow clues all around the city, including to the Tower of London, which made me extremely happy.** There are hints of romance at times, but The Friday Society is mostly a Girl Power kind of story in which boys are sidelined. I'm fine with that. I mean, unlike some of the clingy YA heroines of today, Nancy Drew kept Ned Nickerson well out of her way until she needed to go undercover at a formal and needed a date.
At times, The Friday Society seemed to me to have a LOT going on: three girls with alternating points of view, three different employers, a murder, gadgets, and a large cast of supporting characters. Since the murder wasn't really directly connected to any of the girls, the stakes never felt as high as they could have. (Correction: one of the victims was an old friend of Cora's, but to me, the girls never felt in any danger. It seemed that like Nancy, they were solving the case just because it presented itself to them.)
There was also some (deliberate?) weirdness with the book's dialogue. The Friday Society takes place in 1900, but the characters inexplicably toss around modern slang phrases like"I really can't deal" and "I'm not giving a shit."
But for the most part, I really enjoyed the book. In the end, I decided that The Friday Society reminded me of....
... an English trifle. Weird? Yes. (And I guess in England, they just call it a trifle.) But both have a jumble of interlayered ingredients that somehow all come together into an addictive, frothy treat. If you like girl power with some mystery and a light touch of steampunkery, give this one a try.
It will be one of the winner's choices tomorrow for Hot Off the Presses!