I had just finished The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder, I was looking for another cool steampunk story. Tor had Michelle Black’s The Second Glass of Absinthe listed in one of their newsletter and checking out the author’s Steampunky Blog, I was excited to start it. It was quite a let down.
After waking up from an absinthe-created hallucination in which unspeakable acts seem to have taken place, Kit angrily leaves the house of Lucinda and her twenty-year-old son, Christopher, feeling betrayed and exploited. Then, Lucinda is found stabbed to death.
In the midst of this turmoil and of Leadville’s anxiety over its labor unrest and the impending arrival of the railroad, Kit’s uncle, Brad Randall, and his fiancé, Eden Murdoch, arrive in the boomtown planning to celebrate their wedding, but are instead shocked to learn Kit is the primary suspect in the sensational murder.
Eden resolves to learn the truth and clear Kit Randall’s name. To do so, she forms an uneasy alliance with Bella Valentine, Kit’s former girlfriend and a dabbler in the occult. With this unlikely ally Eden uncovers shocking secrets of the Ridenour family just as Leadville’s first labor strike brings the town to an armed and dangerous standstill.
The whodunit part of the plot was a bit transparent (or maybe I just watch too much NCIS), but I kept wondering for the first part of The Second Glass of Absinthe if they were ever going to try to figure out who killed Lucinda, or if it was going to be about Kit facing his addictions. I also kept getting snippets of background that must be from a previous book. You can read this one without ever having read the others, but you get the feeling that you’re on the outside of an inside joke. Actually it was so prevalent in the first 1/4 – 1/3 of the book, that I put it down for more than a month (it got better in the last part, but it still kept giving me that feeling on occasion).
I didn’t really want to read my other book on Catherine of Aragon (I’m a Tudor junkie), so I picked The Second Glass of Absinthe back up and finished it that same night. The reading was easy (not like Le Morte D’Arthur I was working on in between) but I wish it would have stayed more with a single character. There was one point where I thought that the book was going to shift completely from Kit’s perspective to Eden’s and I actually wish it had been completely from Eden’s perspective. I think there would have been more dramatic tension as she discovered things. I’m also not really a big fan of changing character perspective during a story, it was done well (line breaks, a clear delineation between) but I didn’t think it NEEDED to be done. It just broke up the sense of discovery for me.
The characters seemed like a whole bunch of bad RPG characters. Everyone had to have a super interesting background that was really far-fetched. Why couldn’t anyone just be normal and pulled into the mystery? I was convinced that we’d find out that every woman in the book had been kidnapped by natives at some point, because anyone who has gone native will have absolutely no problem re-integrating into Victorian society. Right.
I’m not against the idea of modern progressive thinking in a steampunk setting, but there was almost nothing that took this story from Victorian to steampunk. The exception was some morals and an eastern dressing mystic who kept making me think of some of the stuff Miss Kagashi talks about at Multiculturalism for Steampunk. There was no futuristic innovation that they didn’t already have in the time portrayed, so I really wouldn’t even classify this book under steampunk, just Victorian Fantasy.
The romance in The Second Glass of Absinthe was another disappointment. There was a couple sex scenes, but they are glossed over. Unfortunately, the most exciting description was a flash back almost at the end of the book, and that was even, um how to say without a spoiler, I’m not that alternative.
All in all, The Second Glass of Absinthe by Michelle Black was an easy read, however, between the jumping around between PoV’s, no clear direction at the beginning and a sense that you were missing the punch line made it not so enjoyable. It really makes me excited about Burton & Swinburne’s next adventure, and a hope that the characters in this book just get some much needed psychological therapy.
An Uncommon Enemy
The Second Glass of Absinthe