Friday, October 15, 2010

Review: The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Seductive danger and steampunk adventure abound in the gritty world of the Iron Seas, where nanotech is fused with Victorian sensibilities - and steam.

After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire of the power - and fear - of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.

Mina can't afford his interest, however. Horde blood runs through her veins, and despite the nanotech enhancing her body, she barely scratches out a living in London society. Becoming Rhys's lover would destroy both her career and her family, yet the investigation prevents her from avoiding him...and the Iron Duke's ruthless pursuit makes him difficult to resist.

But when Mina uncovers the victim's identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans - and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.

The Iron Duke is the first in a new steampunk series by the wonderful Meljean Brook and I was super excited to read it because not only am I obviously a big fan of hers but I haven't read many steampunk stories and I wanted to see what the buzz is all about. I got a taste of it from her short story "Here There Be Monsters" in Burning Up (see our review HERE) and instantly wanted more. I was definitely not disappointed.

Mina is amazing. She is strong, forthright, brave, vulnerable, and kind. My favorite thing about her is that she doesn't turn to a pile of quivering female flesh when Rhys touches her. That is a complete turnoff in so many romances that I've read and I was thrilled that Mina keeps her wits about her. It's not easy for her either; Mina desperately wants Rhys even though she believes a relationship with him is futile and finite because of their social stations. I didn't like Rhys at first. His imperial attitude was irritating:

“You’ll come to my bed. And you won’t think it a waste of time.” (pp. 67)

"You will accept me. And now I will know you, even if you come to me in the dark.” (pp.68)

“I warn you, inspector. The next time I have you alone, I’ll have you. Your mouth, at the least – and more, if you offer it.” (pp.69)

You'll notice that all those lines were in a small span of pages but it seemed to me to be awfully early in their acquaintance for him to be saying ridiculous things like these to Mina. The more I read, however, the more I respected Rhys. He is a good man who just doesn’t understand women, all that well. He consistently manages to stuff his huge foot into his mouth without realizing it and I liked that about him. It humanized him, this big hulk of a man with an even bigger reputation for being ruthless. He and Mina are a well matched pair.

What a fascinating world in which these characters exist. Dirty beyond belief from all the coal required to power steam engines, I thought Brook had a firm grasp of steampunk and the Victorian era. There's lots of world-building here and this series isn't going to be set in just England - airship travel is popular and kraken show up on the way to Africa. Zombies too! The Blacksmith from the Burning Up short story makes a reappearance and gets fleshed out a bit more, which I liked. I appreciated that Mad Machen and Ivy are absent from The Iron Duke. Another blogger recently expressed her ire at paranormal romance series that begin with a short story in an anthology and while that is annoying, it doesn't really apply here.

Right after I finished The Iron Duke, I asked Meljean on twitter who the next book is about and was delighted to get an answer. (I won't spoil it here.) I will share that book two in this series, Heart of Steel, is scheduled for release in November of 2011. I'll be another year older when it comes out. Do I care? Nope. I just want it to get here.

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