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The Friday Society
Adrienne Kress
Dial Books, 448 pages

The Friday Society
Adrienne Kress
Adrienne Kress is a writer and actress born and raised in Toronto, Canada. She majored in Drama at the age of 11 at the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and continued to follow this path through post-secondary school, graduating summa cum laude from the University of Toronto with an honours BA in theatre. She then moved to London England to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and stayed for three years, acting in a variety of productions. Upon her return to Canada, she joined the Tempest Theatre Group, a Shakespearean theatre company.

Adrienne Kress Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Friday Society

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

A steampunk-style inventor, a magician's assistant, and a samurai team up to fight evil in the Victorian era. The twist: they're all teenage girls. Cora helps the eccentric Lord White with his work, while developing her own gadgets, which explode as often as they succeed. Nellie is the flamboyant helper to the Magician, aka the Great Raheem. An ex-burlesque dancer Nellie uses her looks and quick reflexes to distract and bedazzle. Michiko is a stranger in a strange land, the reluctant helper to the repugnant Callum, a renowned fighting instructor with a sordid personal life. She despises her "master" but doesn't have the resources to make it in England without him.

A series of chance encounters bring the three young women together. Despite very different upbringings and occupations, social statuses and beliefs, they become allies and even friends. Which is good, because in these strange times, everyone needs friends. Dead bodies and mysterious robberies all hint at something sinister going on behind the scenes, and the three girls are determined to get to the heart of the matter. Grave robbers, glowing mechanical birds, a secret organization called the Society of Heroes -- there's no shortage of weirdness.

It all comes to a head when an evil genius puts the city of London in danger, using fantastic science to hold it ransom. Only our heroines can follow the various threads of the case back to their source, in order to unmask the mastermind(s) and thwart the dastardly scheme once and for all. Can a scientist, an entertainer, and a samurai save the day?

The Friday Society was a very tricky book to think of in terms of review. It's both simple and complex, straight-forward and full of layers, astounding innocent and rather problematic.

On the one hand, you have a rousing adventure, a fairly light-hearted romp through the weirdness of Victorian London (which seems to get increasingly fanciful and weirder as it recedes into the depths of history). Three smart, capable, courageous, talented young women banding together to right wrongs and find their own sense of empowerment in an era which wasn't exactly known for female agency and empowerment. Or, as Cora puts it, "We can help one another. We can protect one another. Like we've already been doing... Together, we're unbeatable. Apart, we're just... assistants to men in London society. In other words, nobodies."

Three admirable, sympathetic heroines, kicking ass and taking names. A steampunk gadgeteer, a magician's assistant, and a martial artist with a katana. On the surface, these are all awesome things, and good role models. The sort of protagonists which appeal to a wide audience.

But something strange did strike me as I examined this story in more depth. As mentioned above, all three of our heroes are situated with respect to their assorted male masters. While Cora and Nellie have good, even paternal relationships with Lord White and the Magician, Michiko's relationship with Callum is one of abuse, disrespect, and resentment.

Furthermore, each girl is also defined by a second male figure. Cora enters a relationship with Andrew Harris, a well-bred young man hired to act as another assistant for Lord White... which puts the two on an equal, if contentious, footing. It's a romance with arguing. Nellie develops a mutual attraction with Officer Murphy, the policeman assigned to their case, a relationship born of affection and understanding, even if as a cop he has some authority over the street-bred young woman. And Michiko runs into a Japanese boy, and they strike a deal: she teaches him Samurai tricks, he teaches her urban running.

So while the two white girls both have paternal and romantic relationships with the men who help define their places in life and society, the Japanese girl is defined by the master she can't stand, and the student who's as much a teacher (and far too young for her.) Add in Michiko's often removed point of view, due to her unfamiliarity with her surroundings and awkward half-command of the English language, and she really is the outsider on all accounts. Even among her newfound friends, she's the one who seems left on the fringes, struggling to understand them, whether they're playing Truth or Dare, or forming a secret society of their own. She doesn't get the father figure or the romantic interest, and it seems like an imbalance. She may be the best fighter of the trio, but she's still the odd one out in many regards.

And therein lies the problematic nature of the book. Because while it is a lively, fast-paced adventure, it's also the sort of book in which you can read too much. It's presented in a fairly straight-forward manner, chapters regularly alternating between the three points of view, and it eschews fancy language and flowery writing for something more akin to your run-of-the-mill urban fantasy. I hesitate to call it lowest common denominator, but it's definitely written for a wider audience, on a less complex level than one might usually associate with the Victorian era. Call it... streamlined for accessibility and enjoyment. The inclusion of so many disparate elements like steampunk gadgets and secret societies and martial arts and general weirdness all point towards a "write for the awesome" mentality that almost totally discards the more troublesome realities of class and culture and daily life in the Victorian era. It has the fancy trappings of steampunk without the social commentary or complexities of the real thing. Adrienne Kress sacrifices a lot of her story's potential strength for modernity and coolness.

So while The Friday Society can be approached as a "fun" book, an adventure for teen girls, a highly entertaining story that leaves our heroes in a position to have many more wild escapades, it's impossible not to look at the book and see all the things it's not. It may not aspire to depth and complexity, to social truth and harsh realities, it may sugarcoat much of the Victorian era's darker sides even as it exploits them, but it falls short as a result. I really enjoyed this book, until I really started pulling it apart for this review. Is it worth reading? I believe so. Is it a good conversation-starter? I suspect so. I hope that if Kress revisits this setting and characters, she improves on these things to deliver a richer, stranger story.

Copyright © 2013 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.

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