European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

This is a review for book #2 of the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series, so there’s spoilers for the first book. If you’re thinking of getting into the series, check out my review of book #1, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter!

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman picks up where the last book left off: the Athena Club has gotten a request to help the missing Lucinda Van Hellsing. They must set off from London and make their way across the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue her. Along the way, of course, they run into members of the mysterious Alchemical Society, some of whom have their own agenda. The Athena Club thus has to make sure they not only save Lucinda, but also don’t get into even greater trouble themselves.

I really loved the first book in this series and I enjoyed the sequel too. It offers a lot of the same (in a good way!) — funny asides and bickering that breaks the fourth wall; encounters with historical and literary personages, including Irene Adler and Dr Freud; and altogether a fun, female-centric adventure. Except this time, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire!

Which, by the way, I don’t know Hungary well at all, but Goss definitely nailed Vienna. It’s very pretty, it runs on coffee, and Knödel (Austrian dumplings) are disgusting.

Because it’s a sequel, however, we get more time to deepen the bonds between the Athena Club members. I really appreciated that: while before the group felt more like a team thrown together by necessity, now they feel more like friends. The whole club is split into two for most of the book, and I enjoyed seeing them interact and solve problems without their whole “arsenal”. Justine and Mary’s growing friendship was a highlight for me: it’s just nice to see two relatively polite, quiet people get shit done together.

My favourite character, however, remains Beatrice. Her interruptions to talk about social issues, which then got interrupted by others who’re sick of hearing it, was my favourite running gag. It, ah, hits close to home. And the new characters introduced are great too. The funnest of them was Irene Adler, who’s so quietly confident in everything she does. She’s at least a decade older than most of the Athena Club members and it’s just cool to see her helping the “younger generation” out.

Somewhere 3/4 of the way through the book I realised that most of the characters here were female. The Athena Club meets random people on their adventure and… those random people are usually women. Not that there aren’t any fun male characters. (Hooray for Clarence, the “Zulu Prince”, getting a bigger role!) But still, it gave me the oddly bewildering thought of, “Huh, it this what it’s like to read a random book as a guy?”

Unfortunately, my one issue with the book is a pretty big one: I just found it too long. Several of the running gags get a little tiring in such a large book (Cat and her puma ways unfortunately got a bit much for me); while I enjoyed all the asides about the pastries they ate, I think the book could have been overall stronger with less detail. It’s weird, because I’d honestly be very excited to get ten more Athena Club books. I’d just prefer them all to be more the size of the first one.

Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed this continuation of the Athena Club’s adventures and I’m eagerly looking forward to book #3! I recommend this book for:

  • People who liked book #1!
  • Fans of female-centric books
  • Fans of pastiches
  • Fans of fourth-wall breaking humour
  • People who enjoy stories about travel
  • Audiobook fans: Kate Reading is an amazing narrator!

I don’t recommend to people who really love Knödel. Boo, Knödel.

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