I have to say I was a bit leery when I started to read debut novelist, Kate Locke’s God Save the Queen, the first in The Immortal Empire series, a supernatural steampunk urban fantasy mystery set in an alternate United Kingdom in which the Plague spread vampirism, lycanthropy and more throughout Europe, and in which an undead Queen Victoria is still ruling her empire–not necessarily because it didn’t sound like a fun concept (it did) but because there past few years has seen a plethora of supernatural steampunk urban fantasy mystery, most notably Gail Carriger’s truly awesome The Parasol Protectorate series, and at the start, I was suffering from a bit of supernatural steampunk urban fantasy mystery fatigue.
Furthermore, the protagonist, Xandra Vardan, a young, hot, and supercool half-vampire member of Queen V’s Royal Guard, seemed in many ways to be the typical urban fantasy detective heroine–unconventionally attractive, with a caustic sense of humor, and a limitless sex drive. And, in some respects, these criticisms still stand: the worldbuilding is often very clever but it can also feel very familiar at times, as can Xandra’s character arc and struggles. It probably won’t surprise anyone when Xandra is revealed to be Very Special Indeed, and her budding romance with the head of the Scottish werewolves is quite reminiscent of the central romance in Carriger’s books, sans the finely honed Victorian wit. I also must admit that I was a bit disappointed that, with that title, a vampiric Queen Victoria actually wasn’t the lead character.
With that said, as the novel proceeds, God Save the Queen won me over with its well-constructed, genuinely twisty, and surprising mystery, as well as with some extremely intelligent reveals of famous historical figures from our world appearing in very different forms in this one. What might be most impressive about them is how Locke plays off what we know of these people, while convincingly re-imagining them under her fictional universe’s context, and how more often than not, they aren’t simple gags but crucial puzzle pieces in the mystery, which–unlike a great deal of urban fantasy–isn’t a standalone but instead directly feeds into the larger narrative of the series. The mystery is also deeply personal to Xandra, as it involves her beloved sister’s unexpected suicide, a death that she refuses to believe is real.
Locke’s novel also features a fresh and original take on goblins unlike any I’ve seen before. In this world, goblins are the hideous (and at least slightly mad), hybrid offspring of vampires and werewolves. Instead of being able to hide their supernatural features, goblins are perpetually freakish-looking creatures–patchwork, chimerical blends of the most primal aspects of the two, with pointed ears and patchy fur, hideous fangs, etc. They are also crucial to the story in ways I never would’ve expected from their first appearance but which make perfect sense once all of the puzzle pieces fall into place. I’m also particularly fond of the slang that Locke created for the novel, especially “hatters” for someone who is acting crazy.
While it may not be the most groundbreaking work of steampunkish supernatural urban fantasy out there, once God Save the Queen settles in and finds its voice, it proves to be an enthralling and quite addictive mystery with some splendid surprises along the way, and it’s recommended for someone looking who prefers their lighter reading constructed with intelligence and heart.