This book was initially intriguing to me for a number of reasons. Primarily it sounded like an interesting new twist on what seems like a stale/copycat world of paranormal fiction. It takes place in early 20th Century England with a steampunk feel to it (which I almost always find fun). It involves a fun dynamic between vampires, werewolves, society at large and political intrigue. It creates a new set of rules for interactions between the supernatural community. And it presents a new (at least to me) kind of heroine in the character of Alexia. Overall, I was fairly excited to read this before I even opened the book.
The first chapter did a great job of maintaining my interest by throwing me right into the action while at the same time developing the unique characters and relationships that really drive this novel. I quickly got a sense of the style and mannerisms of Alexia as well as of her supernatural 'counterpart', Lord Maccon, the head of the supernatural investigative/police force (as it were). We're given numerous details right away that outline some of the various tensions we can expect through the book. The presentation is done smoothly such that the reader isn't bored by lengthy diatribes about werewolf-vampire relations or about the special abilities of Alexia herself. Rather than drown us with facts and history, the author does a great job of showing off the dynamics with small explanations that keep us engaged.
As the story progresses, the narrative throws in twists and turns that really make for an interesting plot. There were a few segments that dragged a little bit for me but generally the writing and the story were engaging enough that I could deal with the occasional monologue.
Once we got into the heart of the particular conflict for this novel, the details were rather curious. There were a number of isolated events that created intrigue and mystery. As the tension grew and the action grew closer to Alexia, the mystery really heated up. There were a lot of elements that had me wondering as to the overarching plot and the involvement of certain characters.
As we progressed into the climax, I was rewarded in linking the involvement of one of the peripheral characters, which always feels nice when unraveling a mystery. However, there were a number of new and unusual elements that came as a big surprise. Sometimes too many revelations can be unsettling, but I felt like the presentation here made up for "pulling the rabbit out of a hat" near the end. The nature of the mystery and the setup of the plot allowed for the level of secrecy that presents grand revelation.
My general complaints about the book are really fairly minor.
My first very small complaint has to do with the peripheral claim of this novel that it's a "novel of vampires, werewolves and parasols." In fact, the series itself is subtitled the "parasol protectorate." Now, I will acknowledge that Alexia does have a grand attachment to her parasol and she mentions it verbally and in thought a number of times in the book. Furthermore, it serves her very well during the early encounter. However, the overarching presence of the parasol just didn't seem great enough to warrant "front cover" treatment. In fact, through many of the climactic moments, Alexia isn't using her parasol but is rather thinking "I wish I had my parasol." It's almost as if its absence creates more importance than is there. Granted, it's a very minor grip, but since it figured so much on the front cover, I expected it to get more play in the book.
My next complaint is certainly a very personal one and one which I went back and forth on. It's about Alexia's character and personality. She is an intriguing character with a lot of quirky elements to her. But personally, I often found her rather annoying and sometimes a little too staid. Even at the end of the book, she feels almost aloof and certainly a bit of an enigma. It leaves me curious, but also annoyed that I still feel distanced from her. I know this complaint is hardly fair since I readily acknowledge that the author did a fabulous job of getting us inside Alexia's head, heart and "soul" (or lack thereof), but for some reason, I personally just didn't feel connected enough with her to properly understand her.
Probably my largest complaint is one that can be taken or left depending on your own reading preferences and the audience for this book. I'm not a big reader of romance novels, so I can't speak to relative comparisons, but for me, I was a little shocked by the graphic nature of the one sex scene in the book. Don't read that last sentence wrong…the scene itself was certainly in the PG-13 level and is unlikely to be very shocking when compared with some of the steamy romance books out there, but in terms of the nature of the book, it surprised me a little. There was a LOT of sexual tension throughout the novel and we encountered some inner monologues where Alexia wondered at her understanding of her father's books on the subject of sex and anatomy. We also have scenes where Lord Maccon is in the nude (due to his transformations) and we're given some humorous but not explicit reactions from Alexia to his anatomy. The final sex scene itself was well written to portray the curiosity and experience…it wasn't overly explicit, but just explicit enough that I wouldn't recommend this book to younger readers just for that scene, even though the rest of the novel would be perfectly fine. I would have rather had the "carriage scene" be more innuendo and suggestion followed by a "fade to black" and then an "after the fact" wrap up.
My final complaint is not wholly a complaint. There were a number of elements that were presented either peripherally or even more explicitly (the octopi?) but never received any resolution or explanation. For a reader trying to solve the mystery, these items really muddied the waters and left me unfulfilled when they weren't addressed. At the same time, knowing now that this is the first in a series, it left me interested to see how these larger mysteries play out in the future. So while I was dismayed at the numerous threads left unresolved, I'm curious enough that I'd like to read future books to learn more.
These minor complaints are certainly rather minor. The writing style and flow is well done and the story was captivating. The mystery is engaging and fun. The new spin on the supernatural conflict is intriguing. While I may not love the character of Alexia, I'm interested in her comings-and-goings enough that I really enjoyed the way this book played out and I look forward to future adventures.
4 out of 5 stars
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