This is a review for the second book in the Illumination Paradox, and as such has potential spoilers for the first. The review for Lumière is here.
For the most part, Noir is a lovely continuation of everything I really enjoyed in Lumière. The steampunk world comes back in full force, with more danger and problems than ever. At the conclusion of Lumière, both Eyelet and Urlick are left in dire situations that left me wondering how they would ever get out of them. You expect the main characters of novels to always be “safe” from true harm, but there’s always that lingering worry that like George R.R. Martin, your author may decide that the death of a character propels the story forward. I went into Noir a little worried, but expecting to enjoy it just as much as enjoyed the first of the series. Ultimately, it ended up being slightly less enjoyable than the first, but is still a decent second novel of the series.
Ultimately, something that irked me every time it reared its head was the sexual violence that is contained in Noir. It was my biggest issue with the novel, because there were far too many times that rape was semi-explicitly implied or threatened. And I’ll be honest, there should have been zero times this happened. It’s not something I like seeing in the novels I read. It is a legitimate threat in the real world and the written one because it imitates life, but I feel that fantasy books sometimes use it too much as a plot device. Rape and sexual violence should not be used as a plot device. If it is something that is included–and I still don’t know if it’s ever necessary, truly–it needs to be handled extremely well. Other readers may have been fine with how it was handled in Noir, but I was left with an uncomfortable feeling whenever these events occurred. The first time it occurred, I was not happy, but to have it occur enough times that it drove down the rating of an otherwise well-written second novel in the Illumination Paradox frustrated me. A woman can be strong without having threat or events of sexual violence happen to her. I already know that Eyelet is strong. I didn’t need this to be included.
Noir introduces several new characters, a couple of whom have chapters that they lead us through. Jacqueline Garlick does have a skill in clearly indicating the differences in their voices, so it wasn’t difficult to understand their thoughts and motivations. However, I have the same problem that I had with Lumière; Noir could have benefited from a third person narration. I think the reason that there are two new characters’ voices leading us through the chapters is because the author needed to show events that were happening away from the spheres of Eyelet and Urlick. Yes, they are two very fascinating and vivid characters, but it would be boring to read chapters upon chapters of one being locked away in a jail and the other preparing to spring him. Although I did appreciate the new characters, they were not as well-developed as Eyelet and Urlick. I wanted to know more about them, but their characterization didn’t go in depth enough for me. As a result, I didn’t care as much for them emotionally and couldn’t connect as things were going wrong or right for them.
Again, romance was the weaker part of the novel, but it was more of the main focus for Noir. In Lumière, the characters were driven to find the machine that was supposedly the cure, discover things about the machine and the real cure, uncover the mystery of what happened the day that the flash lit up the sky. Noir was more about saving the one you loved. Of course, there’s still adventure and discovery, but it wasn’t as heavy as it was in the first. I knew this going into Noir. I signed up for it and it’s the blurb on the cover of the novel. The Eyelet/Urlick arc was what I wanted to read. It’s the sort of rescuing the damsel / rescuing the dude in distress steampunk adventure story that I was excited to read. Including new romances for the characters I couldn’t connect with emotionally was too much. If I didn’t care about them as a character, I really didn’t care about their relationships. Apparently steampunk equals adventure in my mind, not romance. I wasn’t too open to the idea of more than one relationship in the novel.
The pacing of the novel does keep you interested, but a few times I wished that it wasn’t so slow. The gradual buildup is nice, because I don’t like reading books where absolutely nothing happens in the middle. I do wish that a bit more had happened, however. I understand that Jacqueline Garlick wants to end her novels with a huge cliffhanger to drive her readers insane (and therefore they’ll rush to get the next book–a pretty good strategy, to be honest) but too much happened at the end of the novel. There were several reveals and happenings that happened so quickly that I didn’t quite have a chance to process them. It lends a rushed quality to the ending of the book. Although the first novel of the series also had this quality, there was less significant things happening and so I didn’t notice it as much. Some of the events should have been drawn out more toward the end of the middle section and then I would have had a chance to come to terms with them before the novel ended. By clustering so much at the end, some of the threads of the novel ended rather abruptly. The cliff hanger does prepare the third novel well, so I will check that out when it’s finished.
I received a copy from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The ebook version was only recently published on August 18th and the paperback and audio versions are coming out September 22nd of this year.