So I’m not super read-up on my Victorian horror, which turned out to be kind of a problem for me when reading Theodora Goss’s European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Because there’d be, for instance, a place named “Carfax” and I’m immediately thinking that it’s a stupid idea to put in a place name that’s the same as a modern auto-buying service… but of course it turns out that Goss is just making a reference to something out of Stoker, not choosing that name out of nowhere. And I guess it’s probably not Stoker’s fault that he couldn’t have foreseen what kind of brands would exist in the future.

But so as little as I know about these old books, when you start throwing around names like “Van Helsing” and “Harker,” even I can put two and two together and guess that the book is going to feature vampires. And so it does. The heroines of Goss’s Athena Club take off on a journey across Europe to confront their enemies and save the day and it’s going to involve crumbling castles and ancient counts and the like.

One unusual stylistic thing this series does is have the characters interject all the time (because the conceit is that it’s being written by one of them). So you’ll have something like “Mary was determined and fearless as she faced her foe” in the narration and then a little “Mary: Actually I was terrified!” or whatever. I understand the purpose of this—it’s to get in some extra characterization and provide a bit of behind-the-scenes fourth wall breaking to make some exposition easier—but I don’t think it adds enough to make up for how distracting it is. I think Goss is committed to the gimmick after two books, but I sort of wish she’d never started with it, because I’d much rather read the book straight. (I’m actually a bit curious as to how this is formatted in the print version—if it’s done in the margins in pseudo-handwriting, I could see it being less distracting, for instance.)

That’s a relatively minor thing, though, and overall it’s an enjoyable enough book. These aren’t great novels, but they’re pleasant quick reads, just above the level of good airport books; possibly they’d be more than that if you’re more into Victorian horror than I am. Lightly recommended.


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