I picked this up in an attempt to find something Gail Carriger-esque. Leaving aside the superficial similarities (feisty female lead character named Alex–, Scottish alpha werewolf love interest, published by Orbit) it fares all right on that front. While it can’t match Gail’s writing, it scores points for knowing when to let go and have some fun. To not take itself too seriously.
While Alexandra and Alexia might share similar names and certain traits, where they differ is their likability. Alexandra is stubborn and bigoted and you quite often want to tell her to shut up, but she grows during this book. The events are a learning experience for her. She doesn’t come out the other end as a wonderful person, but she’s certainly better than she was. That growth is part of what kept me reading.
The other part was the plot. It’s no great masterpiece of complex plotting, but it’s suitably mysterious and intriguing. I could see certain things coming – and once again wanted to brain Alexandra for not catching on sooner – but it was still delicious the way things unfolded.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that detract from these points and drag it down from being a good book to an Ok one.
First up is its setting. While I really like the idea that, thanks to an undead Queen Victoria, you end up with a “modern-day steampunk” setting, I don’t think it’s been properly thought out. It makes sense for fashions and customs to have stagnated. The perpetuation of a class system dictates that such things move top downwards and the aristocracy are unchanging.
However, none of this is a reason for technological innovation to stop. It’s especially weird that it seems to have stopped somewhere in the ’50s. It seems to be more about the look rather than the concept. It’s just got gears and clock parts stuck on.
Then there are the attitudes presented within. I can handle the class system and the bigotry displayed towards “the other”, as it fits with the narrative. But that doesn’t make it an agreeable trait for your protagonist to have.
More egregious is the entire book’s attitude to mental health. Is it trying to echo a Victorian attitude or has it not been thought through? I was uncomfortable reading passages where “mental” was thrown around with impunity. That this was a world where they’ve come up with a cutesy word as everyday slang for serious mental illness was particularly cringeworthy.
On another language front, this seems to be very much a book written by an American, for Americans. Less research seems to have been put into making it authentically British than was put into coming up with a pseudo-scientific explanation for vampirism and lycanthropy. Clumsy uses of British slang and phrasing abound. Some are petty, some are grating, one manages to make the mental health issue seem inconsequential.
This may seem harsh, because I ended up with lots of little things to pick apart. Broadly, it’s a decent book. It’s the details where it falls down.