Just over three months ago I was trawling through the internet, as you do, when one of my favourite blogs popped up with a post entitled “Steampunk: It’s a Way of Life“. I have had a fascination with steampunk ever since it came to my attention that my favourite series, The Infernal Devices, is classed as steampunk. So, naturally, I had to find out everything I could about this phenomenon. I even came across a festival devoted to steampunk in my area. But I never got to attend said festival because I had to work. Someone has to bring home the bacon. Anyway, I continued my love affair with steampunk from afar, through my books and music videos.
How is that for a steampunk video clip? You just have to adore Panic! At The Disco. Or, well, I do.
Following my newfound love of steampunk. I picked up Incarnation as per the recommendations of the above blog post plus the GoodReads reviews I read before money ever exchanged hands. Finding Incarnation turned out to be harder than I thought. No bookstore I walked into actually had it on hand. Eventually, I asked the good people at my local Dymocks to order it for me. You never know how isolated you are until you are told that there is only one copy of the book you want in the whole of your state. It took me about two weeks to finally get a hold of Incarnation – a week had been added to my wait time because the slightly mixed-up woman behind the counter took my phone number down wrong. But I was fine with that, because it gave me time to read Dracula, so I had some kind of point of reference for Cornwall’s book.
Incarnation is an intriguing blend of established characters and newfound faces. We have Bram Stoker, Lucy Weston (who Stoker depicted as Lucy Westenra), Morgaine le Fey, and Mordred. How’s that for a who’s who of literature? The story goes that Stoker was told by the British government to fictionalise the circumstances of the real Lucy’s incarnation as a vampire. This is because vampires had lived under the surface of English society for centuries, under the rule of Mordred. Yes, from the King Arthur legend. Lucy’s story had to be buried so that the general public never caught wind of the fact that their fair country had been allied with vampires for generations. It’s incredible the way that Cornwall managed to insert a little fantasy into the realm of reality. Vampires assisting humans with wars? Brilliant! It really makes you wonder if it could all be true. It’d be nice to think, anyway. You know, that life is a little more magical than you realise.
Anyway, Cornwall has this beautiful twist on the vampire/werewolf blood feud as well. According to her, there are a group of humans called the Protectors who know about vampires and are entrusted with keeping humans safe from the undead beings. But the price of this is that one in four Protector children become werewolves. I thought this was genius. Cornwall managed to make the vampiric world more complex and convoluted than almost anything I have read before (Richelle Mead’s world of vampires is pretty intricate, though. Seriously, go check it out. Vampire Academy followed by Bloodlines.) Especially when she added the idea of the Slayer. Once in a generation a human is born with the power to wipe out vampire kind. Apparently, according to Mordred’s character, this mass culling once every century or so ensures that the balance between the humans and vampires remains level. If either race started to become stronger than the other, war would break out. Which is what this entire novel is trying to avoid.
I have loved vampire lore since my shameful days as a teenage Twihard. Don’t worry, I’m all better now. But Cornwall revitalised vampires and their ilk. And bringing in Dracula as propaganda? I loved it. Miss Emma Cornwall, you are a genius. Victorian London, steampunk, vampires, political intrigue, race wars? What more could you want in a book?
Unfortunately, I have an answer for that question.
My biggest problem with Incarnation was that there was too much emphasis placed on plot. Each scene is a race to the next important plot point and character intricacies are left to the wayside. Sure, we explore Lucy’s confusion as [SPOILER] her human and vampire sides fight over who will have control of Lucy’s actions, her love of her family, and her rediscovery of Marco di Corsini; but these issues are glossed over as Lucy and her companions race against the clock to find Mordred before the villain, Lady Blanche, can throw the city of London into war. I don’t mean that I want chapters upon chapters of character soliloquies or backstories, just more insight into the characters motivations. These characters are by no means stock characters, the ones you see in really bad crime or fantasy, but they are shallow. And people are so much more than reactions and desires. Why do they react that way? Why is it that person who captures their heart?
It is possible that I have been spoiled by Cassandra Clare. She writes brilliant plots but weaves in characters that sparkle with life. But all good fiction falls short if the characters are two-dimensional. And because of Incarnation‘s two-dimensional characters, I often found myself adrift in the novel. I’d pick up the book and not remember what had happened in the pages before, because of the lack of character response. Things just happened. We are never really told how it effects the characters’ mental and emotional states. For me, that is an injustice to the author’s creations. A little like stifling the characters’ voices.
Plus, the book ends in such a way that it seems a sequel is on its way. But I checked: there isn’t. So we never find out whether Marco will forgive Lucy, or if Sebastian de Vere is ever caught and put on trial for his crimes. And that is inexcusable. Open-endings are fine if most of the big questions are answered. But if the author just can’t be bothered finishing? Or if they don’t care about what happens to their characters? It’s like the authors want us to hate them. Maybe there will be a sequel and it just hasn’t been announced yet. But if Google can’t even give me a whisper of a rumour, then it’s more likely that Cornwall simply gave up.