Claire has finished the university and she is ready to begin her position at Von Zepplin’s dirigible works. And she has a wedding to plan to her fiancé, Andrew. The Mopsies are returning to school, everything is looking up
When Alice arrives who has lost everything – including her first mate Jake, and member of Claire’s extended family. He is being held prisoner by the Doge of Venice in what is little more than an extortion scheme. The politics of the situation are tricky and there are few people to intervene beyond Claire herself.
She has never abandoned her flock in danger
It’s another swashbuckling adventure for Lady Claire and her flock, the excellent Alice, Elizabeth, Maggie, Tigg and Andrew
And I think that’s the first thing I want to praise about this – I like most of the flock. Most of the characterisation has fallen on Claire, Lizzie and Maggie, of course, since they’ve been the main protagonists but every character has had some characterisation. Even though she’s the protagonist, Claire doesn’t exactly eclipse those around her.
The world setting has expanded nicely – we’ve already seen adventures in North America and some insight into France and Germany, while this book moves to Venice with some nicely original ideas and concepts. I like that even when we don’t look in great depth at the politics of all the places Claire has passed through, there is a sense that a full system has been developed (even if it is not info-dumped on us).
The adventure itself is fun, lots of action and plotting, some plans that go awry, many members of the party using their talents, their intelligence and their creativity to cobble together success as nothing quite goes to plan. It was a fun romp in which Claire and her flock got to remind us just how awesome they are on a regular basis. I won’t say the story was especially twisty or nuanced or complex – but it was fun, a nice adventure story we kind of knew how it was going to end, but it wasn’t any less fun because of that
Like the rest of the books in this series, Lady of Integrity contains a lot of challenges to sexism that is both accurate to the period and still very much in evidence today
I also really liked the direct challenge to the idea that a man wants to keep his beloved woman safe because he worries for her – throwing back the equal challenge that women worry about the safety of their beloved men as well, but everyone expects them to deal with it. If Andrew wants to keep Claire safe out of fear for her and he couldn’t bear to lose her, why shouldn’t Claire feel the same about Andrew? It’s a common excuse but it’s a weak one.
We also have numerous male characters completely speaking over Claire, refusing to listen to her input or allow her to be involved and, ultimately, making an utter pig’s ear of things and leaving Claire and the rest of her flock to try and sweep up afterwards.
Ok, there are a few female lead steampunks now, we’ve certainly read a few, where the kind of overt, very period-defined (though far from limited to the period) “marry a rich husband, have lots of kids and don’t do any of that tricky thinking, you pretty little thing” sexism is challenged a lot (which is nice to see). But Lady of Integrity takes it beyond challenging this – by addressing the idea of a woman having to choose between her career and her family (which is overwhelmingly prevalent – as even full time employed women are expected to be full time child carers and home makers as well).