Steampunk magical zombies and so many men who just want to get married.
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
No. of pages: 567
A net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. Mortmain plans to use his Infernal Devices, an army of pitiless automatons, to destroy the Shadowhunters. He needs only one last item to complete his plan: he needs Tessa Gray.
Charlotte Branwell, head of the London Institute, is desperate to find Mortmain before he strikes. But when Mortmain abducts Tessa, the boys who lay equal claim to her heart, Jem and Will, will do anything to save her. For though Tessa and Jem are now engaged, Will is as much in love with her as ever.
As those who love Tessa rally to rescue her from Mortmain’s clutches, Tessa realizes that the only person who can save her is herself. But can a single girl, even one who can command the power of angels, face down an entire army?
This concluding novel of the Infernal Devices trilogy brought everything to a dramatic climax and Tessa, Will, and Jem are all tested to the extreme.
We start to see more of the Shadowhunter lore and lifestyle instead of that of the 1800’s London society. It’s full on magic and paranormal. And it was such a fun adventure, though, to be honest, with did feel like a weak ending to the trilogy… maybe because it’s continued on in other series in the Shadowhunter universe in some form or other, or that I was a little over the too-frequently used tropes that Cassandra Clare loves to employ in her writing.
The secondary cast members get to play a greater role in the narrative in ‘Clockwork Princess’ you can get the sense of a strong team forming when facing the treat of the clockwork zombies that are immune to the defences of the Cleve’s magic protecting the hub and home of the London faction of Shadowhunters. I really enjoyed following their individual stories, their character development to have a break from the angsty love triangle of Tessa, Will, and Jem.
The concluding chapters dealt some twists that I did not see coming – but some that I did not altogether appreciate. While these plot reveals can sometimes be masterful, I found a few to be all too convenient and a bit of a cop out. But that’s just my opinion. I think because I was craving a bit more personal tension and drama for our trio at the centre of the series.
I’m not sure if it’s all the propriety of 1700’s society, or the way the relationships were written, but I wasn’t as sold on the Tessa love story; not as much as I was in Clary’s from the Mortal Instruments series – maybe because if felt a little copy and paste tropes of the bad boy with a heart of gold, and an everyday girl with a one-of-a-kind special talent that can save the world. I was craving something a bit different, more original. But the rest of the story, and the Shadowhunter universe I was really enjoying.
Mortmain was a weird antagonist – always in the periphery, out of reach. Not quite in the Shadowhunter, or Downworlder world. And as a consequence not someone as I thought of as all that scary. He came across as more annoying than maleficent. Though I appreciated the whole circumventing magic and wards with the invention of his clockwork army. That was true genius.
Now I’ve tucked this trilogy under my belt, I’m eager to finish off the Mortal Instruments series (the second trilogy) to see what happens with this background now established. I’d still recommend this collection, even though the ending didn’t quite stick for me. The concept and element of The Infernal Devices was truly entrancing. But maybe for those who love the Shadowhunter world – it’s not something that can be enjoyed in isolation… each of these trilogies sets up groundwork for the following trilogy.
Cassandra Clare’s writing style is light and manages to draw out period details expertly, I was never pulled from the narrative apart from moments when I was eye-rolling from the overused tropes. ‘Clockwork Princess’ was mostly predictable, a few surprised, but on the whole a solid read.
Monty’s epic grand tour may be over, but now that he and Percy are finally a couple, he realizes there is something more nerve-wracking than being chased across Europe: getting together with the person you love.
Will the romantic allure of Santorini make his first time with Percy magical, or will all the anticipation and build-up completely spoil the mood?
This was a cute novella dealing with Monty and Percy finally getting their ‘groove’ on despite many interruptions. ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ is a charming aside to the Montague Siblings series. It does not expand on the universe too much. We learn what happens with our characters between the first and second novels in this series and it gives resolution to a few small plot points.
Monty is still that bumbling self-absorbed rake we love, but his softer and loyal side are emerging, giving him a bit of substance. Percy is beginning to find security in his relationship with Monty. There is more sibling rivalry and sibling unity with Felicity helping out the love sick couple yet again.
