MetaBooks, Non-Fiction

The Heroine’s Journey

Cover image for The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carrigerby Gail Carriger

ISBN 9781944751500

“I like it when things end happily, and most of the time that means, to me, together. I enjoy it when characters end up in solidarity, friends or family, lovers or platonic. That’s what I hunt for…connection.”

The Heroine’s Journey is a story structure book mapped to three goddess myths, including Demeter, Isis, and Ishtar.  Gail Carriger delineates three main stages, including The Descent, The Search, and The Ascent, and highlights key beats such as the breaking of the familial network in act one, the appeal to, or creation of, found family in act two, and the negotiation for reunification in act three. Each of these beats emphasizes the importance of relationships, casts asking for help as a strength, and points out that the heroine is weakest when she tries to go it alone. While the Heroine’s Journey can be turned tragic, the heroine is more likely to get a happy ending surrounded by friends and family. Carriger provides examples from a number of well-known pop culture works, relying particularly on Harry Potter and Twilight due to their common currency, and also talking about how she has employed the ideas in her own novels.

Carriger is the author of a variety of steampunk and urban fantasy fiction titles, including the young adult Finishing School series, and the Parasol Protectorate books. The Heroine’s Journey is her first non-fiction title, but her voice is still distinctly recognizable. She employs humour and short chapters with a chatty tone, but her insights are sharp if not always perfectly organized in her first foray into non-fiction. Her fiction books feature casts of cooperating characters building relationships and finding their place in the world, so it is no surprise that The Heroine’s Journey deals in precisely the types of stories Carriger likes to read and write. These are stories of connection, romantic, platonic, familial, and everything in between. Carriger was an anthropologist in a previous career, and describes The Heroine’s Journey as a social, anthropological approach to story with a grounding in the classics, and decidedly not a Jungian or psychoanalytic approach derivative of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

Although she emphasizes that the Heroine’s Journey is not derivative of the Hero’s Journey, Carriger does frequently cast the two in contrast to one another, using our familiarity with the Hero’s Journey to illuminate the key differences between these structures. She summarizes the Hero’s Journey in one pithy sentence as: “Increasingly isolated protagonist stomps around prodding evil with pointy bits, eventually fatally prods baddie, gains glory and honor.” By contrast, the Heroine’s Journey rendered in one pithy sentence is: “Increasingly networked protagonist strides around with good friends, prodding them and others to victory together.” The sections in which she examines what happens when a hero enters a Heroine’s Journey, or a heroine enters a Hero’s Journey are particularly interesting as a result of these conflicts and differences.

Carriger weaves an important caveat throughout the book, stating it explicitly up front, but then reiterating it throughout the text. Although it is called the Heroine’s Journey, it can be undertaken by a person of any gender, just as the Hero’s Journey can. She underscores this point by using the 2017 Wonder Woman movie as a prime example of the Hero’s Journey structure, and then arguing that Harry Potter is in fact a Heroine’s Journey, clearly hitting the beats of broken familial network, found family, and the importance of belong, love, and working together. This is key to her point that “biological sex characteristics are irrelevant to whether a main character is a hero or a heroine. In other words, women, female-identified, and non-binary characters can be heroes. Men, male-identified, and non-binary characters can be heroines.”

With National Novel Writing Novel upon us, I’d recommend this book for anyone writing a story that doesn’t map easily to something like the Hero’s Journey or other common plotting structures due to its emphasis on interpersonal relationships or emotional rather than action outcomes. Fans of mythology and those who enjoy looking for patterns and structures in their stories may also find The Heroine’s Journey to be an interesting exploration of story types and structures that are wildly popular with many readers but don’t fit well into other models.

Steampunk, Young Adult

Book Talk: Etiquette and Espionage


A book talk is a short presentation that is neither a book review or a plot summary. Rather, the intention is to entice the potential reader with just enough information to convince them to pick up the book. This talk was designed to be given to a classroom of high school students.

Good morning young ladies and gentlemen. Welcome aboard our airship, home to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. And it is our pleasure to host the young men of Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys Polytechnique for Evil Geniuses.  I am Professor Lefoux, Deputy Headmistress. Now, some of you, like Miss Plumleigh-Teignmott, are legacy students. But for those of you, like Miss Temminnick, who are covert recruits, I would like to impress upon you that this is not your average finishing school. Do not mistake me; by the time you are finished, your curtsies will be impeccable, and your etiquette unparalleled. But we shall also be training you in the fine art of espionage. As young ladies of quality, you will be uniquely positioned to manipulate London society.

