“It was ludicrous. Ridiculous. Paranoid… But my life had been turned upside bloody down the past few weeks and I’d be mental to say anything was impossible at this point.”
~ “God Save the Queen”, page 246
As Kady Cross, this author has written brilliant steam punk novels for the young adult market. Filled with humour and action, her novels come alive through strong characters and a driven plot. This is her first adult steam punk under the Kate Locke name, and she’s created a lushly detailed world for her readers.
Xandra Vardan’s world is one where the Black Plague has caused the Aristocracy to become infected with the Prometheus Protein, turning every aristocrat into either a vampire or a werewolf. When these Aristos mate with humans, they create Halvies, who are trained as members of the Royal Guard. When a vampire and werewolf Aristo mate, however, they create goblins – the scourge of the city. This is the world of Xandra, the product of the vampire aristo Vardan and a courtesan. She lives and socializes with her fellow Halvie siblings until the day her sister Drusilla goes missing. Determined to track her down, Xandra cannot rest until she finds out where Dede has gone.
There is much to enjoy about this book. Locke has mixed enough of the steam punk/fantasy elements into the book to create a rich backdrop for her characters. There are still many of the modern inventions we use in our world, but they exist in a different form – cylinders instead of iPods, ringers instead of mobiles, zeppelins instead of airplanes, etc. While simply mentioning corsets a few times does not a steam punk book make, there are enough elements included to safely consider this as part of the genre. As the author writes herself in her introductory note, “This is a world without Hitler, without the Blitz, without the Beatles, without Doctor Who … But technology is still there, though perhaps not as streamlined as it is in this world.” The world is familiar as a mix of Victorian and present-day customs, but with enough tweaks to make it unusual and intriguing, and I really enjoyed reading about this alternate world. (There’s also a helpful glossary at the back in case you need it.)
“I left shortly after he did, pulling on my driving goggles, manoeuvring the Butler out into an early twilight brought on by a sky full of grey clouds. It was only seven o’clock, but felt later. I steered the motored around a carriage pulled by four matching horses. In the distance, Big Ben clanged out the hour. Lights were just beginning to come on as darkness crept over the city … The wheels of my motored bumped over cobblestones, then smooth asphalt. The ageless elegance of Mayfair bled into taller buildings made of glass and steel, and lights that blazed with a garish glow. Vehicles thundered past me, and on the walks pedestrians hurried home as darkness came early. Were they as afraid of night as aristos were of the dawn?” ~ page 271-2
I also enjoyed the characters. Xandra is strong, willful and kicks butt on a regular basis. She’s also kind and loving with her family, as they are her touchstones in an otherwise harsh world. She believes in hard work, fairness and honesty, and builds her friendships carefully. She also believes in getting the job done and will work tirelessly until the case is over. This determination is what leads her down into the plot labyrinth that will ultimately change her completely. Oh, and I would absolutely love to have the vibrant hair colours that are distinctive to the Halvies – what a great trait!
Her siblings, partner Vex and friends from school are also interesting, and Locke spends a fair amount of time setting up each significant person in the story so that they are more than just a stock character. The villain is reasonably easy to suss out, but his motives are logical and methodical, and it’s truly a battle when they meet.
The concept of status is recurrent in this novel, and I think that Locke deals with it in an interesting way. Halvies are looked down upon for being less than Aristos, and humans are not even worth considering. There are echoes of Apartheid-era South Africa in the behaviours and attitudes of some of the characters, as they demonstrate a veiled form of racism towards a particular sub sect, simply by the virtue of birth. Everyone is looking to become better than they are, or to change the state of things so that what they are is no longer looked upon as wrong. As this is a defining aspect of human nature, Locke applies this to her own world, and it works to add an unsettling feeling of familiarity to the narrative. When she describes the “betties” attacking the Halvies, it provokes an eerily similar feeling to the racist or homophobic attacks faced by young people today. It’s interesting to note, however, that Locke doesn’t take the easy road by adding another factor to inherent bias – sexuality. Instead, she makes it a non-issue in this book. Whether it was Xandra’s own relationship with the mysterious (and, of course, über attractive) werewolf Alpha Vex MacLaughlin or her sister’s committed relationship to her partner Emma, each sexual relationship is treated as normal and healthy. One question: why do these urban fantasy/steam punk/paranormal heroines always have to fall for the incredibly strong and good-looking guy?
Where things fell apart a bit for me was with the ongoing secret about Xandra that everyone seemed to know about except her. I’m not a huge fan of the “there’s something different about you” scenario, and even less so when it becomes obvious that pretty much everyone has known about Xandra and her secret all along but hasn’t clued her into it. Still, Xandra’s growing awareness and eventual reaction to the Very Big Secret made sense, and I’m glad that Locke kept her character traits consistent after the reveal.
There are also a few loose threads to pick up in the next book – Xandra’s relationship with fellow student Rye is explained briefly, but not in any great detail, while her relationship with the goblin community continues to change and grow. It will be interesting to see how Locke plans to grow the character, and I’ll look forward to the next book in the Immortal Empire series.
Queen Victoria rules with an immortal fist.
The undead matriarch of a Britain where the Aristocracy is made up of werewolves and vampires, where goblins live underground and mothers know better than to let their children out after dark. A world where being nobility means being infected with the Plague (side-effects include undeath), Hysteria is the popular affliction of the day, and leeches are considered a delicacy, and a world where technology lives side by side with magic. The year is 2012 and Pax Britannia still reigns.
Xandra Vardan is a member of the elite Royal Guard, and it is her duty to protect the Aristocracy. But when her sister goes missing, Xandra will set out on a path that undermines everything she believed in and uncover a conspiracy that threatens to topple the empire. And she is the key-the prize in a very dangerous struggle.
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. In Canada, you may purchase this book via Indigo, Amazon, The Book Depository or Kobo.