Considering the cover art, it’s not surprising that Adrienne Kress’ The Friday Society has been billed in more than one place (including here at Kirkus) as a sort-of steampunk Charlie’s Angels. And while it’s not always safe to judge books by their covers, in this case, what you see is what you get.
In a now-familiar alternate version of Victorian London peppered with automatons and airships*, three girls—a gentleman scientist’s assistant, a magician’s assistant, and a self-defense instructor’s assistant—come together to solve a few mysteries, expose a murderer or two, enjoy a bit of romance, discover girl power, run around in scandalous outfits, fight bad guys off with handfuls of glitter (not to mention a huge gun and a katana), become friends and teammates and save the city. It’s utterly fluffy, often funny, fast-paced, action-packed, cinematic and across-the-board enjoyable...as long as you aren’t bothered by the following:
Nellie sighed wistfully.
“Are you sighing wistfully?” asked the Magician.
Use of words and phrases like ‘skeevy,’ ‘smokin’ hot’ and ‘hooking up’ in 1900. Yes, yes, it’s alt-history, and therefore anachronisms are to be expected. But the dialogue and narration is only consistent in its inconsistency, veering from CW-speak to vaguely-formal-Victorian and back again over and over again, which detracts from the already-sketchy worldbuilding. If you can get past the problematic aspects, though, quite a lot of the dialogue is genuinely fun in a self-aware—dare I say almost meta?—sort of way:
That whole exoticization of the Other issue. This is something that comes up in steampunk quite often—see Mei in The Girl with the Clockwork Collar for a textbook example of The Inscrutable Asian Woman Who Is the Titular Character and Yet Completely Two-Dimensional, and see the Iron Seas books for a much more complicated conversation—and it’s always worth thinking about.
It could easily be argued—and, in fact, the Kirkus review does just that—that Nellie exoticizes her Magician employer. I found it a little more complex than that, though: after all, her tendency to do that makes sense both within her worldview and her personality, and while she comments on his yoga, his incense, his tapestries, etc., her ‘Othering’ of him struck me as more hero-worship than anything else. Michiko, the katana-wielding aspirant samurai, is more problematic. She comes off, in personality and behavior, as pretty stereotypical, though there’s a clear effort made to make her a well-rounded, three-dimensional character. In the end, like anything else, it’ll come down to the reader’s personal preference: and if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your take.
The overarching storyline. Boiled down, it’s your basic Origin Story of a Superteam, with bonus Gavroche Action**. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! But if you’re looking for something original and surprising, The Friday Society isn’t going to be the book for you.
My favorite part? Actually the very last page. Not because the book was over, but because Kress TOTALLY NAILED the Inspirational Voiceover feel that the This Story Is Only Just Beginning text deserved. Imperfect? Sure. Super-fun? Double sure.
**Yes, as in Les Miserables. Sadly, that storyline could have only gone one way.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably curled up by the woodstove, reading.