Mackenzi Lee has an elegant and humorous writing style that matches perfectly with the tone of the story and which I enjoy getting lost in.
This is a quick read and a great addition to all MontyxPercy stans.
The plot itself is highly predictable, but all the obstacles that get in the way certainly make for a fun journey.
There is not much to add to this review, as ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ is a short novella, dealing with a singular topic. Fans of the series will not be disappointed with this addition to the franchise. Highly recommend.
A unique magical system set in historical Russia, this tale of a girl with special powers blasts competitors out of the water.
Genre: YA, Fantasy
No. of pages: 358
Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal–and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked and Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed.
Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destroy the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart–and her country–in two.
I did the mad rush to quickly get the book read before the television series was released – and thankfully managed it so that I could indulge in the series. It was a great kick in the pants for some motivation because this book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for years!
‘Shadow and Bone’ definitely lived up to the hype I’ve heard all of these years. Fantasy had fallen out of favour with me a while back, which is why I let this sit for so long, but it has re-ignited my interest in the genre. Leigh Bardugo has created a fantastical world of powered individuals called the Grisha, a dark cloud cutting their country in half called the Fold created by a powerful Grisha known as the Darkling. With warring countries, and a battle for power between the royals, church, and the Grisha this Russian landscape proves a formidable one for protagonist Alina and her childhood best friend Mal.
There is a bit of an overused trope here – the orphan who has a secret formidable power to save the world – but it is done so well that I didn’t mind it in the least. Alina is intelligent and there is a slow burn of her coming into her confidence and expanding her knowledge about the Grisha. A country at war provides a dynamic backdrop as Alina and Mal travel into the Fold where Alina’s Sun Summoner power first shows itself under attack from the monsters in the shadows.
There is some admirable character development for Alina in ‘Shadow and Bone.’ Though Mal comes in and out of the narrative and seems to be the same reliable and loyal friend Alina has always known, so I didn’t see much growth for his character. We get a sense that Mal could be a love interest, as too do we see the leader of the Grisha, the Darkling. I really loved how Alina investigates the world of the Grisha and tries to hold her made family of her and Mal together. There are some great reveals in ‘Shadow and Bone’ that help set a cracking pace. I devoured this novel in two sittings and it felt effortless. Leigh Bardugo’s writing style is breezy and melodic setting a beautiful tone, and you don’t see the twists and turns coming until they are upon you.
This book comes highly recommended and I can see why – I definitely agree this is in the top of my favourite reads in the fantasy genre to date. The concept of the amplifiers, though interwoven seamlessly into the story was the least plausible for me in this magic system. The idea of groups of powered Grisha, and the variations within those groups is truly fascinating. I’m sure we’ll get to explore much more in the following sequels.
I had a wonderful experience with ‘Shadow and Bone’ and am keen to jump into book two, ‘Siege and Storm’ right away.
Oh how a single word labelling a person can cause so much trouble. Women tearing each other down, jealousy, feeling threatened, or plain old sexism. I’m glad to see many replacing this word with #GirlBoss.
Beautiful Victorian London, steampunk villains and paranormal creatures.
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
No. of pages: 502
In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when it becomes clear that the mysterious Magister will stop at nothing to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.
With the help of the handsome, tortured Will and the devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal and fueled by revenge. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.
Tessa is drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa answers about who she really is? As their search leads to deadly peril, Tessa learns that secrets and lies can corrupt even the purest heart.
A steampunk Shadowhunter tale with the bad boy, his well-behaved best friend, and a girl who may or may not be a warlock.
While I really enjoyed this story, the pacing suffered at times. There were also many reveals, but none that fully rocked me to the core – so as a consequence, ‘Clockwork Prince’ did not engage and wow me as much as pervious titles in this series. Plus the character trope of male characters being a rude pig for the good of a potential love interest is tiresome and not a trope I particularly enjoy.
Though we see Tessa becoming more ingratiated into her Shadowhunter family, and joining the fray as they police the Downworld and uncover mysteries, there did not feel like her character got much development. Plus all this priority of the 1800’s society and etiquette vs the Shadowhunters culture seem to clash, and the English customs felt to serve only as a plot device to set up a situation between Tessa, Jem, and Will.
