January 01, 2013

The Friday Society

by Adrienne Kress
Dial Books (Penguin Group)
440 pp.
Ages 12+

The Friday Society ushers in a new world of steampunk, in which three young ladies from very different backgrounds join their non-traditional forces to defeat evil machinations in very traditional turn-of-the-century London.  And if I read Adrienne Kress' ending correctly, The Friday Society is just the first in a series of books that will star these new heroes.

Our three heroes, all about 17-years-of-age, are Cora Bell, the personal and lab assistant to parliamentarian-inventor Lord White; the overwhelmingly beautiful Nellie Harrison, magician's assistant to the Great Raheem, a caring and wise surrogate father; and Michiko Takeda, former samurai student and current fight and self-defense instructor under the abusive Sir Callum Fielding-Shaw.  After a gala attended by Cora and Lord White at which the Great Raheem and Nellie perform, and Callum and Michiko demonstrate, the three girls finally cross paths.  Nellie and Cora, sharing a carriage home, come across Michiko who has been knocked unconscious after discovering the deserted carriage and decapitated head of another performer at the gala.  Dr. Welland had demonstrated the power of a new gravity-defying metal called cavorite in a mechanical bird that flew about the hall.  Now he has been murdered, the cavorite is gone and Michiko is determined to find the man, who she calls Fog, and fight him again to restore her honour.

Although now acquainted, the three young women still seek answers on their own.  Michiko seeks Fog, while teaching a young boy, Hayao, to be a samurai in return for his teaching her to run and jump across wide chasms.  Nellie is determined to discover  more about a poisoned man who died in the home she shares with Raheem.  Her inquiries take her to the Medical and Scientific Institute where she makes the acquaintance of the creepy Dr. Mantis and learns of the Society of Heroes, a secret group of scientists. Meanwhile, Cora is dealing with the amorous Mr. Andrew Harris, the handsome new lab assistant, toiling over a complicated new device, and mourning the death of a former friend, one of several flower sellers murdered recently.

Without obvious contrivance, Adrienne Kress knits the network of story-lines and mysteries into a powerful plot enriched with vivid characters (no matter how incidental they may appear to be), atmospheric settings, and complicated encounters, both emotional and physical.  And the humour in The Friday Society!
Dr. Mantis took a step toward her. "Do you know the difference between you and me?" he asked in that quiet voice of his.
"Aside from the fact that I have hair?" (pg. 392)
Adrienne Kress subtly blends contemporary language with the formalities of Victorian England with rousing success, effecting wit and levity in dramatic and tragic circumstances.
"Sir," she said, turning around abruptly and aiming her small pistol between his legs, "I am not the police.  I am not here to make a scene, nor to report any activity to anyone.  I am merely here to find my boss and bring him home so he can prepare for an event this evening for which it would be best if he were sober.  You have been most unhelpful, and if you don't let me take care of my business, I can assure you I will do away with yours." (pg. 17)
Even her recently uploaded trailer for The Friday Society (posted on our book trailers page here) ends with this playful wit.

Humour, mystery, action, strong female heroes, weird and wonderful contraptions, and the promise of romance - The Friday Society has all the right components for a highly-effective and sure-to-trend debut of a series.

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