Some of you will find yourselves in service to Queen and Country, be it Queen Victoria’s Shadow Council, or the Bureau of Unnatural Registry. Many of you will go as drones to the vampire hives, or clavigers to the werewolf packs. If you are technically minded, or perhaps do not care for the supernatural, you might even throw in with the Picklemen. One day you shall have to declare your loyalties, but for now, please be assured we will prepare you for all of these eventualities.

As for the gentlemen of Bunson and Lacroix’s, welcome. I hope you are enjoying your sojourn aboard our dirigible. I know that as budding young inventors and evil geniuses, you will take this opportunity to study such a unique example of modern air transportation. And I am pleased to announce that after tea, I have arranged a special tour of the boiler rooms and furnaces with one of our sooties, Mr. Phineas Crow. This section is, at all other times, off limits to students.

But a word of caution before we begin our social event. Do not get too comfortable there next to Miss Temminnick, young Lord Mersey. I would remind you all that the relationship between our two schools exists purely for the purpose of practicing social graces. There will be no fraternizing. Am I understood?

Excellent. Now, I understand you may have experienced some excitement on your journey here today. I will not abide wild tales about flywaymen, or stolen prototype devices, or any other such nonsense. I urge you to leave this matter to your professors, and focus on your studies. If you do not apply yourselves, you may find yourselves in the shoes of Miss Pelouse, who has been sent down to rejoin the debut class after failing to pass her finishing exam. Take care not to repeat her mistakes.

And now, I believe tea is served. Do mind your table manners.


Also by Gail Carriger:

Prudence (Young Adult)


More Steampunk:

Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson


Fiction, Romance, Speculative Fiction, Steampunk


Cover image for Soulless by Gail Carrigerby Gail Carriger

ISBN 9780316056632

“Miss Tarabotti was not one of life’s milk-water misses–in fact, quite the opposite. Many a gentleman had likened his first meeting with her to downing a very strong cognac when one was expecting to imbibe fruit juice–that is to say, startling and apt to leave one with a distinct burning sensation.” 

At twenty-six, Miss Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster. With a dead Italian father, and a rather plain visage, she has made her peace with that. More troublesome is her soulless state, a fact known only to London’s supernatural denizens, including vampires and werewolves. Unfortunately, no one informed the newly made vampire who attacked her at the Duchess of Snodgrove’s ball that touching a soulless would steal away his supernatural abilities. When Alexia kills her attacker, she finds herself under investigation by Lord Maccon, head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, and Queen Victoria’s deputy. But the investigation soon reveals that the attack on Alexia may have been merely the tip of a much bigger mystery.

I’m picking up Gail Carriger quite backwards, having started with her young adult Finishing School series, then Prudence, and now going back to the series that made her name, The Parasol Protectorate, beginning with Soulless. And it is a decidedly more adult series. It has all the wit and humour of Finishing School, but Alexia is not precisely a proper English spinster, and when she finds herself unusually attracted to the Scottish werewolf Lord Maccon, she is more forward than might be expected. And for his part, Lord Maccon isn’t at all bothered by her age, or her Italian complexion. And he seems to regard her unusual forwardness as an asset, even if it is sometimes rather vexing.

Soulless definitely has a good amount of romance mixed in, but it is also a mystery. The vampire that attacked Alexia smells of the Westminster hive, but no one there will admit to having made him. Meanwhile, Lord Maccon’s investigation reveals that rove vampires and loner werewolves have been disappearing for some time. And the incident seems to have brought renewed and unwelcome attention to Alexia’s soulless status. She longs to help solve the mystery, but is unable to convince Lord Maccon that BUR should give her an official position. Not only is she the subject of an investigation, but it would be completely unseemly to hire an unmarried lady of genteel birth. But she makes her own efforts, turning for counsel to her vampire friend, Lord Akeldama, who was also a fan favourite in the Finishing School series, but originated here in Soulless.

As I’ve come to expect from Carriger’s work, Soulless is a witty romp through an alternate, supernatural Victorian England, with an added bit of oomph in the romance department in comparison to the young adult works that introduced me to her oeuvre.

Fiction, Steampunk, Young Adult


Cover image for Prudence by Gail Carrigerby Gail Carriger

ISBN 978-0-316-21225-0

“Rue had no idea if Bombay was typical of the colonies, but it was not typical of any city she’d ever visited before. Which she guessed meant the onus was on her to change what she considered city-like.”

When Lady Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama receives a dirigible and a mission from her father, Lord Akeldama, she gathers a crew of friends to man her ship, and sets off for India. Ostensibly on the trail of some rare tea plants, she soon discovers that the situation in the British colony is more delicate and complicated than she ever could have guessed. Fortunately Rue is no ordinary girl, but a metanatural, able to borrow the supernatural abilities of others through touch, without acquiring any of their weaknesses. Along with her best friend, the Honourable Miss Primrose Tunstell, and Prim’s brother, Professor Percival Tunstell, and a charming Frenchman by the name of Mr. Quesnel Lefoux, Rue sets out to normalize supernatural relations in India.

