Hello Snarklings, and welcome back to the Nocturnal House! I know, I know, it’s been a long time between visits. But to make it up to you, I’m talking about two different vampire books! As Wicked As They Come by Delilah L. Dawson, and God Save The Queen by Kate Locke.
First, a disclaimer to get out of the way: both of these books were sent to me for review. But I would not be burbling about them here if I didn’t like them, and oh, I liked them very much.
Delliah L. Dawson is a very nice lady I’ve nattered back and forth with on Twitter and Tumblr, and she emailed me to ask if she could send me a copy of her book. She thought it might interest me, as it had a Steampunk air, a traveling circus, vampires, and oh, did she mention blood-sucking bunnies? Once I was able to pry Clovis the Devilbunny off of my laptop screen, I said, “Yes, please send it to me!”
Letitia is a home-care nurse who is rediscovering who she wants to be after getting out of a stifling relationship. She has a tiny apartment, a cat named Mr. Surly, and when she’s not tending to her clients, she’s taking care of her ill (but very sassy) grandmother. Letitia stops by the estate sale of a former client, and leaves with an intriguing locket. When she finally pries it open, it spatters her with some sort of red liquid, but reveals a portrait of a man who looks like he’d be a charming rogue. After getting cleaned up, she goes to bed that night and has a strange dream about another world. A world that she arrives in stark naked, and where is found by a mysterious man named Criminy Stain who runs a traveling circus, and oh, just happens to drink blood. They’re not called vampires in this world, the Sang, but Bludmen. There are also humans in the Sang, colloquially known as “Pinkies”, and they smell delicious to everything that drinks blood. Which isn’t just the Bludmen, but almost every animal, including the fuzzy bunnies …
Motion caught my eye, and I looked down to see a small brown rabbit tenderly nosing out from the wood It hopped and halted, hopped and halted, almost to us.
“Did you dream that?” he said.
“The rabbit? Sure, I suppose I did,” I said. “He’s a cutie. Probably represents my kindness. Or innocence. Something like that.”
The rabbit sniffed my foot, nose twitching, eyes bright. I smiled.
And then it bit me, sinking fangs into my bare ankle.
I shrieked and, without thinking, kicked it. It shrieked too, tumbling head over fluffy white tail through the air and landing with a thump in the grass. When it finally righted itself, it turned to hiss at me before darting back into the underbrush.
Hmmm. That was different.
Criminy claims that he cast a spell to summon Letitia to him from her world, and that she’s destined to fall in love with him. It also turns out that there are lawmen looking for a Stranger (which Letitia most certainly is), so even though she’s more than a bit dubious about this destined love, she goes with Criminy to his caravan; if nothing else, Letitia wants something to wear besides the frock coat Criminy loaned her so she wouldn’t be walking through the forest completely naked.
Finding some clothes is important for more than just propriety – the more skin Pinkies cover, the safer they are from being snacked on by bunnies or Bludmen. Lots of layers, high collars, and everything laced up tight helps keep their delicious scent from drawing predators to them.
Next came the dress, which had ties and embroidery over every inch. I fumbled around with it but couldn’t figure out where my head went. It seemed to have three sleeves. Mrs. Cleavers sighed heavily before snatching it back and holding it out to me with the smallest sleeve — which was actually the neck — open. I ducked through it and pulled it down. It was heavy and thick, and it felt like I was putting on a twenty-pound wetsuit. The sleeves went all the way to my knuckles and hooked over my thumbs. Along the wrists, another set of laces waited for my costumer’s merciless tugging.
She laced and pulled all of the ties. The dress was snug against every inch of my skin until it met my hips, where it flared out and in like a mermaid’s tail. A waterfall of ruffles cascaded off my bum. She dragged me to a full-length mirror and tilted it to show my full figure.
I had been transformed into a curvy Victorian bombshell. Or Gothic bombshell, maybe, because even for a garment that covered every inch of skin, there was something decidedly dark and sexy about the thing.
I smiled and ran my hands down my perfectly curved waist.
“Don’t get on your high horse yet, child,” she chided me, reading my mind. “You’ve still got hair and makeup to do. And boots. Boots first.”
Criminy persuades Letitia to work as a fortune-teller, has a caravan cleaned and refitted for her (the wolfboy had done rather a lot of damage), and introduces her to the rest of the circus folks. Letitia is as skeptical about being a fortune-teller as the rest of the performers are about her taking on the role, and discovering that she has hidden “glancing” powers adds to everyone’s sense of unease. Confused and tired, she retires to her caravan to sleep.
