In this first edition of newly-minted madness, we will be examining God Save the Queen by Kate Locke, a tale to tickle the alternative history and steampunk in all of us. So enough with the blather and let's Beard out!
This book lept off the shelf, waving wildly at me, as I browsed the Young Adult section at one of my local libraries. I recalled seeing it previously jockeying for space at Barnes and Noble and wanted to read it then; but of course, as with any modern mind, some things just slip through the cracks. As I slouched over the shelf, enjoying the bold cover art (I never knew steampunk and noir could have such a comely lovechild), the description captured me. It was then that I knew this child must come home with me.
Imagine first that neither of the World Wars ever happened, none of their fallout, none of their advances. Now imagine that bubonic plague, over the course of its several breakouts in European history, has been evolutionarily incorporated into human genetics, advancing some while leaving others untouched. This is the basis for the world Kate Locke has created, adding some of our modern conveniences such as logic engines (computers), aethernet (internet), rotaries (cellphones) and boxes (televisions). In this world, Alexandra Vardan is a member of the Royal Guard, charged with protecting the aristocracy. Her life chugs along with many a nightly fight until her sister goes missing, and everything she knows begins to unravel. To tell you more would ruin the read...
Gems for Writers:
Historical Tie-In. Anyone with any historical knowledge will enjoy the breadcrumb-dropped details Locke deftly includes, such as "an insipid painting by some mediocre German painter named Adolf," the use of Bedlam asylum as a base camp for revolutionaries, and the truly inspired use of Winston Churchill as Xandra's teacher and mentor. The list goes on (and on and on), but my personal favorite is the image of young Queen Victoria, vampire, fangs extended, and hissing at our heroine. We were quite amused.
Scientific Believability. The author's great pains to keep her world scientifically believable are truly impressive, including a faux medical article at the end explaining the genetics of the four factions (human, goblin, vampire and werewolf) and how they interact. This deepens the understanding and believability of the fantasy world and, honestly, makes you almost wish you could live there yourself (except for that whole plague part...). Being a stickler for vérité, this was greatly satisfying, though perhaps a bit too much, as I began to debate with myself which I would rather be. Go ahead and try to avoid it, I dare you.
Characterization. It's just so damn fun! The heroine is definitely someone you'd want on your side in any kind of fight, while the other characters are equally alive (love, love Penny Dreadful!). Her world is fully-formed while still leaving room for the reader's imagination. Plus, let's face it: watching your heroine kick all kinds of ass while stomping her way through the mystery of her sister's disappearance is surrogately gratifying. If only she'd been around when I was in high school.
Pebbles to Polish:
Explicit Content. Honestly, I couldn't find much wrong with this book, as it was well-written and clearly researched without being overbearing or overburdened. But, here are a few observations on the negative side. Those looking for a clean read (no offensive language, no sex, no blood, etc.) should look elsewhere. Strong language is frequently used, adult situations and sex scenes are plentiful, and the overall tone of the book is anything but PG. As a former librarian, this leads me to assert that this book in no way belongs in the Young Adult section where I found it! I realize this may seem like a petty minor detail, but avoiding potentially brassed-off parents is highly advisable, as well as alleviating any confusion among possibly-interested readers.
Assumed Familiarity. Readers not familiar with history or steampunk may feel they are outside the joke, missing most of the wink-nudge moments more familiar readers will relish. The author does her level best in terms of inclusion, and the main plot doesn't suffer from overexplanation or over-presumption; she tries so hard, in fact, she is almost condescending to readily-familiar readers. Certainly the curious will have an enjoyable read ahead, and a glossary of the author's terms at the back to assist them, but I can't help but feel that history buffs will get the biggest grins.
Overall a highly-enjoyable read with plenty of personality and action for all. I would recommend this for history and steampunk fans, for anyone who likes strong heroines, and anyone who insists on well-researched fiction. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find out where I left my striped corset (was it behind the wardrobe?). And I had some boot daggers around here somewhere. Oh, wait, one of them's under the sofa...
May You Never Shave,
***God Save the Queen (2012), by Kate Locke, is published by and copyright Orbit Books. It is available in stores, online (see above), and from your local public library.