A Dodge, a Twist and a Tobacconist

This was a LibraryThing Member Giveaway.

I’m not going to rate this. I often do rate even books I’ve been unable to finish – but this one has me puzzled. First of all – great title (although it felt like the author stretched a bit for it). The writing isn’t bad, for the most part. I really like the idea – it’s The League of Extraordinary (Ladies and) Gentlemen (the author says so). The book description – based on which I requested it – sounded good. I liked some of the character choices – Mowgli and Bagheera, and Edward and Elinor Ferrars! I squee’d a little Janeite squee, though I thought the latter pair a strange choice for crime-fighting. (I’m picturing Emma Thompson’s Elinor reducing bad guys to jelly with scathing wit. Hugh Grant’s Edward could possibly be a Lord Peter type, so seemingly ineffectual that evildoers never see their undoing coming.) I didn’t know most of the rest – several are from Alcott other than Little Women and its sequels, and the main character is from Stevenson. I’ve heard of Sluefoot Sue and Pecos Bill, peripherally, and Twist, I think, needs no introduction. But see, the reason The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was such a great idea was because it the Gentlemen had Extraordinary abilities. Not to disparage the Ferrars, or some of the others involved here, but high moral standing just isn’t on a par with invisibility or super strength when it comes to fighting bad guys.

In theory, as I said, this was a fun idea. In practice, it was a bit awkward and shambling. I don’t know how it would have flown if I had known all the characters from their original sources, but I do know I wasn’t thrilled with this interpretation of Twist, or Mowgli, and certainly not of Elinor and Edward. It was strange, though, that the dialogue of Mowgli and the Chinese character were almost undistinguishable from the other characters’, except for a slightly stilted quality – but when Sluefoot Sue comes in she is all dropped g’s and other cliché cowpoke dialect.

alternate cover

There were other choices in the writing that I quickly grew tired of. I enjoyed myself, for the most part – until the other characters were brought in. It got confused; years pass, and it is in those years that his official adventures (by Robert Louis Stevenson) take place, and then are referred to by characters in the past tense. Having never heard of Florizel of Bohemia before, I was a little lost. There was no real introduction to the “League” members; for all I knew from how they were presented they were some or all the products of the author’s own imagination.

(Then there was the error of “reigns” on a horse, and the horse “backpeddling”, and I sighed.)

Really, though, the biggest problem with the writing was as the League of Improbable Crimefighters came together and began to give accounts regarding adventures the whole group was not privy to. It was a bit irritating to go from first-person-Florizel, the setting of the book as a whole, to first-person-someone-else, as other folks gave reports. I didn’t have a problem knowing who was talking at any given time; the reports are italicized to set them apart. But to be blunt I think it takes a bit more skill than is evidenced here to pull off rotating first-person narratives. So there’s that – but what annoyed me the most about the report sections was that the style of writing continued on just the same. Here were these passages which were supposed to be one person or another filling his companions in on events – but rather than being written as monologues, as natural-feeling explications, they were filled with extraneous detail of what people – including the narrators – were wearing, or setting descriptions, and so on: having dialogue tags like “mused” and “echoed” in the main narrative was one thing, but having such show up in characters’ reports was silly. Worst of all was the last one I read, from Sluefoot Sue, which featured in all its … glory the dialect her character was saddled with. Why, I couldn’t help thinking as I read, would she cast her own speech in the dialect – or, more to the point, I suppose, if the reports were supposed to be verbal, why wouldn’t the whole report be in dialect? It all just seemed an odd choice. That was when I started skimming.

The thing that made me drop the book was the proselytizing. It took me completely off guard. Meetings end in prayer. God is credited with all things

Cover of Volume II

Cover of Volume II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

good. Now, this isn’t exactly bizarre for the time period, 189-, and considering one of the characters is, as I said, Edward the minister, but it’s heavy-handed. Edward didn’t whap people over the head with Christianity in his original incarnation; while Alcott’s books are obviously Christian in tone I still have never had the feeling Alcott was trying to convert me, nor her characters each other.

It’s when, at about a third of the way into this book, the Chinese character from Alcott and Mowgli both give humble thanks for having been delivered from the darkness of their previous faiths that I hit the Menu button to move on. I’m not an atheist, and I was in no danger of bursting into flames by reading it – but I went into this expecting a fun steampunk tale, not a sermon. And checking back in with the Goodreads description I find this: “Soar over London in a stealth glider, and witness the true redemption and restoration no one imagined.” Sounds like the religiosity will become stronger yet.

But it was such a fun idea! It would be a joy to see it done well. And now, unfortunately, even if I had the time or the drive I wouldn’t really be able to try it myself (except privately, maybe), given that it has been done here, albeit not so well. Pity.

I have to say it’s making me twitch, this not allowing myself to make librarianly changes on Goodreads. The title of the book needs commas. I will not add commas. I will not add commas. I will not …

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