As mentioned above, I was beginning to become tired of the bad boy image hiding a genuine gentle soul that Will embodies. I just don’t understand the need to be obnoxious to keep people at an arm’s length. There are other ways to do this without falling into this trope. But I guess it is a favoured character trait in YA. Though where the story ends in ‘Clockwork Prince,’ I am interested to see how Will develops in the final instalment in this trilogy as he has no excuses to be the way he has been anymore.
Jem felt as if he was more in the background and a bit of a plot device for ‘Clockwork Prince.’ Apart from the growing relationship between him and Tessa, there was little else to his story.
This love triangle – and its developing story – felt a little off in this middle novel. It seems like Cassandra Clare quickly moved the chess pieces where she needed them to be for the finale and then treaded water. I think that’s why I felt the pacing suffered in parts. There was no character driving the story forward, it was more about positioning plot points for ‘Clockwork Princess.’
We do get resolution to a major plot point which was very satisfactory, and a few minor ones which all went the way of sensibility and practicality instead of some elaborate backstory.
Overall I really enjoyed ‘Clockwork Prince,’ but it did lack a certain something. But that is the way of many middle books in trilogies… I’m excited for ‘Clockwork Princess’ knowing what is left to be resolved, and how it will ultimately tie back into The Mortal Instruments series; and in true Cassandra Clare style, will no doubt be epic with many twist and turns.
The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them…
This review comes from a re-read for me. I had read this initially about 7 years ago when it was first released but never wrote a review… and then abandoned the series when we moved states as the books were hidden away in moving boxes for an extended period of time. I think I initially had awarded it 5 stars. Now that I’m completing the series as a part of #BeatTheBacklist, I needed to re-read ‘Clockwork Angel’ to refresh and catch up to where I last left The Infernal Devices collection.
‘Clockwork Angel’ is a steampunk historical fantasy in the Shadowhunters universe, set as a sequel to the Mortal Instruments. I found this an easily engrossed read. I slipped into the past seamlessly and powered through this novel despite its 480 page length. It reminded me of all the things I enjoyed about The Mortal Instruments series all those years ago. I’m definitely excited to catch up on all the published novels in the Shadowhunter universe.
We follow Tessa Gray after her Aunt passes away and she is sent a ticket to travel to London to live with her last living relative, her brother Nathaniel. Upon arriving in England, she is secreted away by the Dark Sisters and forced into strange rituals that bring out her latent shape changing abilities Tessa did not know she had.
We meet Shadowhunters Will and Jem (James) who rescue Tessa from the Dark Sisters when they are investigating a murder involving Downworlders. From there Tessa is slowly introduced to all the elements of the Downworld and Shadowhunter alike, discovering that she is a part of this world too.
Tessa starts as a typical society lady, but soon notices that her deportment means little in the new magical world she has found herself in, and after having no-one to rely on but herself and her intuition, she has to find the strength to stand up for herself and carve her own path. I found Tessa endearing, if a little waifish at times – but that is a result of the society of the times, not of her character. And we see Tessa shed the older version of herself and become a strong and intelligent entity in her own right.
Will is a rakish teen, who’s good-looking and knows it. He’s rude and appears as being self-absorbed. I’m not a fan of intentionally rude love interests, so I’m not all that taken with Will. But we have only scratched the surface and I’m sure a tragic and involved backstory is going to be revealed in the next two sequels.
As too with Jem, a POC infected with demon poison which is slowly killing him. He’s all sorts of gentile, caring, and empathetic and I love the way both he and Tessa interact. Again, there is a backstory we’ve yet to uncover, which has me keen to jump into the sequel ‘Clockwork Prince’ as soon as possible.
We meet an early version of sorcerer Magnus Bane, and ancestors of the main characters from The Mortal Instruments. It had all the elements of magic that I loved about from the debut series, though I have to admit, I was hoping for more of this… and more action. But it’s just the introductory novel in this trilogy, so I’m confident that I’ll get my fix in the sequels.
