Wow. I had looked at the book a number of times but too many times of being burned stayed my hand. The idea sounded too good to be true and my experience told me it either would be too good to be true or see a wonderful idea mangled by the author. So I kept gazing at it longingly but was unwilling to commit.
I found this book relatively cheap at a used book store and decided to bite the bullet. And how glad I am that I did. This is urban fantasy at its finest with steampunk and historical fiction creatively mixed in for flavor. This is a seamlessly blended book that could have easily turned into a glorified mess. I tip my hat to the author (particularly if I could have one like the one adorning Alexia's head on the cover).
First one must discuss the protagonist, Alexia Tarabotti. Not only is she a spinster, but Soulless (a preternatural), a strong and opinionated woman, and worse half Italian. ;P Alexia is simply delightful. I was worried at first that the author would have difficulties balancing the emotional symptoms of her state with making her an interesting and sympathetic character but this was handled so perfectly that one hardly even notices going on. Alexia is easy to like, even when behaving so abominably. She is very learned, matching wits not only with the head of the supernatural police (an alpha werewolf) but scientist on the cutting edge of knowledge at the time. She is a modern girl with an appreciation for older values which makes her delightfully shocking without being priggish.
The next character would be Lord Maccon, the head of BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry) and the above mentioned alpha. While of high class, he is a werewolf and worse comes originally from Scotland. They argue constantly (always terribly amusing, even often to themselves) but you quickly see another side to their reactions to each other. Maccon may be rough around the edges, but he is loyal, honorable, and essentially a good man. Alexia's family is ridiculous, causing the reader much needed laughter during tense moments, and Professor Lyall,
Maccon's Beta, is wonderfully played off of both his Alpha and Alexia.
Lord Akeldama, the vampire we get to know the best in this book, reminds me of a more roguish Percy Blakeney (aka Scarlet Pimpernel) with his intelligence hidden behind a foppish exterior to allow him to slip under radar. Also, I laugh every time he opens his mouth. He is too funny. The baddies are not particularly well developed, but as they serve merely to give form to the idea of a heartless scientist who cares nothing for who they hurt in the name of knowledge, this is somewhat explainable.
The first half of the book is introduction, not only of the characters but their world around them and the changes of theirs to our own. Things do not truly pick up speed till about half way through the story, when we begin to see a hidden threat seeming to pop up out of the ground. Alexia, even when not actively trying to get involved, seems to continually be made to be involved and has to use her intelligence and her nerve to save more than just herself. The characters fit well into their slightly off-centered historical fiction setting, upholding and subverting ideas and situations that arose in Victorian England. The 'mystery' is not really one but rather a conflict that would naturally arise in the world the author created.
The writing is quite good in this one. Not only does it read similarly to something written at the time, but her characters sound as if they have walked straight from London's fog and gas lite lamps. Alexia may say things that are shocking and not what a young lady would say, but that is part of her character. The author's descriptions help the reader truly picture the setting, though her attention to Alexia's dresses may not be appreciated by all(I loved it). The story flows well, with no harsh changes of narrative flow and the plot opens up slowly but consistently.
There is little to put here. I wish we had met the baddies early and seen more of their reasons and thoughts (though I believe they will probably be cropping up again in the series). I wish we had learned more about her father (again, I hope that will come later in the series), and I didn't like how little Alexia seemed to know about the world she was unfortunately apart of-though I assume she will learned with us.
I hate that I waited so long to try this series. This has in a large part restored my faith in what can be written. This is an excellent fantasy series made better with steampunk tendencies. If you like either of those, try this. If you like both, why isn't this yet on your bookshelf?