I love steampunk heroines, which is obvious if you’ve read my other steampunk-related posts (here). I also love to read YA fiction, which is obvious if you’ve read my other YA-related posts (here). The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress is a YA book about not one, not two, but three steampunk heroines! The defense, by the way, for my love of YA fiction, despite my age (and gender), is stated clearly in the first paragraph of this post (here). Anyway …
I discovered this delightful book after stumbling upon the trailer. Yes, some books have trailers. Most are pretty lame, but some are pretty awesome – like the one for The Friday Society. Watch it here …
The trailer was produced by author Adrienne Kress, directed by Michael Dufays, and written for the (Youtube) screen by Kress and Dufays. I was instantly charmed by this wonderful trailer! I live Cora’s male-mocking bravada! “That’s a big gun,” she teases, as she reveals her weapon. “Mine’s bigger,” she grins. Awesome! So, I went, immediately, onto Amazon and purchased the book (in hardcover). The lovely artwork (above), which adorns the book’s jacket, is much darker and more vintage in person. Or, at least, my copy is. And, it’s a very handsome volume!
The Friday Society, set in London, 1900, is “an action-packed tale of gowns, guys, guns – and the heroines who use them all.” Who are these heroines? Well, they are all assistants to men in London society. First, there’s …
Cora Bell is a lab assistant. She is a 17-year-old brunette who works for and lives with Lord White, an esteemed member of parliament (MP). Lord White, who took Cora in when she was 10, is also an inventor of gadgets and devices. He has a secret lab under his library. Cora hopes to be an inventor, as well, and has been working on night vision goggles. She is skilled at problem solving and has a variety of weapons at her disposal, including a pistol that sends “bullets flying at twice their normal speed” and the Chekhov, a massive gun that, when disassembled into many smaller pieces, can reassemble itself via an electromagnetic current. The Chekhov is the “bigger” gun she reveals in the book trailer. Cora also has an a romantic foil. He is Andrew Harris, an attractive but brash young man whom Lord White hired as her assistant (unbeknownst to her). Cora hates that she’s attracted to him.
Nellie Harrison is a magician’s assistant. She is a “16 and a bit”-year-old blonde who works for and lives with the Great Raheem, a popular London showman who is a native of Persia. Raheem rescued Nellie from working at a burlesque house shortly after her mother, who called her a “pretty burden”, died. Nellie hates that, because she’s beautiful, people think she’s stupid. She’s not. She is a skilled escape artist and can get out of the trickiest of spots. “You’re practically a cat,” Cora tells her. Nellie’s parrot Scheherazade (aka Sherry) is also helpful. Nellie’s romantic interest is Officer Murphy, a rookie policeman. Officer Murphy (aka Jeff), unlike Andrew Harris to Cora, is not Nellie’s romantic foil. Nellie and Officer Murphy’s budding relationship is very sweet. Nellie loves sparkles, too!
And, finally …
Michiko Takeda is a fight instructor’s assistant. She is Japanese and speaks very little English. She works for and lives with Sir Callum Fielding-Shaw. Michiko is far more skilled than he is. In Japan, she left home at 11 and was taken in by a geisha. She left again to become an apprentice to Kiyoshi Adachi, a great samurai master. Callum brought her to England to help him teach self defense English ladies and gentlemen. However, unlike Lord White and Raheem, Callum is a condescending “bastard”. Michiko plans to leave him once she has saved enough money. She is a skilled swordswoman and the team’s “greatest weapon of all.” Michiko is given a katana by an old samurai which she names The Silver Heart. She agrees to train young Hayao, one of the old samurai’s apprentices, to be a samurai like her if he teaches her to be a ninja like him.
These three young ladies are sassy and quite independent despite the limitations put on women of the Victorian era on the cusp of the Edwardian era [Queen Victoria died in January 1901]. Cora and Nellie are devoted to the men they assist (like daughters to their fathers), and both Lord White and Raheem allow them to rise above their status as women of the times. Michiko, on the other hand, is nothing more than Callum’s “accessory”. However, she, too, strives to rise above her status. They’re like three Victorian feminists!
Cora, Nellie and Michiko meet at a gala where Cora is in attendance with Lord White, Nellie is performing with the Great Raheem, and Michiko is demonstrating her exceptional skills with Callum. After the show, the girls stumble upon the severed head of a scientist who was at the gala. They decide to investigate the murder and soon find that the crime may be connected to other recent murders, a robbery at the British Museum, and a device commissioned from Lord White that Cora had worked on. As the mystery slowly unravels, they begin to suspect that a “super-secret club” called The Society of Heroes is involved. Then, a few days later, St. Paul’s Cathedral blows up and a “loud, magnified voice” threatens London. Now, Cora, Nellie and Michiko are forced to come together as a trio of masked heroines to thwart the diabolical plans of a madwoman – umm, I mean, a madman!