… And finds herself back in her “real world”, very, very confused. Was it all an extremely vivid dream? Is she cracking up? No matter what is going on, all she knows is that she’s exhausted, and she needs to get on with her job and taking care of her grandmother. But after a hard day of looking after patients, sleep isn’t as restful as she’d hoped for, because she finds herself back in the Sang, with Criminy waiting for her.
Criminy Stain is very much the quintessential charming rogue with fangs, cocky self-assurance, and a habit of calling Letitia “love”. Letitia is determined not to be swept along by events and Criminy’s charm, and works at trying to get her bearings in this new, strange world. There’s another Stranger from her world who is part of the traveling circus: a musician who turns out to be one of her patients back in the real world, in a coma after a motorcycle crash. He’s interesting, and interested in Letitia, much to the annoyance of Criminy.
Wicked As They Come rattles along at a brisk pace. There are mysterious plots that some of the human leaders are concocting against the Bludmen, magic contracts with hidden consequences, walled cities, vengeful ghosts that try to lure people to horrible deaths, clockwork animals designed to protect their owners, and a submarine. There’s also a visit to a witch to unearth some answers about Letitia’s divided life between the Sang and the “real” world, and what it is costing her:
Madam Burial took off her black lace glove, and her scaled hand hovered in the air, waiting. I grasped it and gasped. The jolt was explosive and strange, a black vortex drawing me in deeply. I dropped her hand as if it was on fire and staggered backward.
Criminy was there immediately, his arms around me, asking, “Are you all right, love?”
“And what did you see?” Madam Burial asked, her tone conversational and teasing.
“How much did you take?” I said, my voice low and dark. I had a sudden vision of what it would be like to rip her throat out with my blunt Pinky teeth.
“Just five years,” she said. “A pittance. I’m surprised you even noticed. Yet.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She giggled, a high, mad sound. The hair on my arms rose.
“Can’t you feel it, little kitten? Doesn’t time here seem to run fast for you? Haven’t you noticed the crow’s feet marching across your face? That locket draws the years from you as surely as my hands. You’ll wither in his arms yet, if you don’t make your choice soon. Or break the locket.”
Wicked As They Come is a little closer to the romance genre than I usually read. I mean no disrespect to the readers and hard-working writers in the romance genre! I have the utmost respect for you folks; it’s just not a genre I seek out. I will admit, if I had randomly run across it at the bookstore, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, purely because the cover art … is not to my tastes. But at least it’s a shadowy figure of a guy in a top hat and a frock coat (over his bare chest), instead of one of the never-ending “moody” images of a woman’s headless torso, which seems to be a standard cover art trope for a lot of vampire-themed novels? I fully own my cliches about being a fan of “trashy” vampire fiction, but there are times when I wish the entire genre had less ridiculous cover art.
But hey, my only quibble with Wicked As They Come is the cover art! The story itself is a delightful romp, and I’ve read it a few times since it arrived in my mailbox. It’s entertaining fluff dressed up with corsets and ruffled skirts, sporting a pair of fangs, and kept company with bloodthirsty fuzzy bunnies. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I crave.
As an added bonus, Delilah L. Dawson has teamed up with Brooke, the mad genius perfumer behind Villianess Soaps, to create a line of perfumes and soaps inspired by Wicked As They Come! And oh, they all smell scrumptious. I may need to indulge in a bottle of the scent named for Criminy to add to my bath, because lounging in water scented with wine, berries, and green leaves while indulging in fluffy vampire novels sounds utterly scrumptious. Add a glass of absinthe, and it’s a perfect recipe for relaxing.
Speaking of cover art that makes me sigh, just a little bit: the nice folks at Orbit sent me an ARC (advance reader copy) of God Save The Queen by Kate Locke. The ARC has this nifty stylized version of the British flag on it, rusted and with bolts along the stripes, with the block capital text: THE YEAR IS 2012. QUEEN VICTORIA IS STILL ALIVE. AND SHE IS DEFINITELY NOT AMUSED. This cover, of course, is immensely enticing to my neo-Victorian Goth sensibilities. And then on the back, I saw the art for the actual release cover. Hmm. Stockings, corset, short skirt with a bustle, and a tiny top hat; why yes, I have friends who dress like that when they go out (and they look FABULOUS), but I prefer the cover for the ARC.
The reason Queen Victoria is still alive is because the Black Plague caused the European aristocracy to change and mutate into vampires and werewolves. There are humans (who are ruled by the vampires and werewolves, and they are decidedly not happy about the situation), goblins (terrifying monsters who live under the city who will feast on dead bodies, but also have a taste for more active meat), and half-breeds (children of vampires or werewolves by human courtesans who, through DNA typing, have shown they carry a recessive of the plague gene). Most half-breeds are trained to be bodyguards for their aristocratic relatives, and are just fine with protecting the status quo.
