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Monday, July 16, 2012


Author:  Kate Locke (pseudonym for Kathryn Smith; also writes as Kate Cross and Kady Cross)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF), Modified Steampunk
Ratings:  Violence-4; Sensuality-3-4; Humor-3
Publisher and Titles: 
        God Save the Queen (7/2012)
        The Queen Is Dead (2/2013) 
       Long Live the Queen (11/2013) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 12/23/13 to include a review of Long Live the Queen, the third and FINAL book in the trilogy. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first two novels:  

            BOOK 3:  Long Live the Queen            
     By this point in the series, Alexandra (Xandra) Vardan has accepted the goblin crown and has moved into a home built directly over the entrance to the underground goblin den. Her romance with the alpha wolf, Vex, has reached the mating point, and she's actually comfortable with that. Maybe her life is finally reaching a peaceful stage….Not!

     As the story begins, Vex is severely injured when he leads a raid on one of the experimental labs that have been the bane of Xandra's existence. When Xandra learns that the monster who nearly killed Vex has a face that looks exactly like hers, she is horrified and mystified. Soon, though, Xandra and her allies capture the perpetrator, only to discover that "Ali" has been concocted in one of the labs from a mixture of DNA that includes Xandra's. In essence, Xandra is the creature's mother. The primary story line follows Xandra as she tries to come to terms with the fact that she is going to have to kill her own daughter. Even though that daughter was created in an extremely unnatural manner, Xandra's emotions are quite mixed about the inevitable outcome of the situation.

     As Xandra and her teamVex, William (the goblin  Prince), and Xandra's three siblingsfollow the clues, Xandra is forced to meet several times with Queen Victoria as they strategize on how to stop the human insurrection that is building in London against the aristocrats. Eventually, Xandra learns some shocking information about Victoria's family tree. Then, when Xandra's goblin powers begin to grow stronger, she must the fact that her genetic make-up may possibly be a harbinger of what is to come to others in the supernatural world.  

     As the trilogy comes to an end, we learn the identity of the ultimate villain (which is apparent early in the book), and a satisfactory punishment is enacted. The story lines of most of the secondary story threads are also resolved: Xandra and Vex's romance; the fates of Juliet (Xandra's mother) and Vardan (Xandra's father); the romance of Prince William and his lady love, Elspeth; and the futures of Xandra's siblings (Val, Ophelia, and Avery) and Vex's cousin (Stephen Argyle). 

     This finale has all of the elements needed to bring a fine series to a close: an intricate plot, well-developed characters, heartbreaking mother-child scenes, and a breath-holding showdown that resolves the primary conflict. I have thoroughly enjoyed this series, with its highly inventive mythology, fascinating series story arc, and interesting characters. Locke is a talented writer, no matter which pseudonym she uses.

     The series is set in an alternate London that, contrary to some reviews, is technically not a steampunk world. Although there is some gadgetry, most devices are not powered by steam or driven by gears. The steampunk aspects are mostly found in the costumes (e.g., women's elaborate corsetsworn on the outside, not as underwear). The story takes place in a retro-2012 setting, where a modified and slightly updated 19th century culture predominates and Queen Victoria (a vampire) is still on the British throne, celebrating her 175th anniversary as queen. The technology is similar to modern-day, but with a few twists. For example, mobile phones are called "rotaries" (in honor of their rotary dials); computers are called "logic engines"; and motorcycles are called "motorrads."

     In this mythology, vampires and werewolves are known as aristocrats, and humans are nicknamed "hueys." This supernatural aristocracy developed gradually over the centuries in Europe as a direct consequence of the Black Death, which released bacterial DNA into the cells of its victims. This resulted in the development of the Prometheus Protein, which allows the body to repair injured tissues and to initiate regenerative reactions that give enhanced humans and aristocrats their special traits and talents. In this world, there are several different types of enhanced individuals: 
>   Enhanced humans, who are stronger and live longer than regular humans 
>   Vampires, who can heal themselves quickly, live extremely long lives, are immune to most diseases and poisons, and are very sensitive to the sun 
>   Weres, who can transform into exceptionally strong and fast animal form; have enhanced scent detection, night vision, and hearing; are immune to most diseases; but are susceptible to some poisons 
>   Goblins, who are born of a vampire and a were, have the traits of both vampires and weres, are even more sensitive to light than vamps, and are the strongest creatures in the supernatural world. The goblins are looked down upon and feared by humans and by the rest of the supernatural world.
>   Halvies are born of a human mother and an aristocrat father. They inherit the abilities of the male parent. Courtesans (human women who are deemed fit to give birth to aristocratic children) live in brothels visited by aristocrat males who want to father children. The children are raised by their mothers in the brothel until they are old enough to attend the Academy, where they are educated and trained to be protectors of the aristocracy. 
     All of the aristocrats are extremely allergic to silver. The author includes two sections at the end of book one that you might want to read before you begin the story: "Understanding the Aristocracy," which explains the origins and characteristics of vampires, werewolves, and goblins, and "Glossary," which defines specific terms that are used frequently throughout the story.
     This world is similar to the present-day world in many ways, but there are differences. For example, mobile phones have rotary dials; horse-drawn carriages compete for space with mechanized carriages; and clothing styles are a mix of Victorian and modern-day fashion. Historical characters make appearances, although they are very different from their real-life counterparts. 

