Friday, November 19, 2010

The Foundling's Tale, Part Three: Factotum...and a Contest

If you're a fan of D.M. Cornish's unique and astoundingly detailed world of the Half Continent, as portrayed in the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy—now known as The Foundling's Tale—you'll be pleased to know that A) the third book, Factotum, is out THIS MONTH, and B) it's a truly satisfying end to the tale of foundling-turned-lamplighter-turned-monster-fighter's-assistant Rossamünd Bookchild.

One of my favorite aspects of this trilogy is the fact that the world Cornish has created is so rich and so utterly unlike anything else, down to the use of language at the individual word level. It's not just that characters and places are named in an unusual way (like J.K. Rowling, he's got a talent for naming people), but even the terminology for technology and social structures in this semi-industrialized setting is unique to this book. Words are put to use in new and connotative ways, related to the meanings we might already be familiar with, but not quite the same, with a pure enjoyment of the very sounds of the words themselves. The words are decontextualized, but somehow all of this adds to the feeling of atmosphere in these books—and, as an unrepentant word nerd, you'd think that would annoy me, but instead, I'm happy to go along for the ride.

I don't want to give too much away about this book, but the one of the central themes revolves around the definition of what is, in fact, a monster—and whether in fact all monsters are nefarious and to be universally reviled, or if there may be some (as we learned in book 2) that help humankind and coexist peacefully.
Towards the end of book 2, of course, poor young Rossamünd was saddled with the outrageous accusation that he himself might be a monster...only a human-shaped one. But is it so outrageous? Even Rossamünd is beginning to doubt himself. After all, he's a foundling. Nobody knows where he came from. And even monsters seem to react strangely to him, sometimes.

But now that he's the factotum (assistant, sidekick, and pharmacist) to the monster-fighting fulgar Europe, he's in a pretty awkward position. And he's also managed to make a few more enemies—very powerful ones this time. Rossamünd will have to gather all of his friends and allies around him—and make a few more unexpected allies—if he's to get out of this jam without losing his head...literally. Perhaps my only complaint is that the ending felt abrupt...but it could be because I was so reluctant to see the books end. On the other hand, I'm left feeling a clear possibility that we might return to Rossamund's story, or at least to the Half Continent. There are a few ends left suspiciously loose...

Source: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.


Ranging from fantastical and whimsical to grim, gritty and industrial, this trilogy has a very Victorian feel, and as such, it fits well with books in the steampunk genre. There are guns and explosive devices; ships run using harnessed biological power with synthesized muscles called gastrines; and goggles and other strange headwear abound.

Many of us around the blogging world feel that books like Cornish's, which don't quite fit into the traditional steampunk groove, are sometimes overlooked and deserve a little more attention. That's why we've organized Alt History/Steampunk Celebration Week starting December 13th—to celebrate steampunk titles and other similar books that we love and that we think deserve some props. If you liked the Flora Segunda books, Jenny Davidson's Explosionist, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and other similar titles, mark your calendars for the week of December 13th, and if you'd like, join in with a post of your own.

But what would a Celebration Week be without a contest? This time it's a really good one—a create-your-own-steampunk-book-cover contest. You can read all the details at Bookshelves of Doom. All you need to do is select one of the eligible titles, fire up Photoshop or what-have-you, and show us your artistic chops. Ever thought you could design a better book cover, or wished that a book's cover weren't so boring/girly/irrelevant to the story? Now's your chance to be the designer. December 15th is the deadline, and you could win your choice of books by D.M. Cornish, Jenny Davidson or Ysabeau Wilce. Read all about it here.


Doret said...

I still need to read the second book but loved the first one.

I wonder why Cornish's novels have taken off, especially since there isn't a lot of great fantasy YA books with male protatonist.

Also usually YA Aussie author sell pretty well in the States

Sarah Stevenson said...

I'm not sure why they haven't, either. I suppose they do involve a considerable time investment, and if a reader doesn't have patience for flowery language, then they're probably not a good fit. On the other hand, I would think they'd find a good niche with fantasy fans. And like you said, YA Aussie authors are fairly popular here.