Friday, March 29, 2013

God Save the Queen by Kate Locke

Kate Locke's God Save the Queen has been pinging my radar for a good while now, but I'd stayed away from it for a very specific reason. I just don't really enjoy steampunk. Not that Locke's novel is actually steampunk, but the cover put me to thinking it might be. But I just kept running into the bloody novel every time I turned around, and decided that the universe was trying to tell me something. So I broke down and bought it. The lesson it seems is one of the ones I learned in elementary school; Never judge a book by its cover. Locke delivers page turner full of memorable characters, action, humor and a unique atmosphere that practically drips off the page. God Save the Queen may not fit comfortably in any of the common classifications of genre, but its definitely earns the label of 'unabashedly good'.

The blurb from the publisher:

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.
The greatest strength of Locke's writing is its atmosphere. From the opening page, she establishes a distinct sense of setting and tone, painting the world of her alternate London in hues both familiar and unsettlingly strange. Despite the strangeness, the vampire and werewolves, the slight alterations to modern technology and the anachronistic feel of a British Empire that refuses to let go of the past, God Save the Queen is chock full of authenticity.

The protagonist, Xandra Vardan, is the most easily identifiable reason for this. The story is told from a close first person point of view, and Xandra's conflicted loyalties between her family and her sense of duty to the Crown give us a unique perspective as her perceptions of the people and world around begin to crumble. She is both well informed and completely in the dark, leaving her to question everything including her own sanity at times. It is this pervasive sense of doubt, that makes Xandra so relatable. She doesn't know truth from lies and her resulting paranoia softens her more pedestrian role as the kick-ass female herione of urban fantasy.  She may be more than formidable in a fight, as Locke shows often and frequent but she doesn't know where to direct her considerable talents in the web of lies and propaganda she finds herself ensnared in.

The secondary characters are likewise well rounded, especially her siblings. All the interactions between Xandra and her brother and sisters feel exactly like the petty family dramas that will be familiar to many readers. Xandra's love interest, Vexation McLaughlin, Alpha of the Wolves of Scotland felt a bit too Gabaldonian to me, but was nonetheless a well nuanced and likable love interest. The relationship that grows between he and Xandra doesn't seem forced and plays rather naturally, excepting the fact that things develop pretty quickly from what appears to be a one-nighter. I think Locke wants us to believe its roots are in the animalistic natures of the characters, so we can suspend a little extra disbelief at which they find themselves in so comfortable a relationship. It niggled me a bit, but the didn't distract me from the plot by being too much. Hopefully, the relationship will hit a rock or two in the sequel because Vex, is a bit too perfect, which seems a bit too much like wish fullfillment for me.

The only character I felt got shorted in the nuance department was the villain. I felt that there were layers to his character that should have been expanded on, or explored more. It probably didn't hurt at all that his identity never felt like a big reveal to me. The plot, while seeming like all good conspiracy theories to center around who the big bad is, was really about the truth about Xandra's importance and how she comes to term with the change in her personal status quo. Which makes Locke's choice to focus almost solely on her heroine the wise one.

While having no real experience with real world London, I enjoyed the heavy British flavor, though I've heard complaints that it was a bit over the top. But I felt it added a sense of identity to the novel that set it apart from most of the urban fantasy I've read. I would defend Locke's choices by saying, that while
the dialect and slang used may not be representative of the real London of 2012, that the London of God Save the Queen, is most certainly not intended to be representative of the real world at all. If we can suspend our disbelief enough for a vampire queen that has ruled England for almost two hundred years, why can't we accept the fact that the dialect of this ficticious version of London hasn't evolved along the same lines as our own. I found it a bit tongue in cheek, and it fit the tone that Locke was trying to establish.

My only real consistant complaint was that there were a few things that felt repetitive in the narrative. I quickly grew weary of the number of the times we were told how much Xandra and one of her many relations look alike. There were some other particular bits of prose that were repetititve but that one was the only one I found truly distracting.

The action sequences were well written, and fit with personality of Xandra very well. There was very little in the way of tactical though, or complex martial choreography. It was full of bashing, jobbing, and good old fashioned scrapping. It didn't take itself too seriously, and was a well played through out. It's nice to have fight scenes that I find no need to deconstruct or evaluate for realism in the least, that are as natural and unpredictable as a tavern brawl.

As the beginning of the Immortal Empire series, God Save the Queen sets the bar pretty high, while laying out many compelling conflicts, characters, and just enough mystery and uncertainty to keep readers thirsty for another hit off the vein, but Locke wisely tells a tight and complete story all the same. It may not be 'steampunk' afterall, and I'm glad I gave Xandra and Kate Locke the chance to earn my continued patronage. Bloody well done, indeed.

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