The Friday Society is kind of like a steampunk version of Scooby-Doo. A group of teenagers must solve a mystery and, in the end, an unlikely villain is unmasked. Cora is Fred mixed with Velma. She’s the leader, she’s intelligent and her goggles are like Velma’s glasses. Nellie is Daphne. She’s very beautiful, and all the men adore her. But, she’s not clumsy, or a damsel in distress. Michiko, I suppose, is Scooby-Doo because she doesn’t speak English very well. But, Scooby-Doo is cowardly, and Michiko is bold. I guess Sherry could be Scooby-Doo. Then, who would Michiko be? Not Shaggy, that’s for sure. OK, maybe this book’s not like Scooby-Doo at all, but …
The Friday Society is steampunk-lite. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a fun and imaginative adventure filled with dirigibles, steam-powered gadgets, clockwork devices, goggles, tweed trousers, and, of course, corsets. “So you’ll still wear a corset?” Nellie wonders, after Cora tells her she’d prefer to wear trousers. “Well, yes. It’s only decent,” Cora replies. It’s steampunk, just with fewer calories making it a brisk, satisfying read. Some hardcore steampunk fans might argue that book’s lite-er prose is too modern or, at least, not Victorian enough; and, well, they’re right. However, Kress‘s “modern irreverent flare” delivers a sharp wit and some delightful charm. It’s refreshing. “And then there was an explosion,” Kress writes at the very beginning of her book. “It was loud. It was bright. It was very explosion-y.” Explosion-y? I liked that. Then, in regards to the tinkling sound of glass caused by the explosion reflecting Cora’s incompetence, she writes: “Stupid tinkling sound of glass.” I loved that.
I also loved all the Victorian-era literary influences that Kress incorporates into The Friday Society. Of course, such references are common in steampunk, but Kress gives them her own exuberant twists. Cavorite, the anti-gravity material developed by eccentric physicist Mr. Cavor in H.G. Wells‘ classic novel The First Men in the Moon (1901) plays a part in Kress‘s story, as does a killer who is like Jekyll/Hyde [from Robert Louis Stevenson‘s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)] meets Jack the Ripper, a pair of shifty body snatchers [inspired by Stevenson‘s short story “The Body Snatcher” (1884)], and an army of Franken-monsters “made up of bits” [inspired by Mary Shelley‘s novel Frankenstein (1818)]. I’m sure there’s more. When Cora, Nellie and Michiko, meet those Franken-monsters in the tunnels under the Tower Bridge, I was reminded of the steampunk’d found-footage horror film Frankenstein’s Army (2013) in which a descendent of Victor Frankenstein creates an army of Franken-monsters for the Nazis during World War II. Oh, when Cora absconds the rocket-propelled “flying pack” to fly off and save all of London in the book’s fast-paced climax, I was reminded of the Disney adventure film The Rocketeer (1991) which was based on a 1980s comic book which was inspired by sci-fi serials of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It all adds up to some fantastical steampunk’d fun!
I love the little things. The little things, sometimes, can have a big impact on how I feel about a book, a comic, or a movie. In The Friday Society, one of those little things occurs when Cora wakes after she and Michiko spend the night at Nellie’s flat. She walks into the kitchen and finds a shirtless Raheem staring out the window, seemingly unaware of her presence. She admires his muscular back.
“I see you,” said the Magician.
“No, you don’t,” replied Cora, pulling herself back behind the door into the hall.
I don’t know why I like that brief exchange so much, but I wrote the page number down on my bookmark.
So, what about the name? Well, I thought, with this book being marketed to teenage girls and all, that our heroines would be sitting around, on Friday nights, doing Victorian teen girl things before deciding to solve a mystery. I was wrong. The name is a literary reference. Read the book if, like me, you can’t figure it out.
The book’s press says, “this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike – well, relatively ladylike – heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.” I certainly hope that Adrienne Kress delivers on that promise. In addition, I think Kress and Michael Dufays should do a full-on web series adaptation of The Friday Society! However, until a second volume or a web series [as if!] appears, my only option for more of Kress‘s brand of steampunk-lite is to read her short story “The Clockwork Corset” in the anthology Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances (2011) edited by Trisha Telep. In fact, since I just downloaded the Kindle version of that book, I’ll read the whole collection!
The scenes of Kress as a hopeful investigative journalist are from the TV pilot for Paranormal Investigators (2013), a parody of ghost hunting reality shows that, apparently, was never picked up. Too bad. It’s very funny! The pilot was created by Shawn Ahmed (who stars as Nav Deep) and Scott Leaver (who stars as Max Bieber) for their very own Crazy Shirt Productions. Kress plays Ava Knots. She’s “smart”, she’s “talented”, and she’s a “very hard worker”! She’s awesome, too! Watch the full episode (here). Ooh, according to IMDb, Kress is featured in the teen (were)wolf movie Wolves (2014)! I have been looking for an excuse to watch that dumb movie for months! She is also “the co-creator/writer/director/producer of the utterly ridiculous and completely delightful webseries” Ryan Gosling Must Be Stopped in which a hapless guy joins a support group for men who’ve had enough of a certain A-list actor whom women seem to adore. Watch the Season 1 trailer here …
Ryan Gosling Must Be Stopped was created, written, directed and produced by Adrienne Kress and Heather Dann for their very own End of Rope Productions. Shawn Ahmed is featured as one of the RGMBS support group guys, and Michael Dufays is featured as “Dominic, Master of Acting.” This series is hysterical! Episode 3, in particular, includes a funny parody of the Quint-scraping-the-chalkboard scene from Jaws (1975). The 5-episode first season ends with an awesome tease! I can’t wait for Season 2! Watch Season 1 in its entirety (here).
Well, I, for one, am now convinced that Adrienne Kress is, in fact, sensationally wonderful!
Next up, YA-wise, after Corsets & Clockwork, is The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr (2015), a steampunk/urban fantasy spin on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a gender twist as well!
P.S. I just read Adrienne Kress‘s short story “The Clockwork Corset”. It’s about Imogen, a tough girl raised like a boy, who pretends to be a man to protect her true love Rafe, a clock winder and inventor, who was called to the front lines during war. As expected, it was just delightful!
P.P.S. The Friday Society is the book that sparked my current steampunk obsession.