DENIAL, THE WORD “NO” AND MORE DENIAL
The year is 1896 and the place is London. But this is not the Victorian England that we have studied in our history classes. This London, actually the entire world, is based on an alternative theory of history where the advent of the Steam Age created immediate, adverse and lethal environmental effects. As a result, the world’s population needs mechanical implants or other devices in order to survive. The most basic of these is the Iron Necklace, a device welded to the throat in order to protect the lungs from the contaminated air.
With circumstance being the mother of invention, scientists began experimenting with mechanical replacements for other body parts, such as arms, legs, eyes and hands. Even mechanically welded plates for breast enhancement and facelifts became available. The only device that has not been perfected for mechanized, welded replacement is the heart. Or so the world’s population thinks.
About 400 years previous, according to our author’s take on alternate history, Leonardo Da Vinci created 13 mechanical hearts and developed the technique for replacing a biological heart with a metal one. As a result, the owners of the new hearts became immortal. Before the 13th heart could be transplanted into the body of the chosen recipient, it was stolen by Ivan the Terrible and placed in his dying son’s chest.
The back alley surgery did not go quite as planned, leaving the son in a semi-coma for over a year and with a scar that wouldn’t quite heal. When the son regained his full consciousness, and, with it, his memories, he was not particularly pleased that his father had saved his life. Since dear old Dad had been the one who had tried to kill him in the first place, after murdering the son’s pregnant wife first, the son was a bit upset. The son bided his time, got his strength back, assassinated his father and fled Russia.
That son is one of our two main protagonists, Sasha Romanov. He has spent the last 300 years training first to be a doctor and then a psychiatrist. And now as a forensic criminologist, he spends his time hunting down psychopathic monsters like his father, monsters who maim, rape and kill just for the power and thrill of it. And for these same 300 years, spaced about 100 years apart, someone has been murdering innocents, ripping out their hearts and placing items near the bodies that would implicate Sasha in the deaths. So far, the frame-ups have not worked to get Sasha charged, however.
Now, the murders have begun again, only this time the killer has upped the stakes. The victims all have the same physical characteristics as Sasha’s secretary, Aline Finch, who is our tale’s other main protagonist.
Finch is in her early thirties, wears glasses and ugly, ill fitting, high-necked muddy brown dresses. She isn’t plain but she isn’t porcelain-doll beautiful either. She is an excellent personal assistant but she has had it with Sasha’s high-handed, demanding ways. She wants to be married, have the cottage with the picket fence, have the average 2.2 children and the dog, instead of traipsing all over the country picking up after his lordship. And now, an archeologist with whom she has been keeping company for several years has proposed marriage and a honeymoon-slash-bone dig in Egypt.
Finch accepted Charlie’s proposal almost a month ago, but she cannot seem to find what she thinks is the right time to tell Sasha that she is resigning. When she does tell him, it is in anger and he is so focused on leaving to investigate the first of the new murders that he doesn’t hear her. When he returns to London after a very bad time and narrow escape in Italy, he finds Finch gone.
Finch doesn’t know who or what Sasha is. In fact, no one in the general populace knows about the 12 Elders with the immortal hearts, the 13th immortal that is Sasha, the Blood Bond companions that the Elders can create, or the metallically fanged vampires that the Bonded companions can create. Actually, the Elders don’t know about the vampires either. And even knowing that someone is using her for bait to get to him, Sasha refuses to enlighten Finch to his circumstances.
Quite frankly, this book is full of thoughts, opinions and facts that Sasha and Finch do not “enlighten” each other with or even admit to themselves. Sasha is ashamed of who he came from and is scared senseless that he is or will become the same vicious monster that was his father. He has stuffed his emotions so far down for so many years, in an attempt to control what he feels is his hereditary bent, that he cannot see the proverbial forest for the trees when it comes to his attachment to Finch. It comes as an absolute shock to his buttoned up self that he loves her and has since she first came to work for him years ago.
But Finch is absolutely a pain to endure for the majority of the novel. Margaret Foxe has created in Finch a heroine who is obnoxious rather than strong. She assumes that she knows exactly what everyone, particularly Sasha, thinks or feels and why. She bases her thoughts and actions on what society says she ought to believe and do, rather than heed her good sense, intuition and reality.
Even reminding myself that the story is set in Victorian England, even if it is an alternative version of the age, did not help my opinion of Finch. Her self-righteousness is her worst enemy, just barely edging out for that position her constant use of the word “No.” And even though Sasha uses the word “No” quite often also, it is much easier, considering the circumstances of his immortality, to understand and sympathize with his need for secrecy and even for his need to martyr himself, physically and emotionally, in order to save Finch.
I could even understand Finch initially, considering the time period. But after about the umpteenth time her high-toned denials and presumptions sabotaged both herself and Sasha, I lost all regard for the character at all. Of course, Margaret Foxe writes the defining moment when Finch sees all her mistakes and understands that she has loved Sasha all along. Foxe has Finch finally recognize her own cowardice and culpability in the physical and emotional debacle that is their lives and act on that recognition in a positive manner. Unfortunately, the eye-opening realization comes about 150 pages too late to rescue my opinion of the heroine.
Foxe has created a structured and understandable alternate reality for her steampunk genre series opener. Unfortunately, I hesitate to purchase the next book new for fear I will get a repeat of the “egocentric, whining heroine” formula. Perhaps a library copy would be a better choice.
But on a positive note, if this book could be judged by its cover, it would rate 5 stars. I rarely let a cover sway me, but this one is fantastic, one of the few lately that have stood out in design, coloration, focus and meaningfulness to a storyline.
Cover Art From Goodreads