The worst thing about The Friday Society is that it ends. I'm not criticizing the ending; I'm just saying that I had so much fun reading this book that I felt considerably depressed when it was over. It's that good.
The Friday Society is a steampunk adventure with three main characters, each of whom is a teenager. Cora is the unappreciated assistant to a famous inventor. She is brilliant and cranky.
Nellie is a Magician's assistant. She is fortunate in that her mentor does appreciate her, and she loves to perform. She is by far the bubbliest of the women but she is also talented and intelligent.
Michiko is a Japanese samurai who came to London in search of greater acceptance and instead is trapped as the unappreciated servant of an English charlatan. Michiko speaks very little English, but is determined to pursue the path of samurai despite all obstacles (and there are many). Each of the three main characters is introduced in their own chapter, and each of these chapters starts with the sentence, “And then there was an explosion”. When the three girls discover a headless body in the street outside a fancy gala, they team up to solve the mystery that involves dead flower girls, grave robbers, peculiar inventions, and, of course, explosions.
Ostensibly, this story takes London, 1900, but do not expect even a smidgen of historical accuracy. This is pure, fantastical fun. I'm almost positive that no girl in the 1900's would have said, “Holy shit!” or described herself as “smokin'” (unless she were actually on fire, which in this case is not true).
From context, it's clear that these anachronisms aren't laziness on the part of the author, they are just part of the fun of the ride. As long as you know what you are in for, you'll have a great time and you'll laugh, out loud, often. Here are some lines I'm fond of:
“My goodness, Miss Bell, this is all rather frenetic.”
“Note to self: Never leave home without glitter”.
“I don't blame you for your concern, but you really ought to know that the biggest problem with having a dead body in the house, I imagine, is the smell. Really, of all the bodies in the world, a dead one is the least offensive, when you think about it”.
It takes a long time for the girls to decide to be full-on steampunk superhero crime fighters, but once they do the fun kicks into the highest gear possible. I cooed (and laughed) over their outfits. I laughed a LOT over their nicknames, and I enjoyed their confrontation with the villain and “all the evil-scientist-henchman guys”. I felt grief over a death. And I was so, so sad to realize that I had, in fact, finished the book, and that I have to wait for a sequel now. Here's hoping the author writes fast. It's not that it ends on a cliffhanger. It has a perfectly satisfying resolution. I just didn't want the fun to stop.
I had been led to believe that this book involved each girl having a romance, which is why I wanted to review it. As it turns out, that's not the case, although each girl has some kind of a relationship with a male mentor or employer and some kind of relationship with a male peer. Some of these relationships are romantic, some are platonic, some are healthy, and some are dysfunctional. I actually enjoyed the variety and complexity of the relationships – it was nice not to have a purely formulaic pairing of each woman with a romantic partner. But, because my expectations were for romance, I was a little disappointed. If you lack those expectations, I think you'll find the romance that is present to be charming and you'll enjoy the other relationships at face value.
This book is the lightest of light confections but it has an underlying emotional depth and creativity and intelligence that keep it from being forgettable. I loved each girl individually, and I loved their friendship. I loved that it wasn't all about boys. I mean, I wouldn't be here if I didn't love romance, but it was great to see that a desire for love was only one part of their lives, not some all-consuming, all-defining thing. I loved reading a book about young women who happen to be teenagers but who also have virtually no angst – problems, yes, emotions, definitely, but not stereotypical angst. I haven't actually figured out whether or not the plot made sense but I sure had fun while it was happening. Even though the book is more romance-light than I expected it to be, I found it delightful and satisfying.
By the way, I checked out the author's blog (Adrienne Kess) and her blog posts are thought-provoking. I can't resist posting a link to this blog entry by Kess on writing female characters.
On how to create a female character, she says, “Create a person.” Yes! Thank you! It's official, Adrienne has won the Internet. Now stop writing great blog posts and write me a Friday sequel, damn it!