Review: Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe Valtat

Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe ValtatTitle: Aurorarama (Goodreads)

Author:  Jean-Christophe Valtat (@theValtat)

Rating: ★★★★☆

1908. New Venice–“the pearl of the Arctic”–a place of ice palaces and pneumatic tubes, of beautifully ornate carriage-sleds and elegant victorian garb, of long nights and vistas of ice.

But as the city prepares for spring, it feels more like qaartsiluni–“the time when something is about to explode in the dark.” Local “poletics” are wracked by tensions with the Eskimos circling the city, with suffragette riots led by an underground music star, with drug round-ups by the secret police force known as the Gentlemen of the Night. An ominous black airship hovers over the city, and the Gentlemen are hunting for the author of a radical pamphlet calling for revolt.

Their lead suspect is Brentford Orsini, one of the city’s most prominent figures. But as the Gentlemen of the Night tighten the net around him, Orsini receives a mysterious message from a long-lost love that compels him to act.


Series: 1 (of 2 at present)
Genre: Steampunk, Science Fiction
Published: First published by Melville House, August 2010. Paperback version published May 1, 2012.
Pages (paperback edition): 432
My Copy: Digital ARC for review from Netgalley.

Paper copies: • • Book Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble


New Venice, the utopian city high in Arctic Canada, is protected from sub-zero temperatures by some kind of technological wizardry. The dark days of winter when the sun does not rise are made more bearable by the liberal use of “psylicates” drugs and alcohol, plus plenty of free and liberated love.

But all is not well in the city. Tensions simmer between the native inughuit people and the white “qallunaut” inhabitants of the city, and between the ruling council and revolutionaries.

Valtat is a brilliant storyteller – the twists and turns of this story kept the pages turning all the way through. The style of writing often requires concentration – sentences often run on and on, separated by numerous commas, but always sparkling descriptions and brilliant imagery. He also loves to make up new words in a rather Shakespearean way – there’s a whole range of jargon the citizens of New Venice use, from “poletics” to “anarchitecture”.

I have no knowledge of Inuit culture so have no idea whether the representations of it in Aurorarama are accurate, but the legends and descriptions of the Inuit way of life give a lot of extra colour to the cast of characters and Valtat certainly gives the impression that he knows what he’s talking about.

There were a few aspects of the story that I found a little baffling. The characters make references to some major disaster that befell the city long ago called the “Blue Wild”, but this is never described in any detail. Also, who is Helen? We never really find out, even though several of the characters seem to have had dealings with her at one time or other. It’s almost as if there was a previous book that I missed reading first, but this is the first in a new series.

There were formatting problems all through my digital ARC copy which I hope would be resolved in the final e-book versions, but because there are several sketches scattered through the book, I’d recommend a paper copy if you’re thinking of reading this book. Sketches don’t translate well to a Kindle screen!

Aurorarama is an amazing work with beautiful descriptions of the Arctic and Steampunk city scenery, plus plenty of action. Fans of Steampunk and of Fantasy will love it. I’ll certainly be trying to get my hands on the second in this series, Luminous Chaos, due for publication in October, 2012.

Warnings: Suggestive sexual content and drug use.

What did others think of Aurorarama?

Review: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus (Goodreads)

Author:   Erin Morgenstern (@erinmorgenstern)

Rating: ★★★★★

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighbouring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.


Series: Stand-alone
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Published: Doubleday, September 2011

Paper copies: • • Book Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble


Marco and Celia are pitted against each other in a mysterious game they have been preparing for since they were children. Le Cirque des Rêves is the staging ground – a magical circus full of wonders.

The Night Circus seems to be one of those books that people either love or hate, judging by the reviews I’ve seen. The story is quite slow to develop. The main characters don’t even see each other for years at a time and compete by adding wonders to the circus to out-do each other. If you’re after a battle with Cruciatus curses flying around, you’re in the wrong place.

I loved reading this book. It’s hard to put into words why I did, but I think the descriptions of the Cirque is what did it for me – Morgenstern’s gift for beautiful prose is undeniable and she conjures dream-like images from every page. I may just have to get myself a red scarf and become a rêveur!

Set in and around the late 1800s, the story is made up of many small chapters, switching between several different threads of story. At first this was a little confusing  because some sections are later in time than others, but once I started paying attention to the dates at the start of each section I understood better how all the threads fit together. Another potentially confusing element is that it is told in the present tense. It took me a little while to get used to it, then every now and then there is a section of second-person point of view (for example, “You move the curtain aside”) which allows Morgenstern to describe a tent that the characters haven’t visited.

As the story moves on, the threads become shorter and closer together, until they are woven together into one story. The story itself does peter out a little at the end, the action giving way to a lengthy discussion between characters in the last few chapters.

The author has created a cast of interesting characters, complete with a web of relationships. The romance is sweet and delightful, although there isn’t really any explanation as to why it exists. That didn’t stop it from sending tingles up my spine while reading, though.

Erin Morgenstern’s debut is a delight to read. If you love magic and descriptions of beautiful and fantastic places, read The Night Circus without delay!


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