Cassandra Clare’s writing style is eloquent and she painted the cold, damp, and drab atmosphere with aplomb. I was easily transported to 1870’s London. The pacing is what I’ve come to expect from her writing, she drops clues to keep us enticed every few pages, and does not neglect character development. If I was being really picky, I would say this was the tiniest bit waffly, but because I enjoy this universe so much, it did not bother me much.
I can’t say anything about the plot, because I had read this before, so there were no surprises… but I think on the initial reading the ending really got me. There’s a few twists and red herrings that make this an enjoyable read.
Happily recommend ‘Clockwork Angel’ to lovers of historical fiction, steampunk, fantasy, magic, and fans of the Shadowhunter universe.
Overall feeling: Felt like coming home after a long day.
Death and grief are strange creatures, no to are the same, the experiences and repercussions are always different – and it is inevitable that we will experience both in our lifetimes. It is always such a romantic notion in books, but the reality is visceral, devastating, and breaks you into pieces.
I thought I’d take a look back to recommend my top 10 standalones that I read in 2020, it’s a mixed bag but maybe you’ll find that new-to-you read!
I’ll Give You The Sun – yes this was released ages ago, and has been sitting on my shelf since, but in the past year I’ve been making a concerted effort to shrink my TBR and stop getting detracted by too many new shiny covers. This contemporary lived up to the hype I remember it getting when it first came out. Interesting characters and fantastic reveals that brought all the feels.
The Luminous Dead – On of the latest purchases, a sci-fi psychological thriller set in caves on a distant planet, the protagonist faces treacherous terrain, a controlling guide, alien nasties, and a few dead bodies. With a F/F romance to boot this was everything I needed and didn’t know it.
Famous Last Words – a contemporary mystery set in the Hollywood Hills. A young girl moves into a spanish estate that might be haunted, oh, and there might be a killer lurking about.
Highway Bodies – a zombie apocalypse that a diverse group of youngsters have to survive. Set in Australia, and a gem of a novel.
The Sky is Everywhere – Another contemporary romance from Jandy Nelson I let sit on my shelf for too long. Quirky characters painted with artistic flare.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue* – A historical rom-com as brother, sister and their best friend take a road trip across Europe and all sorts of hijinks ensue. This was a laugh riot. *Not a standalone, there are two more novels and a novella in this series, but I’m including it here because I’ve only read the debut.
Life Expectancy – Dean Koontz has been a favorite of mine since I was in junior high. This tale is a crazy twist of futures that keep getting intertwined: one is a family man, the other is a killer clown.
Pet Semetary – A re-read of an old classic that never fails to entertain and send a shiver down your spine. Bringing back the dead, indian burial grounds and a spooky wendigo… it never gets old (but parts of the story haven’t aged well – it fun to see how writing has evolved in the last 30-40 years)
Reckoning – the only non-fiction title in this list. Magda Szubanski, Australia’s first lady of comedy takes a serious tone exploring her family history: a father who was an assassin, her dreams of becoming a tennis star and falling into acting… and discovering her own identity in a time when being in the spotlight was a dangerous thing.
Cold Fire – A re-read that I didn’t know was one. I owned this book in high school and has lost it in my travels across the continent. I bought another copy thinking it was a title I didn’t have in Dean Koontz’s back catalog…. and the whole time I was reading it though ‘this sounds familiar.’ Still it was a great story of possible aliens haunting a man’s past who has the uncanny ability to foretell certain peoples deaths and goes out of his was to prevent them.
The top 10 series I completed (or nearly completed) in 2020 are:
This Mortal Coil – a science fiction future where the world is ravaged by genetically modified viruses, body modifications, and advanced technology. Warring factions for control and freedom, super soldiers… this really shows where a STEM education could take us. My no.1 pick for the year.
Warm Bodies – I finally completed this epic series, though it slowly left it’s satirical roots and turned philosophical. But is was fun to get answers to how the zombie apocalypse came about, and what the future holds for R and the gang.
