Review: Lumière by Jacqueline Garlick

Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Title: Lumière
Author: Jacqueline Garlick
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Illumination Paradox #1
Pages: 400
Published: October 26, 2013
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 1 out of 5

Even in a land of eternal twilight, secrets can’t stay in the dark forever.

Seventeen-year-old Eyelet Elsworth has only one hope left: finding her late father’s most prized invention, the Illuminator. It’s been missing since the day of the mysterious flash—a day that saw the sun wiped out forever over England.

But living in darkness is nothing new to Eyelet. She’s hidden her secret affliction all of her life—a life that would be in danger if superstitious townspeople ever guessed the truth. And after her mother is accused and executed for a crime that she didn’t commit, the now-orphaned Eyelet has no choice but to track down the machine that was created with the sole purpose of being her cure.

Alone and on the run, she finally discovers the Illuminator—only to see a young man hauling it off. Determined to follow the thief and recover the machine, she ventures into the deepest, darkest, most dangerous part of her twisted world.

Lumière lacks polish. The world building is inconsistent, as is Eyelet’s characterization.

Eight year old Eyelet is precocious and impetuous, despite her secret condition. She doesn’t read like an eight year old, even a world wise one, when she says, ‘“The [mechanical] elephant, I mean. Did you see how positively delicious he was?”’. She frets about money and confronts a terrifying carney and recalls her mother’s green-blue eyes turning “watery grey”. These aren’t the actions of a child barely off leading strings. But then, they’re also not the actions of the self-involved teenager she becomes.

Seventeen year old Eyelet, we learn, attends the prestigious Brethren’s Academy of Scientific Delves and Discoveries, despite being a woman, in a world where girls have no rights. This privilege is due to her professor father’s (huh, I thought he was an inventor?) high standing in the Academy before his death. Except, through investigation into his Illuminator, we learn that he was demoted and disgraced before his death. So why would his daughter be granted this luxury? We then learn that she and her mother, long rumored to be a Valkyrie and guilty of Wickedry, (magic use,) LIVE AT THE PALACE WITH THE RULER. That’s right, a suspected witch and wife to a disgraced inventor is the Ruler’s nanny. (Don’t think about it too hard, Eyelet’s life at the palace will never be mentioned again after chapter five.)

Eyelet's father was working on a device to cure her of her epilepsy, but he died the day she discovered a carny had stolen the technology. She uses her school time to search for his missing research in an effort to find the original prototype. Her father’s nemesis, Professor Irving Smrt is also searching for the Illuminator and after Eyelet’s mother is convicted of Wickedry, Smrt pounces. Eyelet will either be killed as a witch like her mother, or Smrt will turn her over to an asylum for Madness, leaving him free to find the machine at his leisure. Instead, she flees from him into the city slums and manages to discover the machine that neither of them have seen in nine years, just as a third party loads it onto a carriage.

<spoilers>At the end of the book, Eyelet realizes that Smrt is the carny she confronted in the prologue. The carny is described as having “kippers for lips, they’re so scaly...I’d swear he was part crocodile.” Where as, “Professor Smrt’s lips remind me of a snake’s. Nothing but a sharply drawn line with a too thin tongue flicking out between.” In addition, we know Smrt was a professor at the Academy with Eyelet’s father, but the carny traveled, peddling the mini Illuminators with his plant/assistant, Mrs. Benson, until she died of cancer caused by the machine. There is literally no way to make those two backstories connect.</spoilers>

Again, the world building is extremely messy. The city is not London. It shares no physical similarities and even before the world was plunged into perpetual twilight, (which doesn’t seem to change the weather or affect crops…,) the city was surrounded by a wasteland called The Follies. Since the Great Illumination, the world is now ringed in pits to hell and swept over by suffocating fogs. The Follies are full of ghost-zombies and crazed cannibals. So what’s the best way to describe the romance? “So much more Romeo-and-Juliet that way, don’t you think?”, of course. There’s also a Cheshire Cat smile and clouds described as “Siberian” feeling. (Which is an awkward turn of phrase even in a world with Russia.) I could probably overlook a reference to a cockney accent to describe a lower city thief, but this is so sloppy, so half-assed, I cannot. Either set your steampunk in London or set it in an alternate universe, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

The romance moves so fast, by the time Eyelet is declaring that she’d grown to think of Urlick, the albino inventor who kidnapped her, as perfect, only four or five days have actually passed. (Part of me applauds the choice to make the love interest something less than the usual handsome, but when you have to describe someone I’m supposed to be falling in love with alongside the heroine as having “eyes shining like red stars in the night sky”, that’s difficult. How about rubies? Or embers? Or anything that’s actually red. Especially, since in this world, YOU HAVEN’T SEEN STARS IN NINE YEARS, BECAUSE THE SKY IS COVERED IN EVIL FOG.) And I didn’t understand why. Urlick terrifies Eyelet, forcing her to move into his lair, but refusing to tell her anything about it or the other people who live there. So when she comes across the maid with no tongue, the man with no arms, and the girl who screams violently, she obviously thinks Urlick or his father is torturing them. She spends most of the book screaming, at Urlick or from him. He does seem kind and creative in his chapters, but the reader sees that, not Eyelet.

The other issue with his appearance is Eyelet seems to be the only physically attractive person in the whole world. A search of the books shows the word “pretty” is only ever applied to her. The carny looks like a crocodile. Smrt is snake-like. Urlick is an albino with vicious port-wine birthmarks across his face and neck. Iris has frizzy hair and eyes “hanging droopy and sad as a dog’s half-masked under a pair of lazy lids.” Even Cordelia, the only physically unscarred person in the house, is only described as waif-like with sunken cheeks and dark circles. And then there’s Flossie, Urlick’s tutor. “She has a harelip and mean eyes, and a dark-brown, oval-shaped mole, covered in thick brown hair, which takes up most of her right cheek. A bloodred line extends from the bottom of the mole, like a tail, curling into a circle at the base of her throat...Her putty-pink lip strains over snaggled teeth.” As the only other woman in Urlick’s life, and someone also in love with him, that level of unpleasantness isn’t necessary and Eyelet’s continued fixation on other women’s ugliness reeks of mean-girlness. (I thought the prevalence of physical disabilities and epilepsy might be linked to the Great Illumination, but all of the characters, except maybe Cordelia were born and effected long before the flash. There’s no reason in the world building, except to make Eyelet better.)

Obviously, I didn’t enjoy this book and I can’t recommend it. If I read Noir, would I learn why Urlick’s inventions actually live and breathe? Would I learn why he had a bottle of smoke that lead to a mythical city and never noticed Eyelet broke it? Would I learn if Urlick’s Twitter knock-off takes off, earning him $18bn and letting him develop a way to take credit cards on mobile devices? Better question, would I care?

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