Once again I picked this up in an attempt to find something Gail Carriger-esque. This certainly fits the bill better than my former attempt. Leaving aside the superficial similarities (feisty female lead character named Alex-, Scottish alpha werewolf love interest, published by Orbit) it fares better on the humour 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 likeability. Alexandra is particularly frustrating at times. She’s 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 of the other end a wonderful person, but she’s certainly better than she was. And that growth is part of what keeps you reading.
The other part is 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 kind of modern-day steampunk setting, I don’t think it’s been properly thought out. Yes, it makes sense for fashions and customs to have remained static, as 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 technology to seemingly stagnate. And it’s especially weird that it seems to have mostly stagnated somewhere in the ‘50s. It all seems to have an echo of the kind of steampunk where it’s 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 other
species races (different species can’t reproduce), as it fits with the narrative. But that doesn’t make it an agreeable trait for your protagonist to have.
But more egregious is the entire book’s attitude to mental health. I’m not sure if it’s trying to echo a Victorian attitude or if it’s just really not been thought through. I found myself very uncomfortable reading passages where “mental” was thrown around with impunity (used to describe almost every character as well as various situations). It seemed particularly cringeworthy that this is a world where they’ve come up with a cutesy word (“hatters”) as an everyday way of talking about serious mental illness.
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 seem authentically British as was put into coming up with a pseudo-scientific explanation for vampirism and lycanthropy (top tip: adding made-up science just serves to undermine your ideas. The more you explain, the more holes that appear). There’s a list over on my Tumblr. Some are petty, some are cringeworthy, one manages to make the mental health issue seem inconsequential.
Finally: don’t come up with new swear words/curses unless you’ve got something really good. Gorram works. Smeghead works. “Fang me” is trying too hard. Especially if you’re going to be using actual swear words anyway.
That’s pretty long, isn’t it? To sum up: either a good book dragged down by various errors, or a badly researched setup saved by a decent plot and a good character arc.