Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dear Sister Person Book Club: Her Sky Cowboy by Beth Ciotta

Dear Sister Person,

So when we decided to read this book, I was, admittedly, skeptical. I'm not really a steampunk fan, but hey, the book had pretty decent reviews. Plus, after my encounter with Courtney Milan's work, I was ready to indulge myself with more romance novels, so I started reading Her Sky Cowboy as quickly as I could.
Her Sky Cowboy* by Beth Ciotta
It only took me a few days to complete the book, which isn't necessarily an odd occurrence. I mean, I finished Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code in a day (And oh, what a frustrating day it was. I've only thrown two books in my life, and that was one of them.). Your text message response about what you thought, as far as you'd read - note: I expected you to finish before me - pretty much summed up my overall impression of the book.

I even used a glamour-style filter because ROMANCE
Also, if you don't use at least some of our texts regarding this book, I will be sorely disappointed.
Whenever I tried explaining to Three what I had just finished reading, I kept ending sentences like they were questions. I guess I don't hate it? It wasn't that bad? There were hippies? At least the heroine took charge of losing her virginity? There was a part where the author described the heroine's nipples as "pebbled buds?" So the heroine was carrying the key the whole time but it wasn't as obnoxious as a lot of other movies/books have made that trope before?

I wanted to like it, and the first couple of chapters at least had me invested in the main characters. I actually felt for Amelia Darcy when her father died; I wanted to know why Tucker Gentry, the titular Sky Cowboy and (of course) Amelia's paramour, was exiled from America. (I kept calling him "Space Cowboy" in my head because of Cowboy Bebop.) Even when I was giving some serious side-eye to various elements as I read further, I was continually drawn back in by little tidbits. I was intrigued with the world Ciotta created, like the roving sky towns and the delicate political climate involving the Vics, the Mods, and the Freaks. I loved reading about Leo and Peg, both mechanically altered creatures, that have befriended the main heroes. Hell, even the concept of hippies traveling through time and introducing acid rock to the Victorian Era amused me enough to keep reading, hoping for a bigger glimpse into this place.

As fascinating as this world was, I can't give Her Sky Cowboy more than two sexually-obtained visualizations of stars (which I actually thought was an excellent description of the aftermath of a really good orgasm. But I digress.). Ciotta can't seem to balance introducing her readers to this alternative history and telling a tale of adventure and romance. Things are just sort of thrown at us, like, "Oh, and this is this, and that is that, and oooooh, look! Those are those!" only to never have them brought up again because they served the needs of the plot (aka the need to get these two into bed).

Okay, I get that I am reading a romance novel. Part of the reason I wanted to read this was because of the sex scenes. (This is my porn, you shut your whore mouth.) But oh my GOD, if I had to read "womanhood" instead of clitoris one more fucking time, I was going to scream. I mean, sure, purple prose is expected, and I actually kind of like how inventive writers can get when they're trying to describe intercourse (like the visuals in exceptionally conservative Bollywood films!). But this had the same effect that dirty talk has on me: it made me giggle.

Even outside of the sex scenes, I only caught hints of why Tucker's and Amelia's relationship made sense. He liked his girls feisty, and she liked her men out of penny dreadfuls (ahhh, youth). Neither wanted to be tied down, yet didn't mind having a partner with which s/he could go on adventures (and also do the horizontal mambo on occasion). Plus, they seem to have a lot of fun hanging in Paris together as Mr. and Mrs. Peckinpoof or whatever. (Methinks Ciotta was trying to channel the Capital from The Hunger Games when she developed their disguises, particularly Amelia's - hello, Effie Trinket! I am sorry for all the parenthetical interruptions. Truly. (They'll probably continue to pop up. (Again, sorry.))) Other than that? I dunno. I see a lot of myself at age 20 in Amelia: impulsive, brave, spiteful, resourceful, intelligent, naive, etc. But if I were Tucker? Um, Amelia is still a child, regardless of her ample bosom and tight leather pants (because of course). But hey, at the end of the book, he's decided that he'll marry her (with Queen Victoria's blessing, natch) and they'll go try to catch Captain Dunkirk (more on him) so the Queen will forgive ... starting an incident in Italy? I don't understand royalty.

