Queen Victoria is dead, killed along with her whole family in a terrible terrorist attack that shook the empire and led to Juliette, young, inexperienced and far from the throne as the next queen
The New World Order has claimed responsibility for the deaths and threatens not just Juliette’s reign but the world itself; Juliette must try to expose this conspiracy while securing her nascent throne, some inconvenient romances and the hunt for Excalibur itself.
Fantastical Steampunk is one of my favourite genres - I do like the whole aesthetic and plot of running around in dirigibles with mechanical arms and steam powered gadgets - but to throw magic, unicorns (unicorns!!!) and arthurian legend in as well and I am sold. We’re taking those elements - magic and machines - and engaged in deadly attempt to take down a shadowy conspiracy that would plunge the whole world into chaos by any means necessary, with battles, shadowy plans and lots of hidden agendas and looking behind every corner for who the enemy is.
If anything I wish this book had explored this more because the world we have laid out here is really excellent. The existence of magic, Excalibur and air ships it all tantalises so much - but that’s kind of the theme of this book: tantalises. We have Excalibur with apparently lots of powers and perhaps its own agenda but we don’t really explore that.
We have a fascinating female crime boss with a shadowy but apparently legitimate past running around doing swashbuckling things… but we don’t really focus on her except as a provider of resources.
We have the American heiress to a major technological corporation pursuing an illicit love affair and ready to offer friendship - but we don’t really explore her
We have a street urchin turned footman with a mechanical arm and lots of streetwise contacts
We have a society of magic users who apparently follow the legacy of Merlin and have done so for generations - but they’re only mentioned.
A county whose principle resource is unicorns, is in much demand by European nations and appears to be African (it’s not explicitly stated but North Africa was implied), but we only get their prince visiting?
It’s like this whole book throws out a million fascinating storylines, characters, world building etc and we don’t actually spend much time on examining any of these amazing things instead focusing on Juliette
Who is a decent fun character but kind of overshadowed by the vast potential of everyone around her. Not because she’s bad, but because everyone else around her, everything else around her, could be so amazing
Part of this is because of the general feel of Juliette. I mean, I like Juliette - as a “plucky adventuress uses grit, determination and intelligence to overcome great odds” Steam Punk protagonist she’s great and would fit nicely with characters from Magnificent Devices, The Finishing School Series, Girl Genius, or even early Parasol Protectorate. Her character is fun and embodies many of the elements I love about the protagonists of these series
But she’s the Queen of England. She is the heir to Queen Victoria (who died, presumably early in her reign since there aren’t eleventy million heirs) at the height of the British Empire. This character running off alone, doing lots of things by herself, being on the front lines and generally not being surrounded by a gazillion staff. Even the assumption of a grand conspiracy from the very beginning seems highly dubious on the strength of one terrorist attack. Juliette has 1 maid, 1 aid of her father’s from before she became queen and a military captain - she picks up a couple of others along the way (complete strangers with no background checks which, again, makes no sense!) but this is a ridiculous lack of support for the Queen of England. The whole framing of her character just doesn’t make sense and we have a weird feeling of dodging between being helpless, alone and lacking resources and then jumping back to “I’m the richest and most powerful woman in the world”. It just doesn’t work and it blends with the odd band of misfits she has around her which… also doesn’t work.