As fans of Gail Carriger may have noticed from the names above, the characters in Prudence are largely descendants of those who appeared in The Parasol Protectorate and Finishing School series. Having only read the Finishing School series myself, I know I definitely missed a few references, and understandably ran into a few spoilers for The Parasol Protectorate. Some of the old characters do appear briefly on page, but once Rue and her crew are off to India, the story focuses on the next generation and their adventures. The group develops its own dynamic, though there are decided similarities to previous books. Prim and Percy, for example, are quite like Carriger’s other sibling pair, Dimity and Pillover. It is also quite delightful to watch Rue and Quesnel try to pretend their relationship is strictly business.

Prudence is largely typical of a Carriger novel. There is witty banter, larking adventures, and lots of tea and comedies of manners. Her romantic scenes are playful and perfectly paced. But Prudence really falls down when the protagonists arrive in India, but Indian people fail to arrive in the story as fully fleshed characters. Not a single Indian character is named in the book, even the few who play important roles. The only significant character of colour is Miss Sekhmet, a mysterious woman from Africa. While I expect she will receive further development as the series goes on, in Prudence her main traits are being beautiful and mysterious. There is also an absolutely cringe-worthy scene in which Rue is mistaken for a goddess by an Indian man, and he throws himself out of a tram to escape her wrath (Carriger conveniently provides him with a parachute in an effort to preserve the already misguided humour of the scene). Prudence isn’t precisely pro-colonial; there are definitely criticisms, and the characters encounter some situations that force them to re-evaluate their beliefs and assumptions, but overall Carriger’s treatment of India rubs the wrong way.

Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk, Top Picks, Young Adult

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2015

These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2015. Click the titles for links to the full reviews. Check back on Thursday for my top non-fiction picks.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

ISBN 9780316013697

Cover image for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman AlexieIt only took me eight years to get around to reading Sherman Alexie’s popular young adult novel about a Native American boy who decides to leave the Spokane reservation to attend school in a nearby town that is predominantly white. Junior hopes that the education he receives there will help him achieve his dream of becoming an artist, but he struggles to be accepted by his classmates, and also faces rejection by members of his tribe who believe he has betrayed them. Alexie uses dark humour to cope with the tragedy Junior faces in his life, and Ellen Forney’s accompanying illustrations are just as poignant as the prose, but more concise. I actually read this book twice this year, once at the insistence of a friend (thanks, Amelia!) and then again with my book club.

Categories: Young Adult 


ISBN 9780307455925

Cover image for Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieBy contrast, it only took me two years to get around to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s critically acclaimed novel about a young Nigerian couple, Ifemelu and Obinze, who are separated when Ifemelu goes to the United States for college, and Obinze is unable to get a visa to join her. With America’s borders closed to him, Obinze finds himself in living London on an expired tourist visa, and working as an undocumented immigrant under other peoples’ names. Fifteen years later, Ifemelu decides to return home to Nigeria, though she is unsure if she wants to see Obinze, who is now married. Americanah is a big, sweeping novel that combines cultural criticism with the story of star-crossed lovers. During her time in America, Ifemelu explores the differences between the experiences of a Black African woman, and those of African Americans, and is forced to confront American beauty standards, particularly as they concern hair. When she finally returns home, she must face the fact that she has been changed by America, and that Nigeria has changed in her absence.

Carry On

ISBN 9781250049551

Cover image for Carry On by Rainbow RowellWhen it comes to books I read this year that were just pure fun, Carry On is at the top of the list. Spinning off from her 2013 novel, Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell brings to life the world of Simon Snow, formerly only a story-within-a-story in Fangirl. Simon is the Chosen One, supposedly destined to defeat the Insidious Humdrum, but as he enters his final year at Watford School of Magicks, he is more concerned about the fact that his roommate–the devious vampire Baz–hasn’t turned up for classes, and is probably out there somewhere plotting to kill him. Carry On features a playful magical system built on the power language gains through puns, word play, literary references, and other usages tap into our common imagination. Rowell also riffs on familiar themes and tropes from Chosen One stories, and generally has a rollicking good time.

Categories: Fantasy, Young Adult 

Everything I Never Told You

ISBN 9780143127550

Cover image for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NgThis heartbreaking novel of family tragedy by Celeste Ng topped a lot of last year’s best fiction lists, and for good reason as I finally discovered. When sixteen-year-old Lydia’s body is found in the lake of a small Ohio college town in the spring of 1977, the rug is pulled out from under the Lee family. James and Marilyn’s mixed race marriage is a delicate balancing act, and their children Nath and Hannah struggle with being among the only non-white residents of their small town.  Each member of the family takes a turn narrating, and each understands something about Lydia that the others have missed, but alone none of them can quite understand how she could have died.  As Celeste Ng peels back the layers one at a time, her novel becomes an autopsy of a family in the aftermath of the death of one of its members.

