The Friday Society, by Adrienne Kress (Dial, YA, Dec. 2012), is a playful mystery/thriller in which three teenage girls--an inventor's assistant, a magician's assistant, and a would-be samurai warrior from Japan find their paths (littered with dead bodies) crossing....and they end up working together, in a sisterhood of mad talent, to foil your basic megalomaniac evil genius plot to destroy London.
(Yay! A one sentence summary!)
So sure, it isn't historical fiction at its most un-anachronistic, but a lot of the fun comes from the author's relaxed and playful use of modern turns of phrase. As in the first two sentences, which made me feel all happy to read the book:
"And then there was an explosion.
It was loud. It was bright. It was very explosion-y."
I liked all three girls--Cora, the serious inventor, Nellie, the beautiful girl who's an ace escape artist, and Michiko, formidable swordswoman confronted by barriers of language and culture. They were each strongly individual, with nicely doled out back-story and motivations and opinions. The point of view shifts between the three girls, which was good, in large part because it gave the reader a chance to get to know Michiko, and hear her thoughts. I liked how Cora and Nellie, even though they couldn't exactly have complicated conversations with Michiko, never treated her as an exotic other--she was a person and an equal. The one real reservation I had, regarding Cora being swept off her feet by feelings of physical attraction to a jerk, proved to be a reservation that the author shared, and not something she thought was ok, which was a relief.
I liked the story--it was enough of a steampunk thriller to be interesting, without the thriller-ness using up too many pages with violent chases etc, which I often find tedious. (nb--people who actually like tightly plotted thrillers that exercise their brains might find it untightly plotted, and might put in some critical thinking type comments here, but I am not that reader).
In short, I liked reading the book! It was just the sort of escapist fun that makes for excellent bus ride reading. This came as a very pleasant surprise, because I did not much care for the author's two middle grade fantasy books. I think her writing has improved lots--I felt here that she was in control of her story, which was not quite the feeling I had gotten in the past.