The Rook* – There are still more installments to come in this series*, but this is all that is published for now. A spy thriller with supernatural powers set in England with a sense of humor! This collection has a special place in my heart (the television adaptation did not do it justice.)
Midnight Sun* – I got around to what I thought was finishing off the series I started back in 2007, but since have heard there is the possibility of another two books to come!? Nontheless this was a fun return to the beginnings of the Twilight franchise and the story of Edward and Bella (if a little long-winded) but I managed to read it in two days.
Impossible Times trilogy – a collection of novellas that is very timey-wimey. Set in England this has an echo of Doctor Who and mixes in a heavy dose of time travel. Well-written and a blast to read.
Death Works trilogy – Aussie author Trent Jamieson pens a great collection of novels about a Pomp (think grim reaper) guiding souls to the afterlife and fighting all sorts of supernatural nasties… but it’s all handled like a well-oiled corporate office. Best in my backyard : Brisbane, a story very close to my heart.
Proxy – another sci-fi dystopia with a gay main character where the wealthy can get a proxy to stand in for their punishments. A fantastic tale of class structure, technology and rebellion.
Zeroes*- A group of supernatural teens – crooks come heroes that have to navigate their powers, face the consequences of their actions and face-off similarly powered foes. It has a fun twist on the superpower genre, I just have to read the concluding novel to complete the series.*
One Man Guy – a contemporary romance duology featuring a M/M couple as they come out, and navigate romantic rivals, clashes of culture and class structures.
Nil* – a science fiction portal trilogy about a supernatural island that pits teens against the elements and predatory animals, but they have a year to untangle the mystery and catch a portal home before they die. Just have to read the concluding novel for this series*, but so far it has been one heck of an adventure.
Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.
But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.
Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.
I was delighted by ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue,’ because I’m not really one to enjoy historical fiction, but this novel was hilarious and kept a contemporary tone while being set in an 18th Century adventure across Europe.
Our protagonist, Henry ‘Monty’ Montague is a lad. Spoiled pretty party boy who is not discerning with whomever he “parties” with. Male, female, they are each equally attractive and alluring – which is how he ends up in frequent scandals from trysts in the night, and drunken night crawls. In short Monty is a cad, a man-whore, a stuck-up privileged snot. But I found myself endeared to him and invested in his story as he slowly begins to redeem his character.
Accompanied with his sister Felicity, and friend *cough-crush-cough* Percy this trio embark on a Grand Tour of Europe which will see Felicity in finishing school because she is not lady-like enough, always with her head in a book and an obstinate temperament; and Monty to make business connections, grow up, and return home to start running the families estate.
I was not expecting the amount of comedy, action, or adventure present in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.’ It really is a jam-packed story that had me gripped from start to finish. Not in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned what goes down in this book. Mackenzi Lee’s writing style has instantly endeared me to this series.
I did predict the romantic element of the story, but that’s about it. The plot is so crazy, I was glued to the page to discover what hijinks would happen next. For a 500 paged novel I consumed it in two-to-three sittings and loved every minute of it.
The character development is second to none, Mackenzie Lee manages to reveal motivations, secrets, and show growth in a marvellous way which was enchanting. I really want to go on raving about this book, chuckle over some of the events that happen, but I feel it would do an injustice to any reader yet to discover ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.’
Definitely recommend this one, it has all the elements that keep me entertained for a weekend read and I have already added ‘The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy,’ ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky,’ to my shopping cart, and am eagerly awaiting the release of ‘The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks’ next year.
A surprising and delightful recommendation from me.
I have mixed feelings about the novel ‘The Danish Girl,’ I love the representation but once you start to get into the novel you find the representation is nothing like it should be. The story and historical setting are well crafted, but the psychology, physiology, and medical treatment around Einar/Lili are grossly fantasized. The author has little understanding of transgender, intersex, sexual orientation, sexual identity and what is means to live the experience any of these.