Manners and Mutiny

ISBN 9780316190282

Cover image for Manners and Mutiny by Gail CarrigerAlthough I’ve singled out Manners and Mutiny here, honestly this is a tip of the hat to Gail Carriger’s entire “Finishing School” series, of which Manners and Mutiny is the fourth and final volume. I devoured the first three volumes as audiobooks, delightfully narrated by Moira Quirk, whose accents and voices bring Carriger’s witty banner to life. However, I read Manners and Mutiny in dead-tree form, and can confirm that the books themselves are just as much fun. Sophronia Temminnick’s mother deplores her daughter’s adventuresome behaviour, and decides to send her off to finishing school to become more ladylike. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Temminnick, Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is no ordinary finishing school; in addition to learning etiquette and charm, Sophronia also receives a first class education in espionage aboard a wandering dirigible. At the school, Sophronia makes friends and enemies, and becomes versed in the supernatural politics of a Victorian England populated by werewolves and vampires as well as mechanical servants. In Manners and Mutiny, Sophronia is called on to foil a Pickleman plot to take over the nation’s mechanicals. She must also make a choice between Soap and Felix, two very different boys who have been vying for her affections.

Categories: Young Adult, Steampunk


That’s it for me! What were your favourite fiction reads this year?

Fiction, Steampunk, Young Adult

Manners and Mutiny (Finishing School #4)

Cover image for Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger by Gail Carriger

ISBN 978-0-316-19028-2

“Thus the young ladies, outfitted in each other’s finest—and each other’s personalities—descended upon Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique for a winter ball a few weeks later. There existed no little animosity between the two schools. They disagreed upon the subjects of politics, supernatural acceptance, techniques of instruction, and teatime provisions. But they were linked by necessity.”

Sophronia Temminnick has her plate full as she enters her final year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School where, in addition to manners and charms, she has also been receiving a first-class education in espionage. In a bargain to save Soap’s life, she bartered her post-graduation contract to the Dewan, but it seems that he isn’t content to wait for her to finish school. Meanwhile, the Pickleman plot involving the new crystalline frequencer valves could come to fruition at any time, and Sophronia must be ready, since neither her teachers nor anyone else is prepared to believe her about what she thinks they have planned. And of course, she has unfinished business with Soap, the Sootie turned werewolf, and Lord Felix Mersey, evil genius and son of a Pickleman.

Truthfully, this is as much a review of the Finishing School series as Manners and Mutiny, the fourth and final volume thereof. I listened to the first three volumes as audiobooks, narrated by the excellent Moira Quirk, who brings the accents, characters, and lively dialogue to life. Too impatient to wait for my library to get in the audiobook, I snatched up a paper copy Manners and Mutiny as soon as it was available. However, Quirk’s narration is so good I plan on listening to the entire thing again once I top the holds queue for the audiobook. (Update: Got the audio! These books are good, but the audiobooks are absolute treasures!)

Gail Carriger’s delightful steampunk world blends Victorian manners, mechanical contrivances, and werewolves and vampires for a charming precursor to her popular Parasol Protectorate series (which I admittedly have not read). Spirited dialogue and witty banter adorn the comedy-of-manners aspect of the story, while the spy school setting adds action and intrigue to the mix. For those who have read the Parasol Protectorate, Carriger shows how the world for that series came to be, and adds a nice tie-in between some characters in the final pages.

Sophronia is gutsy and perceptive, and her character really grew on me as the series progressed and she channelled her talent for mischief into espionage. Her friends Dimity, Agatha, and Sidheag round out the cast, each with their own reasons for attending Mademoiselle Geraldine’s. Unfortunately, Sidheag’s removal to Scotland along with Captain Niall means that neither character features in this final installment. However, we do get to see some significant development in Agatha’s character. And of course, Carriger must finally answer the question of whether Sophronia will choose Soap, the black werewolf, or Felix Mersey, son of one of the highest ranked Picklemen in the country. To choose Soap would mean social exile, but as long as Felix holds to his father’s politics, choosing him would mean betraying her own values. And while Felix was always a powerful aristocrat, now that Soap is a werewolf, the power dynamic between them has shifted significantly, leaving Sophronia afraid she had lost control of the entire situation.

The Finishing School series is a fun frolic full of delightful characters, spirited hijinks, and romantic tension. The boys are dashing, the girls are boisterous, and the teachers struggle to contain their plucky protégés.  Manners and Mutiny forms a fitting conclusion to this eminently enjoyable series.


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