Xandra (short for Alexandra) is a half-breed, daughter to the Duke of Vardan, member of the Peerage Protectorate and the Royal Guard, and the book starts out with her going into the depths of underground London, into the lair of the goblins. Her younger sister, Dede, is been missing, and the goblins are Xandra’s best hope for finding any scrap of information about her; in addition to being creatures that everyone is warily respectful or completely terrified of, the goblins collect information. Rumor has it that the goblins can find out about anything and everything.
I shook my head, but didn’t open my mouth to vocalize my refusal. An open mouth was an invitation to a goblin to stick something in it. If you were lucky, it was only food, but once you tasted their poison you were lost. Goblins were known for their drugs — mostly their opium. They enticed weak humans with a cheap and euphoric high, and the promise of more. Goblins didn’t want human money as payment. They wanted information. They wanted flesh. There were already several customers providing entertainment for tonight’s bash. I pushed away whatever pity I felt for them — everyone knew what happened when you trafficked with goblins.
I pushed through the crowd, moving deeper into the lair despite every instinct I possessed telling me to run. I was looking for one goblin in particular and I was not going to leave without seeing him. Besides, running would get me chased. Chased would get me eaten.
As I walked, I tried not to pay too much attention to what was going on in the shadows around me. I’d seen a lot of horrible things in my two and twenty years, but the sight of hueys – humans – gorging themselves on fruit, seeds and pulp in their hair and smeared over their dirty naked skin, shook me. Maybe it was the fact that pomegranate flesh looked just like that – flesh – between stained teeth. Or maybe it was the wild delirium in their eyes as goblins ran greedy hands over their sticky bodies.
It was like a scene out of Christina Rossetti’s poem, but nothing so lyrical. Mothers knew to keep their children at home after dark, lest they go missing, fated to end up as goblin food — or worse, a goblin’s slave.
In her quest to find out what happened to Dede, Xandra finds herself entangled in plots involving the monarchy, revelations of unsavory experiments, and family secrets. There are visits to Bedlam, humans that drink plagued blood to get a temporary rush (“Bubonic Betties”), raucous times at night clubs, a charming and dangerous Alpha werewolf gentleman, glittering balls and soirees, and strangely civil conversations with goblins.
One of the things about God Save The Queen that hooked me was the mash-up of modern (well, modern-ish) technology and antique social constraints. The undead Queen Victoria and her plagued aristocrats have embraced certain parts of the modern world (especially DNA typing that allows them to determine who carries the markers to successfully bear the aristocrats’ half-breed children), but they cling to the manners and fashions of the era they’re most comfortable with. Which means Xandra and other women in the Peerage Protectorate must wear corsets and bustled gowns when they’re working as bodyguards during balls for the upper class, but those bustles do provide very convenient hiding places for their guns. Outside of guarding the aristos, clothing has a more “modern” style, but still with a Victorian flavor.
Inside the big top the bar was a series of small stages and one large platform in the centre – that was where the headlining act performed. There were tables in front of each area, and not one of them was empty. A large sign just inside the door warned — in a very sideshow script – that touching the performers was strictly prohibited, as was any form of harassment, and that any persons committing such acts would be ejected from the club immediately, and subsequently banned from returning.
Everyone was dressed for a night on the town, glittering under the dim coloured lights. I hadn’t seen so many short bustled skirt or brightly coloured corsets in a long time. Aristo women generally stuck to the old way of wearing corsets as undergarments, rather than sporting flashy ones over their clothes. They didn’t show quite so much stockinged leg either. The gents in the club wore kilts and long trousers. Some had mutton chops, which were back in vogue, while others were clean-shaven right down to their skulls.
God Save The Queen is a lot of fun. As soon as I finished it, I was already impatient for the sequel (which was just released on February 5th, and is perched on the top of my To Be Read pile). Oh yes, it’s the first in a series, but God Save The Queen does a good job of standing on its own as a single story. It’s a fast-paced adventure story with a snarky, competent heroine and Victorian-ish airs, graces, and fashions. In other words, it’s almost custom-designed to be book-catnip for me. The last few books that made me this gleeful and eager to get my friends to read them were Soulless by Gail Carriger, and The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern.
As I said, both Wicked As They Come and God Save The Queen were sent to me for review, but they were both so much fun that they immediately became part of my comfort-rereading stack. God Save The Queen for when I’m in the mood for bustles and shoot-outs, and Wicked As They Come for when I want fluffy, slightly-racy romance along with my vampires. Which leads me to ask: do you like the paranormal romance genre? Tell me about your favorite books from it, because comments are open! (And, as always, moderated.)