RogerBW's Blog

The Masked City, Genevieve Cogman 25 August 2023

2015 alternate-world fantasy. Irene's apprentice is kidnapped from steampunk Victorian London, and she has to go to an ideal of Venice to rescue him.

And parts of it are wonderful, and that does make up for the rest. It starts off dispiritingly, with a flash-forward to the kidnapping and then a long dreary slog through the setup. (Some writers could make this investigative phase great fun by showing off Irene's personality as she deals with new information, but Irene doesn't really seem to have a personality beyond "put-upon"; her first instinct always seems to be to go to someone else for help, she's described as a logical planner but everything she does is a snap decision, and after two books I just don't have a feeling of who she's meant to be.)

When she does have to act on her own, that's much better, particularly when she's travelling on an archetypal Train that spans the worlds, and exploring meta-Venice with her new acquaintances.

'I'm astonished that nobody's reacted to a man dropping out of his opera box.'

'Well, it was the middle of Vissi d'arte,' Irene argued. 'Nobody's going to stir until that aria's over—'

But that's not what Cogman wants to write about; instead she's more interested in setting up a love triangle with Irene, her kidnapped apprentice, and a local from steampunk London, and it's a slow enough build that Irene doesn't even realise yet that the latter is a candidate for her affections.

I find it very hard to get enthused about these books. The moment-to-moment parts can be great fun, but the writing is dull, and I don't find the overarching plot engaging. Ah well. They aren't terrible, and there are only eight altogether.

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