Friday, October 02, 2009

Jess and Rachel Talk Books: Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb


First off, kids, I wanted to publish this last night but blogger was down.


Thanks to the lovely Aarti, I was able to do a Rosie's Riveters post at her fabulous Booklust site: so go there to hear my gush about Irene Adler from the Sherlock Holmes stories.



Secondly, I am starting a bit of a series wherein Jess and I are going to chat about books and you, fair reader, just by staring at this screen and using ye olde comments box can interact.


So, for our first topic, I emailed Jess about one of our favourite things: The Horatio Lyle series by Catherine Webb.


Look for Jess' erudite commentary in bold and mine in italics. Also, Jess spells things like humour without a 'u' because she's American ( I, of course, forgive her for this )



I asked Jess why she thought we loved Horatio Lyle so much. Here's the chat:

Horatio Lyle appeals to us for many reasons. Which I will now list because I like lists.

1) The Setting. The books are set in Victorian London, which for anglophiles and history nerds like us is pretty much the ideal setting. And they’re not just set there – London itself is almost as important a character as Horatio, Tess, and Thomas. The descriptions are gorgeous, and the author’s love for her city comes through every word on the page.

Rachel: I especially love anything set by the Thames which, to Lyle, is the beating heart and life-blood of the city. Webb uses the Thames often as a focal point in her story. Also, there’s lightning. At St. Paul’s. St Paul’s struck by lightning.

I think my favorite thing about Webb’s portrayal of London – which she also does in her Matthew Swift books as Kate Griffin – is that yes, the London love is shining bright, but it’s not shying away from the dirty side of London. The smell of the Thames, the muck in the streets, the sewers, the urchins, the beggars. In fact, the books almost seem to revel in this sordid underbelly, to extoll its virtues as the real London. And I just love that.


2) The Stories. They’re historical fantasy mysteries. A detective and his sidekicks running about Victorian London solving mysteries and fighting monsters – with science! It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a corset at the science fair. Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who, minus the time travel. Dickens and Gaiman collide.

It doesn’t really matter that there is hardly anything believable about them. They’re glorious. And Steampunk ( to use a now waay over-used word). They’re equal parts scary and wonderful and gritty and there are things that go bump in the night. Green-eyed things.


3) The Characters. How can you not love Lyle, Tess, and Thomas? Lyle, the brilliant scientist/detective with a strong sense of justice and a vulnerable side. Tess, the incorrigible, somewhat-reformed pickpocket. Thomas, the na├»ve, awkward young nobleman with a fierce love for science. When you put them together, they’re absolutely irresistible.

And when Lyle meets Faraday, his hero: he totally goes all fan on him and squeals. The characters are why we read this story. Even Feng Darin. Lin ( of course ---the chemistry between Lin and Horatio is to die for) and the horrible Lord Lincoln. The cold-hearted stone-creatures; those who reluctantly create a genocidal steampunk machine….. the hybrid of good n’evil and NO ONE IS WHO THEY SEEM TO BE….. and they all have British accents.

4) The Humor. The dialogue snaps with wit, Tess is hilarious more or less constantly, Thomas’s bumbling stabs at adulthood make you giggle, and Lyle’s frequent forays into confusion, embarassment, and panic make it impossible not to smile. I know one of your favorite scenes, Rachel, is when Lyle gets himself thrown in jail by pretending to be a cattle rustler, involving a marvelous speech about how much he loves cows.

There are few books that make me laugh as hard as these books. I think this is partly because her dialogue, and in turn dialect, leap off the page. You can hear the characters: the bouncy Tess; the prim and reticent Thomas; the skeptical and bemused Lyle in your head. Tess’ cockney dialect is one of the strongest parts of the story. Also, she shifts perspectives and sometimes ….sometimes…. even Tate ( the faithful hound) gets a moment in the spotlight.

5) The Heart. The above might draw you to the series, might guarantee you enjoy yourself immensely while reading them, but what will sink into your warm, gooey center is the heart of these books. And it’s a big heart. The love between these three characters is the source for more touching scenes than I can count: Lyle’s glowing pride at Thomas’s achievements, the depth of Tess’s affection for Lyle surprising even herself, how the only time Lyle gets angry is when someone threatens the children, the post-danger reunion hugs that make my heart melt like ice in Phoenix. These characters would do anything for each other, which just exponentially increases my love for them.

The post-danger reunion hugs ( for hereafter that is what they shall ever be called ) make my knees go to jelly and my fingertips tingle. Can one be unhappy when one is reading a Catherine Webb post-reunion hug? Seriously? Can there be anything wrong in the world. Like all the stuff we like, Jess: Firefly, BSG, Buffy, me and my Master and Commander obsession, it involves decidedly different types of people from all spectrums of life who are thrown together to battle circumstances and end up forging a bit of a connection: with Lyle, Tess and Thomas, that is the most solid thing in each of their lives. If you take one component out of the mix, everything would fall apart: like a key ingredient in Scientific-Lyle’s experiments.

You make a brilliant point about people from all spectrums of life. I hadn’t thought about that, really, but you’re absolutely right.


And that, my dear, is why we love Horatio Lyle. What’d I forget?


The fact that he runs around London with things that explode in his pockets.

And he makes a mean breakfast.

5 comments:

Jessica said...

Who rocks? We rock.

katie said...


Love Horatio Lyle.
One of my most favorite moments is when he teaches Tess to read.

Kailana said...

I need to read more of this series!

Court said...

This post has made me want to reread all of the books. Love love love love love.

Aarti said...

I don't think I've read any of these books which is disturbing, as based on the cover alone, they seem right up my alley. What I wouldn't give for a horse-drawn carriage...