{book} the friday society

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friday society coverThe Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

Dial Books, 2012.

Hardcover, 437 pages. teen fiction. {owned}

An action-packed tale of gowns, guys, guns–and the heroines who use them all

Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician’s assistant. The three young women’s lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.

It’s up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.

Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.—publisher’s comments.

That “modern irreverent flare” is the thing that seems to be snagging people’s attention with this read, and I can’t say I was immune. Of the few things anachronism truly has a hard time forgiving: playing with the language is one, so your long sword is made of pvc pipe, but none shall be referred to as “hot.” It’s just too startling.

confession: I am not a Jane Austen fanatic—I like her well enough, can appreciate her and all that, and Emma is hilarious fun. I know that as a female English Major in Literature I am supposed to have read every volume at least three times and swoon at the mention of Mr. Darcy. My reading of Wuthering Heights could be viewed as disrespectful at best. This does not make me immune to a love of the historical period or even ignorant for that matter, but maybe what it does make me is sensitive to the idea that not everyone does take to it; that perhaps the time frame harbors a language and culture that could seem impenetrable to potential lovers of Steampunk—a subgenre which necessarily must reside then and there historically, at least until more envision it further along the timeline.

I was reading a blog post the other day where a mother was trying to find fantasy books that might appeal to a daughter that only likes ‘realist’ fiction—to broaden her genre horizons and share her own love for fantasy. Well, The Friday Society is “contemporary chick lit” in steampunk clothing. A bridgework. And Kress does not approach the genre without credential, so if you worry that she is incapable there is a lovely anthology of short stories (Corsets and Clockwork) in which Kress’ is one of the best. Kress is being deliberate here and I find this bold move fascinating.

AdrienneSteamPress2

{Adrienne Kress. Photo: Tanja Tiziana}

As much as the modern language should have turned me off of the read, I liked The Friday Society. It was light and fun, and I enjoy Kress’ style. I like the feminist inclusions. Cora Bell is remarkable to me because Kress has built in recognizable vulnerabilities with which to commiserate and creates an opportunity to show some self-determination, e.g. Andrew and the kissing and the effort or lack thereof to overcome his distraction. Some young female leads seem immune to that sort of foolishness and I liked this lead for having hormones and not necessitating deep emotional attachment—call me old fashioned that way.

in which I elaborate: We have a strong female protagonist who kisses a young man who is not an actual love interest. She does not end up with him. Turns out that the attraction is not the first sign that they were fated and the make-out sessions (a term used, 256) do not confirm ours suspicions of such. Cora is physically attracted but unsure that she even likes/respects Andrew. She kisses him back because she likes it, and pursues further kisses for the same reason. What does the Cora/Andrew spin tell us? One: Girls experience sexual feelings/response/pleasure, too—even to distracted and foolish extents. Two: just because she likes kissing and is attracted to a male she does not “love” does not make her a loose woman, but rather it may actually be possible if not normal to be sexually attracted to someone not “loved.” Three: just because she wants and enjoys does not render her incapable of applying her intelligence to the situation; which, after validation of the first two points, is awesome to see played out. You are neither a slut nor a freak, but you should be wise. [read 256-8.]

Accusations of being a “tease” are thrown around regarding Cora, but more often with the gorgeous and gregarious Nellie. Nellie who is, like the other two, in the throes of deciding who she is and whom she envisions herself becoming. What responsibility can and should she take for happening to be born physically beautiful?

confession: I flinch at the use of the word “squee.” And Lady Sparkle? I, like Cora, cringed, but Nellie is a dynamic and a personality to be missed. I like Nellie as much as Cora. She seemed ridiculous to me at times, but between her candor and the parrot Scheherazade I was won over. But not completely, not yet; which may have more to do with those moments where I just did not feel “girly” enough. Some women’s fiction alienates me in the same way.

Few of the characters are to be missed, really. Kress has a way with villains (Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is home to some of my favorite villains ever). The non-villainous Raheem and his possibilities have me curious, though I was experiencing a dreadful surfacing notion that I was in for a Charlie’s Angels twist. Fortunately Kress resists the urge to be normal and thus predictable (and I hope this continues). One point of resistance is Michiko. Michiko is not a token character, but one who could and should be an available historical figure to explore in parallel to the other two. She is one of three and Kress develops each of the three along their own paths (in alternating, 1st person, narrative sections), using “happenstance” to intertwine and affect each other until the most natural conclusion could be met.

“Go home, Michiko.” How she wanted to. She missed Japan—the countryside, the food. Understanding what the hell people were saying. (93)

Michiko understands very little English and comes from a very different culture. She carries the easiest explanation for physical bad-assery, but few authors would be this daring. Cora and Nellie click. Michiko takes some work.  It does take time for the three to work together, but Michiko is the more solitary line of the three. She is held most dramatically in in relationship to the others by this sense of fate, paths crossing in various and frequent inventions, all surrounding crimes being perpetrated in their vicinity.

“We’ve already been pursuing this, each of us, in our own way. And somehow we always manage to help each other out. It’s fate. It…it has to mean something. Everything is connected. Right?” She turned to Michiko, who nodded, but it wasn’t clear if she was agreeing with Cora or just humoring her. Nellie still didn’t look convinced. Cora sighed and sat down at the foot of the bed. “Haven’t you always wanted to just do something yourself?” she asked, her voice softer. “To make a real difference? Not for anyone else. Not an assignment or a task. Something that you made the decision to do?” (353)

The Friday Society is an excellent read for a young woman, especially perhaps the ones who take themselves too seriously literarily. Kress infuses a lot of personality and concentrates on building her characters. She has a great sense of humor. At times the crime-story seems frustratingly secondary–probably because it is. I found it a bit ridiculous at times and I acknowledge that that has to do with my aging, but I found the earnestness of it appealing. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kress does with this series.

recommendations: I mentioned young ladies, but young gentleman could do with reading these sort of heroines, too. for those looking for an accessible steampunk or science fiction or historical fiction (Kress is good with tech language as well as detailing costuming, place and normalities without breaking pace).

an author interview by InkyGirl regarding this book.

a Sci-Fi Experience 2013 qualifier

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. I always love a novel with strong women…and really I think you had me at the title here. I have such a soft spot for Girl Fridays. I’m not sure how I’d take to modern language in a historical setting…but I’m willing to attempt it. On to the TBR list with this one!

    1. L says:

      when you do get to this one, would love to hear what you think about the characters, and the language.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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