The first situation describing Einar and women’s clothing in the book was romanticised to the point of fetishism. I know Einar is meant to be transgender, but the description felt off – not really the type of experience a true transgender woman would have. The continual descriptions of Einar being small, tiny, frail, and acting in a passive way and how Greta was tall and the dominant of the pair painted a picture of them having swapped gender roles in a spiritual sense. I wasn’t quite sold on the characterisation – especially for the time period. I know this is based loosely on a true story, but it is obvious the subject matter has been romanticized and written from a cis white man’s viewpoint. In the film, Einar is obviously fascinated by women’s clothing but resistant at first, and is pushed into it by his wife Greta – who is played to ‘see’ Einar as feminine, her artistic eye breaking through the façade to view who Einar really is. Though, this is juxtaposed later when she starts to resist and pressure Einar for acting on their feelings. Like it was okay at home, as long as it fit her comfort level. But at the narrative progresses her thoughts transform after witnessing the pain Einar is in, and having conversations with Lili.
I get a strong sense like there is a mix of multiple personality disorder, fetishism, an intentional lens from the author of the novel that misses the mark on what it means to be a transgendered woman on so many points. The story had me squirming and uncomfortable. In the film they play a lot more to mental illness rather than identity – and Einar doing research to find his/her answer from medical and psychology journals alone.
The casting of Eniar/Lili was way off. The actor in no way represented the portrayal of Lili from the novel. Eddie Redmayne’s physicality in no way captured the character of Lili depicted in the novel. The actor reinvented the character for the film version, and while Eddie Redmayne is an exceptional actor, this character should have been played by a transgender actor. Having a cis gendered male play the part, contributes to negative stereotypes many have of male to female transgendered individuals – that they are playing dress up. Seeing Eddie Redmayne dressed and presenting as male in the public eye, as opposed to a transgender actress who lives the experience and presents as female, would help dismantle inappropriate myths spread about transgender individuals. There were an important points made like this in the Netfix documentary ‘Disclosure.‘
The film lacked the transition and personal history of Einar/Lili. Lili is born of drag in the film, where in the book she already had the physical attributes of Lili and did not need to learn how to be female, but embodied that side of her personality inherently.
In the movie it seems no-one is fooled by Lili – that she doesn’t ‘pass’ however in the novel it is much the opposite case. Again, the whole notion of ‘passing’ shows how little the author, and film producers of ‘The Danish Girl’ really understand about the transgender experience.
The movie shows a fully masculine Einar transitioning into Lili, a transgender narrative; where the novel shows in intersex Einar confirming her gender. In the film – 2 operations are required for the physical transformation, yet in the novel 3-4 operations are required (and include something medically impossible.) In the novel Lili goes back for a uterine transplant, where in the film she goes back to have a vagina constructed. This was so not representative of any type of gender confirmation surgery all I can do in reaction to this is a *facepalm*
The novel presents more of a dichotomy between Einar and Lili, like they are two separate people, but the film it is more Einar realising and wishing she could be Lili.
Lili\Einar is intentionally deceptive and selfish with a lot of their actions both in the film and the novel. Both the film and novel do injustice to the character when they deal with being transgender. There is more to a person than a single aspect. We go from a dynamic character, to a two-dimensional character.
It’s hard to resolve this story with today’s understanding of being transgender and the setting of Coppenhagen, Paris, and Dresden in 1920-30’s. There are so many misrepresentations and inaccuracies I was quietly enraged.
The novel did feel altogether too long – Ebershoff frequently meanders with flowery language and asides of landscape, backstory, daydreams, and the like. It does match the dreamlike quality of his beautiful writing, but slows down the pacing of the story incredibly. I can see how this style of writing is best matched for historical fiction though.
The reveal of Lili later being intersex in the book confirmed my suspicions given the mostly feminine stature and physical attributes. And the journey of Lili’s operations for gender confirmation surgery are gruesome. Though while interesting reading and set a tone for the novel, feel poorly researched. Even for the time, medical operations and the healing of the human body afterward do not span the length of time described in the novel.
My opinion on ‘The Danish Girl’ (both film and novel) was a hodge-podge of concepts that were not thoroughly researched around identity, mental disorders, and medical knowledge. Though, like the art that Einar and Greta create, ‘The Danish Girl’ is merely an interpretation on Lili’s story. It’s is viewed through different lenses of the characters of the book. Like anecdotal histories, it is warped, interpreted and skewed by the narrator. And adapted by movie producers, again a little insensitive to the transgender experience.
