I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review – thank you very much! That fact, as you can guess, didn’t influence my opinion at all.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
An ancient Egyptian artifact is driving Queen Victoria insane, and that’s not top of Cara Devon’s growing list of problems.
Viscount Nathaniel Lyons is a man of numerous secrets, but there is one in particular that threatens his fledgling relationship with Cara. Stunned by Nate’s revelation, and before she can absorb the ramifications of his actions, he is arrested, charged with treason and imprisoned in the grim Tower of London. He stole something the mad queen wants, and only has days to deliver, before his date with the executioner.
Although sorely tempted, Cara can’t let him die on Tower Green, not when their connection means she would share his fate.
Only together can Cara and Nate figure out how to wrestle Hatshepsut’s Collar from around the queen’s neck, before she plunges Britain into a world war. The search for answers sends Cara to the opulent Winter Palace of St Petersburg and the frozen depths of Siberia, with every step shadowed by an enemy with his own dark plans.
What I liked:
It was one of the prettiest digital copies I’ve had the pleasure to get so far. Not only the art cover was great (look on the right – I didn’t even want to make it smaller) but also those cute, black and blue mechanical bugs and circles starting every chapter made it a joy to look at.
The theory behind the premature death of Prince Albert was slick.
The book also features three cute, little dragons. I love dragons.
Woo-hoo, not bad. Three likes.
What I didn’t like:
Imagine you get a velvet box, beautifully adorned with golden and black whorls, very tasteful and stylish. You open it, look inside and you find just candyfloss. Disenchanted, you start looking for that jewel you feel must have been hidden there somewhere but you find zilch. Candyfloss, nothing else. The simile encapsulates well my feelings concerning this book.
At first glance Hatshepsut’s Collar was simply an explosion of good ideas adorned with clever steampunk devices: you get a dash of Egyptian artifacts, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, St. Petersburg and London, the tzars and lords, a pirate called Loki the Trickster and a chest full of dragon eggs ready to hatch. After reading the blurb I almost wanted to lick that scrumptious cover and murmur in delight, promising myself a real feast. However when I actually sank my teeth into the text I found that it was just a fluffy, saccharine waffle full of clothes descriptions, jewellery descriptions, places descriptions, sex scenes, infodumps from the previous part and little else.
First of all it is merely a steampunk-flavoured book, not pure steampunk. The characters use a lot of machinery and clever devices but if you read any steampunk novel you can tell at once that those trinkets are just accessories, nothing more. Still I suppose the real deal breaker in my case was the complete lack of narrative tension. Believe me or not, even if I wanted to spoil you I wouldn’t know how. There are simply no mysteries or secrets to untangle. From the chapter one I was sure that the main female lead will stay with her husband, Nate, even though she repetitively claimed otherwise. A hint- if she wanted me to believe in her fierce longing for complete independence she shouldn’t have had so much fun with him in bed. When Nate was accused of being a traitor and imprisoned I was dead sure he would escape with the help of his beloved Cara even before the heavy gates of the Tower closed behind him for good. Hatshepsut’s collar? If you have heard anything about that female pharaoh, anything at all, you would instantly know what it was for and why our plump Queen Vicky behaved the way she was made to behave. I could list such failed plot devices forever.
What’s worse the novel featured characters which were clones of themselves. When it comes to the male leads, all of them were uniformly handsome and invariably horny men with no brains. Loki the Trickster? I would laugh if it wasn’t actually so pathetic. The females, Cara and Natalia, were like Barbie-pretty dolls, differing just in hair colour, eye colour and the outfits. They thought the same, talked the same, even shared equally scarred childhood. Like in that old bad joke they could switch the rooms and nobody would notice, not even their husbands. The baddies were noticeably less pretty – so you could spot them at once. Accordingly I spotted them no problem but I had no fun whatsoever. Honestly, most of fanfic authors flesh out their characters better.
Despite the fact that the novel underwent some editing I was able to find some strange mistakes like the one on page 16: ‘“You’re carriage to Su-Terré awaits.” Shouldn’t it be rather ‘Your carriage’? Is it so difficult to spot the difference between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’?
By the way I didn’t expect a novel described by the publisher as YA romance would have so many explicit, rather adult and badly written sex scenes. I grant you, the intercourse is between a husband and a wife but still. An example:
“She ground her pelvis against him, eager to find her release if he was going to torment her. The pulsing ache threatened to overwhelm her. “Not without me,” he murmured against her lips. He angled his hips and with one thrust, possessed her. Her body stretched to take him as he replaced the ache deep inside her with hot flesh. A shudder ran up his arms, as she locked her legs around his hips, holding him close. The wave built inside her, pushing her closer to the edge. Sparks flew behind her closed eyelids.”
Add to that several places where sexual asphyxiation, child abuse, Prince Albert piercing, prostitution, mild BDSM and threesomes are mentioned – how can it be still YA stuff? I suppose the author wanted to spice the bland story up. However, the result remains, in my humble opinion, distasteful.
I wish I could say I discovered a new Gail Carriger or a Scott Westerfeld. As it is I can only offer one more simile. Hatshepsut’s Collar reminded me of a virulently colourful pop up book of poor quality; you know, the one with almost no text but plenty of illustrations. Although the blurb promised you an interesting story, something intricate and full of clever surprises, the artwork inside was never three-dimensional and, from closer distance, you could tell at once it was poorly made, with repetitive patterns and colours which didn’t suit at all. Still the cover is great. Eh, life.