            BOOK 1: God Save the Queen            
     The heroine is Alexandra (Zandra) Vardan, a halvie whose father is the vampire Duke Vardan, a cold, power-obsessed man who has fathered three other halvie children by different mothers. Zandra's mother was taken from her when she was quite younghauled off to Bedlam (an insane asylum) where she supposedly died. Zandra has always feared that she, too, will eventually succumb to madness. Currently, 20-something Zandra is a highly skilled soldier and an officer in the Royal Guard, which provides security for the Royal family and other aristocrats. 

     As the story opens, Zandra's sister, Drusilla (Dede) is missing. Zandra learns that Dede has been confined to Bedlam after attacking her aristocratic former lover, but before Zandra can track her down, the news comes that Dede has killed herself. The main story thread follows Zandra as she refuses to believe that Dede is really dead and tries to prove it. Her adventures take her into many dangerous situations involving traitorous aristocrats, murderous revolutionaries (both supernatural and human), and dark secrets about her own genetic heritage. She also meets and falls for Vexation (Vex) MacLaughlin, the tall, sexy werewolf who is the alpha for all of the UK werewolves.

     Both the mythology and the plot are very complex, and the author uses a less-than-graceful information-dump approach to integrating the two. This is a book that cries out for a prologue, which would have provided a proper introduction to the mythology without interfering with the flow of the story. If you can make yourself stick with it, the story will eventually draw you in, but getting through the bits and pieces of the world-building while trying to keep track of the plot threads can become difficult. After you finally begin to understand how this world works, you can relax and follow Xandra's adventures, which is why I suggested earlier in this review that you read the two informative sections first. 

     Xandra is a tough but vulnerable heroine who must deal with a series of revelations that disclose that everything she has been told about herself and her family history is completely false and that the people she most trusted are the ones who have been lying to her all her life. Now that we have the parameters of Xandra's world established, I'm looking forward to a more accessible story in book 2. Click HERE to read the beginning of chapter 1.  

            BOOK 2:  The Queen Is Dead            
     As the story opens, Zandra's sister, Avery, requests her help in finding their brother, Valentine (Val), who has gone missing from his job as a Scotland Yard detective. As Zandra gathers clues and tries to find Val, she must also work through her conflicting feelings about accepting her destiny as the Goblin Queen. As a result of her outing as the world's only sun-walking, non-furry goblin, Zandra has to deal with hordes of reporters and photographers (all wanting to portray her in as lurid a manner as possible) as well as the fearful and bigoted hueys (humans) who don't want her living in their neighborhood. 

     As the story plays out, Zandra realizes that London's human and supernatural worlds are getting closer and closer to a major war, as the Human League makes several attacks on halvies and several groups—both aristocrats and halvies—approach Zandra as they vie for goblin support. Even Zandra's goblin-hating mother pays her a visit in an attempt to get the goblins on the anti-royalty side of the coming conflict. 

     Eventually, Zandra learns that Val left a nightclub accompanied by two bubonic betties—humans who inject themselves with plagued blood to enhance their speed and strength, but which ultimately causes their premature deaths. Now she just has to figure out where the betties took Val and who hired them to make the hit. At every turn, Zandra is hampered by a close and hostile police presence as Queen Victoria tries to make life just as tough for Zandra as she possibly can. Since murder and mayhem seem to follow Zandra around, it's easy enough for the police to name her as a suspect in several crimes, including the murder of Churchill (which took place at the end of the previous book).

     Meanwhile, Zandra and Vex, her werewolf aristocrat lover, are moving deeper into their romantic relationship. When Vex mentions the word "mate" to Zandra, she backs off a bit because, although she loves him, she is not willing to commit entirely, mainly because she fears that he will be forced by his pack traditions to father children with a pureblood—and that is not something Zandra could ever accept. Late in the book, Zandra gives in to her goblin self several times (one scene is particularly bloody), and she's happy to learn that Vex thinks the whole goblin teeth/fangs/bloodlust thing is very sexy. What a guy!

     Eventually, Zandra uncovers the identity of several of the villains, but not the ones at the top. That will have to wait until the next book. The most entertaining parts of the book for me are the scenes in the goblin den, where Prince William and his plague of goblins have set up their own underground surveillance system for the entire city of London. As Zandra spends an increasing amount of time with the goblins, she learns more about their intelligence, their loyalty, and their dietary customs. At one point Zandra muses that "the prince told me once that goblins didn't eat what couldn't fight back." (p. 157) 

     This continues to be a strong series with an inventive mythology, interesting characters, and compelling story lines. Click HERE to read chapter 1.

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