Monday, June 16, 2014

A Lady of Spirit (Magnificent Devices #6) by Shelley Adina

Lizzie found a whole new family in the last book – which came with the revelation that Maggie was her cousin and not her sister. Now Lizzie has grandparents, a brother and a family name to become familiar with, all accepting her with open arms.

And where does that leave Maggie? Well, the illegitimate daughter is not nearly so welcome nor as sure as her place in the world and certainly not in the family. The rift between her and her sister/cousin yawns ever wider and even Lady Claire can’t fix this.

With all this family drama going on, the last thing Maggie needs to get wrapped up in is foiling a plot to invade Britain and overthrow the crown and government!

The last book was very much Lizzie’s book with her discovering who she was, dealing with her insecurities and doubts even while Maggie seemed to be more confident and focused. This book is Maggie’s book and it’s now her turn for considerable insecurity while Lizzie has the confidence and focus – but in a very different way.

Lizzie was insecure about who and what she wanted to be, how to be a lady, which role model to follow, who she aspires to be. Maggie doesn’t have those doubts, she has a fairly strong idea of what she wants to be and seems inclined to follow Lady Claire’s example. But she is insecure about who she is – after all, both she and Lizzie were revealed to be cousins, not sisters and that was the defining element of their identity. They were the Mopsies… what are they now? They could have continued as the Mopsies, probably, if it weren’t for Lizzie gaining a family – she found her father, she found a brother and, now, she finds grandparents, a family, and a good family name of considerable importance (so very important in the Victorian setting). Yet all of that is denied Maggie with her unknown father, her semi-disgraced mother and her viciously disapproving grandparents. All of these people deny Maggie, but in some ways they’re even cruelly by their deep acceptance of Lizzie – because that separates them. The Mopsies, treated as a whole for so long, are now being treated separately, which can only further damage Maggie’s sense of self and identity.

All of these together really work for Maggie, drawing on the last book and bringing all these pressures at once to make it a far more nuanced and complicated depiction beyond the simplistic “my grandparents hate me because I’m illegitimate” – there are so many more layers than that. And those layers define the rest of Maggie’s actions (her desperate need to find out who her father was and which of the competing tales are true) that wouldn’t make sense unless we take

I think there’s a small element of the patriarchy of the times in some ways with the fact Maggie looked to her absent father for identity more than her dead mother – but I think it has far more to do with her mother’s family (and that much valued family name) being thoroughly closed to Maggie by her grandparents’ hostility. It became less about valuing her father as grasping the only avenue of identity left open to her. Again, the layers in the story and the echoes of the last book really work together to add more depth to Maggie’s character.

I really like how the Mopsies are both very similar, having grown up together and been so inseparable, yet at the same time they are individuals with their own character and personalities.

Though she’s not the main character in these last books, I also like how Lady Claire has developed. She is brimming with confidence and security in her position, aware of her authority and willing to use all of it without flinching. In a way it shows why Claire isn’t the protagonist any more, because while her story will continue, her main arc is completed in her own excellent growth. I like how Maggie and Lizzie still look at Claire as an amazing authority and power who can do nearly anything – while still not relying on her. I also like how Claire simply cannot rescue them from every situation. Again, an excellent layered depiction.

The main plot beyond the character development is fun, exciting with lots of courage and ducking and dodging and intelligence – though I think it did come a little out of nowhere. There’s a small feel of Maggie and her grandparents being the main plot and then a sudden feeling of “damn, that’s not enough to keep the book going, we need something meatier!” so we had the invasion plot line added in. It was still fun though and Maggie got the chance to be awesome in a story that pretty much worked and only relied a little on amazing protagonist luck. I think it was necessary to keep the series exciting and swashbuckling and Steampunky and not let it change into Victorian Relationship Drama; we needed the excitement, the machines, the daring escapes and adventure to keep the theme and feel of the books. And, hopefully, to set up a lot more plotting for the future because this meta is going to be fun!

I also like the little nods to the other people who shared the house with them way back in the beginning – they’ve grown up and have really built on what they started with Lady Claire, all of them seeming to do very well for themselves. I like it because it means Claire hasn’t just forgotten them all, they still mattered to her even if her focus was the Mopsies.

And the chickens are still there!

It almost goes without saying at this point that this book, like all Magnificent Devices books, has some wonderful challenges to sexism and patriarchy that permeates the Victorian Steampunk era. Not just overt fight backs, but just the underlying competence of several of the female characters (not just the token protagonist who is An Exception). I particularly like how it’s clear that both Maggie and Lizzie would be far better inheritors of their grandfather’s business, but it never occurs to him – instead he insists on trying to drill instruction into his grandson who seems fairly inept and utterly disinterested.

There’s also a lot of knotty issues with class and position, of a class divide that separates people in love is an old story again repeated here and shown well. More interestingly is the thread of entitlement that class brings - we have rich people whose families are in decline feel entitled to break the law to maintain the lavish lifestyle they have become accustomed to by simple right of their name and position.

Unfortunately, other elements of inclusion are still not great. The only POC is Trigg and I like him, he’s capable and him as Lizzie’s love interest is going to be excellent – but he’s still such a very very very minor character and he has been for a very long time.  There are still no LGBT people.

It’s another excellent book in an excellent series. The world is whacky and immense fun, the stories exciting and all well written and well paced (and with chickens for even more fun). But the backbone of this great series is and has always been the characters – their issues, their layers, their complexity, their solid relationships and loyalties all elevated a good book to a really great one.