Some notable instance where the film and novel diverge, is that Lili does not get caught going to naughty places in the novel by Greta. And most importantly, Lili does not die at the end of the novel, it ends on a hopeful note, even in there is a symbolic description that could be interpreted as her dying, though it does not describe a traditional death. It’s more a symbolic freeing. She has been set free to live her own life. The prospect of marriage. The scene in the book is of a boys kite breaking from its tether and drifting towards Lili and up into the sky, maybe depicting her rise to heaven. In the film, its Lili’s scarf that Greta is wearing, accidently blown away into the sky and Greta saying ‘Leave, it, Lili will find it.’ So the film depicts a certain death and the novel leaves it open to interpretation.
I have to admit actor Alicia Vikander as Gerda (Greta in the novel) was too short, petite and pretty in comparison to her literature counterpart. But Alicia Vikander was outstanding in her acting chops and is the standout in the film.
Regarding Lili’s first kiss: Lili was a willing participant in the novel, even excited about it, but in the film it was awkward, almost abusive, you could see she was pushing herself. I don’t quite understand the relevance of the scene in the film – they were trying to infer that she didn’t want to kiss because the gentleman whom she was entangled with thought of her as a man… again the tone of the film is that Einar is in drag, seen as a man. Where in the novel, Lili is a fully realised woman.
Greta/Gerda was much more supportive and accepting in the novel, she seemed more jealous and emotionally distraught in the film like it was a choice between Einar and Lili. In the novel Greta admired Einar’s feminity and softness. She lived for the opposite of societies norms. She was a rebel. So again we see the depiction of Lili’ transgenderism through different lenses of the same character, one where it is embraced, and the other where it is viewed as harmful.
In the film the nosebleed from Einar – symbolising a menstrual cycle happens only once; where in the novel it was happening a lot, even from downstairs (it is never stated exactly, but I’m assuming from Einar’s bottom – again this makes no medical sense.)
The line “Lesbienne” is said from two men instead of children in the film, followed by the men harassing Einar/Lili in the park, and then physically assault her. This violence is not in the book, the scene is meant to show how Einar/Lili is passing as a woman.
Ultimately even though this is a fascinating story and character study, the novel was flourished with a heavy hand and I found myself putting the book down frequently because I was getting a bit tired. I almost wanted the narrative tied a little more to history, to events to ground the story. The characters are really well developed but difficult to relate to and even to love. They are all selfish in their own way and live out of step with the real world. Though in saying that, this creative bubble Greta and Einar lived in was the only environment which could have nurtured Lili in taking her first steps into the world.
I don’t really want to recommend this novel (or film) solely on the amount of factual inconsistencies – this read more like a fantasy novel than something based in historical significance. David Ebershoff admits in an interview after the publication of ‘The Danish Girl’ that the representation of Lili’s transgender journey in his novel is not representative of today’s transgender population and is purely fictional… I’m not sure if that is ignorance, damaging, or laziness. Why would you want to create a character based on actual events and not have the core motivation of that character also based on factual elements? It’s misrepresentation at its core. I would have preferred an ownvoices author’s take on this subject matter.
I feel like the film completely missed the tone and intention of the novel. It’s great to have the representation, but both the mediums that present this story are different creatures. The film feels like it is a tragic story that punishes the Lili for becoming a woman, and feels like Greta (Gerda) is the protagonist; whereas the novel made me feel like Lili was the protagonist who pushed the envelope too far – the untested exploratory surgeries – when she could of lived a fulfilling life without needing to bear children… The film is more realistic but loses the hope the novel had, and the book lacks the realism.
In the novel, Lili was living life as a woman, was in a romance and about to relocate to New York and get married, where in the film, there was no romance and she died before getting to live any aspect of her life as a fully realised woman. I feel like both film and novel, were a disappointment. It is so easy to research the facts, and have conversations with members of the transgender community to ensure that this kind of story does not harm, if unintentionally.