Monday, September 4, 2017

God Save the Queen

God Save the Queen
by Kate Locke
Recommended Ages: 14+

Alexandra Vardan is a half-blood, or halvie, in an alternate version of present-day London descended via divergent history from the Madness of George III, when in Xandra's universe the Plague mutated into something called the Prometheus Protein and turned the aristocracy into either vampires (mainly English), werewolves (mainly Scottish), or goblins (um, you'd rather not know). Most commoners, without the mutated gene allowing them to become fully plagued, have continued living life as they otherwise would have, with some weird differences. Instead of CDs and DVDs, they have audio and video cylinders. Instead of push-button cellphones, they carry portable rotaries. They still have Sid Vicious, but he's singing covers of Frank Sinatra now. And Adolf Hitler, instead of causing World War II, made his mark on history as a mediocre landscape painter. Humans have only risen up against the aristos once - during the Great Insurrection of 1932, when Her Ensanguinated Majesty Queen Victoria's beloved Prince Albert was among the slain - but pressure has been building lately in British society, with anti-plague hate groups running amok, and with a carefully-bred buffer class of halvies training to defend the aristos against another attack.

Xandra, for example, is a member of the Royal Guard, a terrific fighter, a star pupil of the academy, and a pet of her teacher, the vampire Churchill. Of her three half-siblings on the side of her aristocratic vampire father, one is an inspector with Scotland Yard, and two are private security consultants - including the youngest, Dede, of whom Xandra is especially protective. When Dede disappears, Xandra makes her perilous way to the city's main goblin plague den, seeking information about where to find her sister. The answer seems terrible enough: Bedlam, the lunatic asylum where Xandra's mother, a breeding courtesan who bore halvie children to more than one aristo, was committed before she died. Even worse news comes on the heels of that bulletin: Dede has committed suicide. So Xandra must face an even more paralyzing fear - the fear of insanity - going to the very place into which her mother disappeared when she was a girl, to identify the charred remains of her sister. But lest you think things can't get even darker and weirder, she can tell right away the burned body is not Dede. So what's going on?

What's going on, she learns, is far deeper and weirder than the matter of what happened to Dede. As she gradually finds out, there is something about Xandra herself that has been hidden from her. On the way to accepting it, however, she stops an assassin from shooting Queen Victoria at her 175th Jubilee Ball; she survives, just barely, an attempt to assassinate herself; she falls in love with the alpha werewolf of all Great Britain; she discovers a heartbreaking betrayal; and she finds herself at the center of a personal scandal and a political crisis that could shake the Empire.

This book has an energetic pace, an Adult Content Advisory-worthy romance, and a fascinating, not-undead take on what vampires and werewolves are (not to mention goblins), and what makes them that way. It also has one of the most valuable assets a fantasy novel can have, in its immersively convincing close-parallel-world setting, sort of like what you get when you take Regency Steampunk and fast forward 200 years. Best of all, it has a heroine with a vibrant personality, a tough attitude, and, well, a lot of other unique stuff about her that I don't want to spoil for you. It fills a niche I didn't know existed, between the period Steampunk of Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate" series and the darker, more dystopian vision of Clay and Susan Griffiths' "Vampire Empire" series. I'm eager to see where Xandra's adventures lead next.

This is the first book in the "Immortal Empire" trilogy, which also includes The Queen Is Dead and Long Live the Queen. The Canadian-born author has also published books under the names Kathryn Smith, Kady Cross, and Kate Cross, including the "Brotherhood of the Blood" quintet, the "Steampunk Chronicles" quartet, and the "Clockwork Agents" trilogy.

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