CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 16. . . .December 21, 2012
Cora Bell is a bright, resourceful young woman who also happens to be a lab assistant to Lord White. Cora loves being part of Lord White's activities in his secret lab, relishing every opportunity to learn and to use her knowledge and problem-solving skills to piece together exciting new creations. She is grateful to Lord White for having rescued her from a life of squalor and misery when he found her living on the streets and took her in. But even more so, she is grateful to him for recognizing and appreciating her brilliant mind and encouraging her to use it. Their relationship is a comfortable, albeit unorthodox, one. Thus, Cora feels all the more betrayed when a certain Mr. Andrew Harris arrives on the scene, having been hired by Lord White as a new lab assistant. There prove to be many reasons for her to dislike him…if only he weren't quite so handsome.
Meanwhile, Nellie Harrison is an incredibly beautiful magician's assistant with noteworthy skills of her own. Working alongside the Great Raheem, Nellie and her amazing memory and incredible agility are a major part of their show's huge success. Like Cora, Nellie's early years were filled with poverty, and she feels very fortunate to have found such a wonderful opportunity for herself. Most importantly, she recognizes how lucky she is to be working with a man who values her abilities and recognizes her importance to him. She knows that most women don't share her good fortune.
Michiko Takeda is one of those women who do not share in Cora and Nellie's good fortune. Michiko was brought by Sir Callum Fielding-Shaw to London from her home in Japan where she had trained as a samurai. When Sir Callum had seen her physical prowess, he invited her to return with him to England where she could assist him in his business of teaching self-defense to members of England's upper classes. Flattered that he was impressed by her abilities, Michiko agreed to accompany him, only to discover that he truly thinks of her as little more than a servant – a servant whose fighting skills vastly exceed his own. But Michiko understands the importance of patience, and she knows how to run away when the need calls for it. So she bides her time, serving as Sir Callum's lovely and lethal assistant.
Then one night, these three very capable young women find themselves thrown together, as if by fate. Their first meeting transpires at the scene of a grisly murder. When the trio find themselves each drawn back to the scene the next night, the seeds of friendship are firmly planted. But these chance meetings are all connected to a series of murders and other random crimes taking place throughout London. Using their impressive abilities, determination and thoughtful intelligence, they combine forces to get to the bottom of the murders, track down a wily and elusive villain and save the city of London from total annihilation…all without besmirching their bosses' reputations. Or even getting their names mentioned in the paper!
Fun, feisty and fast-paced, Adrienne Kress's first novel for young adults displays the same playful and irreverent humour as her earlier children's works, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman (Vol. XIV, No. 8, Dec. 7, 2007) and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate (Vol. XV, No. 17, April 17, 2009). While The Friday Society succeeds as an engaging and atmospheric murder mystery (that is lightly sprinkled with steampunk elements), its greatest strength lies in the stories of its three protagonists and how they come together. Not unlike an Edwardian "Charlie's Angels", this trio proves to be highly entertaining, and Kress's manner of introducing them individually and then having their paths cross not once but several times is very effective in terms of ensuring that readers feel equally invested in all three characters. While none of their life situations are very representative of the time period, the author still manages to convey a vivid sense of London life and how dramatically different the circumstances were for the various social classes. And, of course, for women. This message is trumpeted by the heroines, themselves, and is at the very heart of the story. In grand style, the threesome prove that they are more than just trusty sidekicks to their respective masters/employers, that there is a lot more to them than their pretty faces. At one point in the story, Cora faces a group of Eton boys at a local pub and tells them: "We (girls) don't say anything because no one listens. No one lets us speak, and if we do, our voices are silenced by an affectionate pat on the head. We have opinions. We can problem-solve. There's much more to us than you think." Together Cora, Nellie and Michiko demonstrate this in a wild romp of a tale that stretches credibility on more than one occasion, but the reader will be too caught up in all the fun to care. (That being said, this reviewer found the excessive use of trendy modern phrases somewhat distracting. "You've got to be kidding me", "not so much" and similar expressions that are distinctly at odds with the story's time and place proved to be a source of minor frustration).
Not only has Kress delivered a rousing and wonderful tale, but she has set the stage for more to come. True to form, she has created a full cast of quirky characters that readers will look forward to meeting again soon. Hopefully readers won't have long to wait for the next adventures of the newly-formed Friday Society!
Lisa is Co-Manager of Woozles Children's Bookstore in Halifax, NS.
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