Friday, April 20, 2018

Kat's Review: We Will Make Mischief Together

We Will Make Mischief Together by J. Hepburn
Publisher: Less Than Three (March 14, 2018)
Genre: Historical / Steampunk -- F/F
Novella (about 65 pages)
1st POV

Frances once had a life of her own, and a future in a world that was throwing off old shackles.

That was before she was hauled back home to be chained by convention and family, and the dearest person in the world to her went missing, presumed dead.

Then a battered wooden box arrives, bearing a cryptic message from someone she thought long dead.

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Kat's Review:

The description of this novella indicates only that the main character, Frances, has been brought back to her family (presumably in disgrace, as her father is a governor) and that she thought a person close to her (presumably her lover) was dead. Then, to Frances’s astonishment, she receives a communication from her erstwhile deceased lover.

Based on this description, my expectations for the story were that the reader would get an idea of what Frances had been doing to warrant being sent back to her family, and that she and her lover would reunite. The only possible hint at the actual content of the story is in the cover, which shows a woman in Edwardian dress with a bunch of gears - very steampunky.

In reality, this story, though very well written in first POV, is all about engines. And mechanics. And the minutiae of Frances’s journey from her home (where she’s kept essentially under guard) to a steamer on its way to Brisbane. This is a novella, but Frances actions are recounted almost in real time; the storyline unfolds over the course of about a day.

On reflection, the style is reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale. In that story, Margaret Atwood does a great job of bringing the reader into June’s world and focusing on the small details of her room, her clothing, her past memories, because that is literally June’s existence. Another comparison I could make is E. L. James’s 50 Shades trilogy, as James has a habit of detailing mundane details about Ana’s and Christian’s lives that seem to serve no purpose other than to demonstrate they are people who do things. Hepburn is clearly knowledgeable about turn of the 20th century cars and engines and mechanics, and demonstrates that knowledge on the page, which some readers will surely find interesting, but this reader did not.

For example, this passage regards part of Frances’s escape from her family’s estate:

Bill filled the paraffin tank and then strapped a full round metal tank of paraffin to the back of the car. There was a small bucket there as well, for filling the water tank in an emergency. 
I followed him around the car, watching intently as he pumped up pressure for the paraffin lines, ran water from the tank into the boiler and checked the brake was locked and all the water bleed lines closed.

This information may heighten the enjoyment of some readers, but certainly not all. Because of the length of the story and its short storyline duration, there isn’t a lot of development of characters.

**Minor spoilers**

We see Frances interacting with a few people (all men) along her way, and then her reunion with her lover, Katharine (which happens at 85% of the way), but other than that, the book is taken up with descriptions of surroundings, clothing, and engines.

**End of spoilers**

On a different note, Hepburn does not paint women in the most flattering light in this story. Other than Frances, and her reminiscences of her special friend, Katharine, women are depicted as petty, callous, and mean. Frances interacts with a maid in her home who questions Frances’s authority as daughter of the house. Her memories include time spent at an all-girls school run by a Ms. Sinnet, who is harsh and cold. When Frances gets to Ipswich, she briefly encounters female sex workers, a group of women who, based on her past experience, can be “violent and cruel to those they believe competitors.” In a story about lesbian romance, these characterizations were unwelcome.

Though it does not happen until literally the end of the story, there is a sex scene that is slightly graphic (descriptions of nipples and pubic hair), but more sweet than spicy.

Overall, I appreciated Hepburn’s willingness and ability to tell an unconventional story. The atmosphere of Frances’s family home is unbearable, and I’m glad to see her escape, though the escape was quite tedious. However, I would only recommend this story to someone who was really, really into Edwardian-era automobiles and mechanics.


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Source: NetGalley ARC

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Thanks for the review, Kat! Novellas can be so hard to pull off, and it sounds like this one didn't quite hit the balance between world building, plot, and romance.


Until Next Time,

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