Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter

Really, just the name and the cover alone should make anybody want to pick up this little gem. I don't like horror, and I don't like zombies (I know, travesty, I know!), nor do I like the tagline on the cover (“She loved her country. She hated zombies”) and the blurb on the back, which unimpressively, simplistically presents the book's premise as “can she dedicate her life to saving her country when her heart belongs elsewhere?” sounds rather wishy-washily like an odd romance novel.

 The book doesn't even open with the titular character, but with a setup for side characters Quimby and Perkins. Quimby is preparing for a night of debauchery when the zombies he's been keeping break free from their prisons, devour the prostitutes he has ordered for the night, and worse, there's photographic evidence. He resurrects Perkins, and thus start their misadventures into the world of the supernatural.

We first meet our titular character as she is writing into her diary things she likes and doesn't like (turtle soup and Sir John Conroy). Meanwhile, the scenes shift around as things as a-shaking - King William dies, and people are dispatched - a succubus to kill the still-ignorant Princess Victoria, and Maggie Brown, a Protektor assigned to protect the Royal Family from demons. They converge on Victoria's bedroom, where she is informed that she is now Queen of England.

Historical fact, drama, swordfighting and ghoulish humour are weaved together to make your basic romantic story even more exciting. Queen Victoria's affection for Prince Albert is maintained within this narrative, built off historical fact from Her Majesty's proposal to Prince Albert, to their children together and the positive effect of the marriage on the nation. When Prince Albert is kidnapped, she insists on going off to rescue him, with little help.

Queen Victoria is portrayed as feminine, strongly devoted to her duty, and she never takes a back seat unless everyone else is, too. Her attraction to Prince Albert is palpable, both physically and emotionally. Unlike the typical romance novel, A. E. Moorat hardly spends time describing her. (Possibly because the figure of Queen Victoria is so well-known, but I don't think that's the case, since Prince Albert is fairly well-known too, but Moorat spends time delving into physical description of him. Either way, the focus on Victoria's female desire and Albert's desirability as a man is a welcome change.) She is a natural fighter, but also deeply sympathetic and compassionate. She is driven by a sense of wanting good for other people, not just romantic love, and still manages to be a flawed, funny character.

Moorat gives us a wide range of characters, and settings within London, from Buckingham Palace to Bedlam. Interestingly, he makes no comment on gender, preferring to depict strong female characters that can stand on their own without delineating the restrictions faced by women. Class, however, is given more attention - Her Majesty has to decide whether or not she really wants to fire actors hired to impersonate herself and Prince Albert, sending them back to dreary factory work by doing so.

The ensemble cast is given mostly equal treatment (the antagonists aren't given that much attention, but if they were, we'd know their plans and there'd be less suspense, eh?), and Moorat shifts the scenes in such a way that the reader doesn't get lost. The language isn't high-flown dense Victorian text either, and the dialogue is very accessible. Also, hilarious if you read it out loud. Double points for historical and literary references.

I was able to read through most of this without my Fail Radar twitching, and upon first read, it's definitely excellent entertainment - it doesn't gloss over any troubles the characters may have, doesn't present everything as cheery and something to laugh at. Perkins' fake leg has its inconveniences, but it's both ghastly and absurd. After the DisabilityFail of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, seeing a character who is disabled and living with his disabilities, still able to talk, make decisions of his own, and even having his disability of needing human flesh catered to, is somewhat of an improvement. Maybe someday we'll get an actual disabled character who isn't a source of entertainment.

But despite that, Quimby and Perkins stole the show, with their gruesome antics and great friendship. Despite the fact that Perkins is a zombie, he retains a humanness within his comedic value, and Quimby clearly cares for him enough to defend and protect him, angrily declaring, "don't you dare call him a gimp!" We're given an awkward, but well-meaning bromance moment between the two. The only moment this slash-fodder-ship is threatened is when Quimby meets one of the Protektors, the "exotic foreigner" Vasquez.

Vasquez's presence puzzled me because she doesn't seem to serve much function besides, be another cool character. She doesn't feel contrived, nor too out of place if you're getting caught up in the action, but I wonder if there's a historical significance to her presence.

The presence of the subplot means that the main plot doesn't overwhelm the story - that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, both of whom struggle with destinies and duties that threaten their relationship, and yet their relationship gives them the strength to deal with it.

Overall, a delight to read.

2 comments:

  1. Sounds delightful and feminine. I too am not a fan of zombies, but they are an excellent tool to use when spicing up such topics as the Victorian age (even though I personally feel it's spicy enough on its own). However, I am confused by your mention of the DisabilityFail of PPZ- what part of the book is that?

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  2. I missed the DisabilityFail on my first read of PPZ too. It's the characterization of Wickham after he is paralyzed by Darcy - his disability, namely incontinence and inability to move when he needs to void himself, becomes a target of mockery.

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