Review: God Save the Queen by Kate Locke

God Save the Queen by Kate Locke – Orbit – Novel: Contemporary, Science Fiction – Buy it here – Our Rating: Three Pipes

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.

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.

It’s times like this when I feel truly word-weary.

You see, I’m tired of coming across book blurbs that make me the slightest bit excited about a book—which is, unfortunately, a rather rare occurrence—only to read those books and find myself severely disappointed, scratching my head, and wondering what the hell went wrong. It’s probably my own fault, for allowing myself the indulgence of hope, but god, I really want to believe that there are brilliant books that hit all my buttons being published on a regular basis. But, there really aren’t.

To the point. Kate Locke’s God Save the Queen sounded pretty awesome, between the promise of a kickass sexy redhead female protag and a modern Victorian hybrid London. I got my hopes up, only for the book to prove spectacularly mediocre.

Basically, God Save the Queen reads like a less witty rehash of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. Actually, the similarities are kind of eerie—too eerie to be coincidence, perhaps. The protag is a strong-willed woman of respectable breeding who doesn’t quite fit in. What’s more, in a strictly stratified supernatural society, she’s something else, something just a bit mysterious, something the powers-that-be consider dangerous. Then she meets a gruff but handsome Scottish werewolf who happens to be the Alpha of his pack, and they fall in love. Yeah. While Carriger’s books are clever and multi-layered, Locke’s is unoriginal, uninspired, and apparently unable to resolve plot arcs.

But let’s take this one step at a time.

On average, Alexandra “Xandra” Varden is more kickass than she is annoying. She can take care of herself in a fight. She’s generally okay with being an outsider. She has a strong set of values—or so she thinks—but they turn out to be flexible, at best. Actually, her moral compass goes haywire toward the end of the novel, but okay. Protags with faulty moral compasses are my favorite kind of protagonist. Xandra is, however, annoyingly bigoted—against humans, interestingly enough. For a character who claims to be mostly fearless, she exhibits an astonishing number of phobias. She doesn’t really do anything to help the cliché that even strong women really just want a stronger man to comfort her. Actually, now that I think about it, she’s a really unreliable, fallible narrator, not to mention vaguely unlikable. I don’t think that was Locke’s intention, seeing as Xandra is portrayed wholly sympathetically, but I actually prefer screwed up narrators, so that worked for me. Except for the anti-feminist subtext in her relationship with Vex.

So let’s talk about that relationship. Turns out hot, rich aristo alpha werewolf has had his eye on Xandra for a while. They have a one-night stand. And then they’re basically in love with each other. It’s completely unrealistic and has the emotional development I’d expect in a paperback romance novel.

All in all, the world-building is pretty thorough, but the execution leaves much to be desired. I like the idea of the supernatural as genetic mutations caused by the plague. Really, I do, but, in the first four or five chapters, there’s a lot of infodumping. Something will happen, Locke will explain it, and then Locke will digress into a discussion of something only tangentially related. The pacing could best be described as lurching.

Plot-wise, the foreshadowing errs on the side of blunt, kind of like being hit over the side of the head with a frying pan. Which is to say, there’s really no mystery, except in those few cases where Locke played dirty and withheld information. There’s a heavy reliance on tropes. Specifically plot tropes that pop up ALL THE TIME in sf/f. I’d name them, but that’d be spoilery. The best way I can explain it is, while I was reading GStQ, I felt like I’d read it before, not just because of the Parasol Protectorate series, but because the story itself has been used in any number of books and films and there was nothing the slightest bit new about it.

Maybe I’m being harsh. There’s a lot wrong with this book, sure, but maybe I’m over-analyzing. This isn’t a college lit class, and maybe I shouldn’t be tearing genre fiction apart like high literature. Maybe this is unfair. After all, I did go and buy the ebook after reading the first four chapters free in Orbit’s sampler. It held my interest, in spite of its flaws, in spite of the melodrama, in spite of the fact that I knew what was going to happen fifty pages before it happened.

But then again, I don’t want to lower my standards. God Save the Queen is no sparkling example of its genre. It’s not memorable. It’s nothing special. But, it never quite made me want to hurl my tablet against the wall, so, small victory there. If you’re looking for anglophile urban fantasy with a Victorian flair, then the book is probably worth nine dollars and an afternoon of your life.

-Julie

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