Truth be told, I was so much more interested in the other people aboard the Maverick than I was about Tuck and Amelia. I wanted to know why Chang basically refused to teach Amelia acupuncture, apart from a "tap here" lesson. I wanted to know how Axel had come to be as superstitious as he was. I wanted to know more about Eli and Starman, period. Which brings me to Doc Blue. Seriously, what the shit was that. Axel - you know, instead of showing us how, why, when, what, and where Doc Blue screwed the entire crew and Amelia over - is the one who just explains everything to the reader at the end of the book. Blue's parted ways with the Maverick because reasons and he's kind of the villain? Maybe? Nobody knows for sure, not even the characters.

Sigh, onto Dunkirk, who should have just been the Big Bad of this novel. He showed up ... what, twice? He's supposed to be this big, scary badass, but he spends most of his time trading barbs with the apparently True Big Bad (TM), Bingham. And see? We're right onto another character because that's how little Captain Dunkirk mattered to the plot, even though that's who they're running from throughout nearly the entire goddamned last half of the book.


Bingham, at least in my opinion, should have been treated like the Emperor in the original Star Wars trilogy: you can mention or allude to him if you'd like in the first two books/movies, but you don't bring him into the first one if he literally has nothing else to do but go to meetings and act all sinister. Literally, the only time he ever interacts with either of the main characters is in a brief scene in the first chapter, and even then, he's only staring at Amelia from afar as she's struggling to start the Beetle Bug. I expected a showdown. No, scratch that. I demanded a showdown. He's planning on assassinating Queen Victoria, for God's sake! But nope, at the end, he's basically, "Oh, well, too bad the girl I wanted to bone is dead. I guess I'm going to go mess with her brother now." There's no nuance to this guy whatsoever, and I don't take him seriously at all, which is kind of a bad thing for a guy who's supposed to be, like, King Dickcheese. If I were writing this story, I would have simply left Dunkirk to his own badassness and allowed him to antagonize the protagonists until he was stopped by Amelia and Tuck, where he reveals that something rotten is going down in Denmark. Or maybe he doesn't (like, he dies or something), and Amelia, Tucker, the crew, and the readers all wonder aloud if he was working on his own or not. But whatever; wishful thinking on my part.

Now, here's the biggest bone I have to pick with this book: it says right on the cover that it's the first in a new series. The author was banking on Cowboy being a success, littering it with dangling threads (Simon's involvement with the Clockwork Canary, for one) that would be continued in later novels, instead of seeing if the story merited a second part, or even a third. I mean, even the ego of George Lucas couldn't convince him that calling Star Wars "Episode IV" or subtitling it with "A New Hope" was a good idea before people proved to the studio that they liked what they saw. Say what you will about the original Star Wars trilogy, but each movie definitely had its own story, and you don't even need to watch the other films to be able to enjoy them on their own. But if Ciotta had her way, the original trilogy would look a hell of a lot like the prequels, and we all know how those turned out. Like with Simon. I was already curious as to what her older twin brothers were doing in their quests to find an invention of historical significance; she didn't need to ask that question for me, as she did when she had the paper reveal it to Amelia. It just felt forced; like, "Hey, look! I'm totally doing another book! I'm blatantly having my main character advertise for it here! Hahahaha!" I found it incredibly irritating.

Basically, Her Sky Cowboy could have been better, but it also most definitely could have been much, much worse. We've already sentenced ourselves to read the rest of the Glorious Victorious Darcys series, but I have heard that the second installment (which apparently centers around Amelia's brother, Simon) is a great improvement over this one. Right now, I'm just needing to cleanse my palate with a Courtney Milan novel (I've picked up Unclaimed, in case you were wondering).

Kind of dreading the follow-up,

Juju (aka Sissybug)

* P.S. Okay, can we just talk about this cover? Aside from the fact that her hair is not waist-length (nor pink, which is a travesty) by any means, her little 80s style skirt over pants is nothing like it is described in the book. Also, the guy who I can only assume is Tucker, looks greasy and nasty and maybe has a mullet? I can't really tell because he is clearly not important enough to show his face. I find it hilarious that they took the steam part of steampunk literally: LOOK AT HOW THE STEAM COVERS EVERYTHING.

Alrighty, and now that you've read my review, go have a gander at Stefer's post! And be sure to say hello!
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