I recently received an email from Jen, who wanted to tell me about a book she'd found via the Books on Sale posts, because she loved it. Like, loooooved it. Like, composed a terrifically passionate email all about the book and the characters because they gave her all the happy reading joy.
So of course I had ask if I could share it with you. Please meet Jen!
When the story begins she's scared but determined, going somewhere that scares the knickers off her in search of her missing sister. I loved how Locke made Xandy so strong and kick ass but also smart enough to be scared shitless of all the things that can eat her. I'm not a super powered ass kicking machine, so it can be hard for me to relate to heroines who are – effortlessly.
I felt like Xandy was relatable, especially when she does something DUMB and I was like, 'Oh that's dumb' and she was like all, 'This is dumb but I gotta do it'! Made me squee cuz I can believe almost anything as long as the heroine is sometimes disbelieving as well.
The Black Plague carried more than just death, it introduced the Prometheus Protein; after hundreds of years of survivors breeding, Vampires and Werewolves -Aristos – rule Britain under the vampiric Queen Victoria, and Goblins are feared as a deadly mutation. Humans are lower on the food chain than they like, and have yet to recover from a recent, failed revolution against the Aristos.
Xandra is living in London 2012, which is a conglomerate of 19th century staples and 20th century technology and totally fun to be in. I loved the wax candles and digigrams, the corsets and stiletto boots, and most of all the old world social order mixed with the punk night life.
Right from the start Locke makes it known that Xandra is not a dumb ass; smart enough to be scared shitless of the goblins that live below London, but loyal enough to her family to go visiting said goblins in search of her missing sister.
“I wasn't a coward. My being here was proof of that – and perhaps proof positive of my lack of intelligence.”
Sigh! It's so lovely when the author creates characters with a brain…that they use.
So Xandra, her two sisters and brother, are Halvies – children born of a full blooded Aristo (vampire or were) and special breeding human Courtesans. Halvies are feared by humans and Aristos alike; they have the superhuman strength of their Aristo blood, but are able to withstand sunlight and so are dangerous to both groups. Halvies are not immortal, but their strength and slow aging have made them the perfect bodyguards for Aristos, and Xandra has grown into one of the most promising and elite. She was trained, as they all are, in a special academy by Churchill, who is not only her mentor and father figure, but one of the few people she is close to.
So, no STTL Heroine Here! The world building (HA! Learned that term from SB's, yo!) is pretty awesome, although I wish I had checked the back for a glossary BEFORE I finished the damn thing. The characters are constructed well, and when any of the supporting cast is acting like an irritating jackface, the heroine is almost always irritated as well, so you don't want to bang BOTH their heads against the cobblestones.
And the Cherry on the top of this Parfait of Paranormal Romance Awesomeness is the Alpha Hero – he doesn't take over as soon as the shit hits the fan – or when the H&H hit the sheets. It was cool (but maybe a little too perfect) how he was willing to let her kick ass and take names throughout their relationship.
Xandra totally reminds me of Eve Dallas: she has that same perfect blend of strength and vulnerability that makes her awesomeness believable. She starts out as a strong woman who has a pretty stable, if small, network of loved ones; her sisters and brother, and her mentor Churchill. When she was young, her mother was taken to Bedlam to be cured of “madness”, and was never heard from again, so when her sister is taken there Xandra is prepared to face her worst fear – incarceration in Bedlam – to save her.
What she finds though, is a messy conspiracy involving horrific testing on Halvies, a plot to bring down the Aristos, and a sexy Alpha werewolf hero named Vex. She doesn't do the whole “OMG, I just CAN'T believe something AWFUL of the ones I love!”, Xandra's more along the lines of “Fuck YOU, I'm gonna prove you wrong” variety. Which made me a little breathless, I must admit.
At one point she's taken by surprise – tazed, actually -
“I woke up a few seconds after my heart started beating again. Sprawled face down on the crypt floor, I was drooling on the dirt. Crypt dust tasted just like I thought it would. At least I hadn't pissed myself from the jolt. That was something to be bloody thankful for.”
And that's when I whispered “I love you” and my husband asked me what the hell I was reading. But seriously, she's hot and capable and I want to be her friend. She carries on with her little private investigation and comes upon some very hard truths; most of the people in her inner circle have lied to her in a big freaking way, and she kinda goes bat shit crazy. Which is super fun, especially when she hooks up with the Alpha hero. Locke doesn't use the tired old tropes to cause friction and suspense between these two, and I let loose a sigh of relief each time I thought I saw an easy out coming – Xandra getting pissy and not trusting Vex – and then they just trusted each other and I was like, “Whoa dude. That just happened.” It's bitchin.
Throughout the book, while Xandra is unravelling this mystery surrounding her mother and sister's disappearance, she beings to notice changes in herself and by the end of the book she is very different – stronger, more self assured, but also uncertain from all she has lost and had to take on. Physically she is very different as well, and while I had less and less to relate to (she changes quite a bit on the inside and the outside) the author made Xandra adjust with the reader, so I didn't feel disconnected in the end. No Presto! Chango! Spankin' New Heroine here, no sir'ee.
Which is bleeding lovely, since I don't have to worry about pulling a muscle trying to stretch my imagination further than humanly possible. I love how she deals with having to change her whole perspective – everything she has ever known and based her morals on – and how she accepts that the 'monsters' she thought she knew are much more than just that. It takes a lot of strength to go against a lifetime of training and trust, and Locke made me believe Xandra did that.
And damn if that ain't all I ever really ask from a story: make me believe. And don't suck.
Thank you, Jen!
Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it as well?