A two-review post this time.
The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook is the first novel for this Iron Seas world. Part alternate history, part steampunk, the world of The Iron Duke has an invasive and ruthless Asian empire along with an Industrial Revolution that took a sharp, expansive turn. The main characters in the tale are detective inspector Lady Wilhelmina Wentworth and the eponymous Iron Duke Rhys Trahaearn. The two traverse the lands by mechanical spider conveyance, trains and airship seeking to identify and stop the murderous, mind-control plot by the villians – all whilst falling in love, of course. Also, zombies.
Most of this book I loved. Steampunk, nanotechnology, airships, mechanical conveyances, sea adventures, sky adventures, strong female characters, moderately involved plots and politics, alternate historic points, romance, a richly described world, and building drama hit all my reader buttons. Also, since I was reading this on my Kindle, I didn’t have to concern myself with the display of the cover, which was merely a focus on male abs. (I selected a different cover for my media icon on this site.) The writing was decent to good, the world was fairly easy to realize and the imaginative inventions of fiction were completely comestible. As I’d assumed this book would focus on romance and sex with a bit of fiction thrown in for page count, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Iron Seas a world I wanted to explore. The descriptions are sustaining, the dialog fine, action and excitement levels intensify at the desired rate, and the general story plot is interesting.
While I enjoyed the well-crafted tale and the subjects, there was one major problem with this book. I’m willing to overlook a number of minor flaws and misalignments of whatever variety, but some things are not okay, no matter how the author thinks they have crafted the viewpoint to make it okay. In my view, rape is a worse crime than murder, even if “it’s okay because she only said no because she was scared” and “he was abused himself, he didn’t understand so it’s okay” gets written in heavily. No, that’s not okay. This huge and monstrous flaw means that I don’t know if I would actually recommend this book to anyone. If you’re able to block out this section (or I guess, if you’re into rapey story sections) then go ahead and read this book. It’s a real shame, too; because this would have been an excellent sci-fi romance book if the author (or editor!) could have simply left out one ignorant, oxymoronic literary trope.
tl;dr Good steampunk, romance adventure, but marred by nasty scene.
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Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook is the second novel set in the Iron Seas, although it is not precisely a sequel. We readers met Captain Yasmeen Corsair and Archimedes Fox (think Indiana Jones, but less of a jerk) in the first book, and this edition of the series follows their obviously-left-open story line. Captain Corsair and Archimedes team up to recover a valuable archeological find, travel via airship, fight and flee zombies and help a rebel group overthrow a hollow, but symbolically oppressive regime – all whilst falling in love, natch. Also, more zombies.
Despite the fatal failing of the first novel, I did read this book and it hit most of my same reader subject buttons: airships, nanotechnology, detailed steampunk inventions, light political intrigue, layered characters, sky and sea adventures, romance, drama, action and some strong ladies who aren’t taking shit from anyone. Again, the cover is a bare-chested man with a sword, for awkward display issues – spared by my Kindle. (Also again, I chose an alternate cover to more accurately reflect the main character.) A few generous servings of the history of the Iron Seas (one told around the traditional campfire at night) is equally as satisfying, yet more meaningful, as in the first book. The dialogue is harmonious and acceptable, the plot is interesting enough, and the action is appropriately dramatic and does illicit the expected amount of interest and entertainment. Don’t forget this is a romance, too; you’ll see a number of crackling interactions as the lurve grows. Basically, it is precisely what you would expect from this book, solidly delivered.
This book didn’t suffer from an unforgivable flaw like the first one did and I found myself frankly relieved by this fact by the end. Heart of Steel has less world-building work than the first, which I missed; it instead turns focus on the main characters, which I found genuine and enjoyable, if a tad unrealistic – but this is fiction, after all. Reading about Yasmeen’s love of air sailing nearly brought tears to my eyes and I think anyone who climbs mountains, sails seas, or likes to fly would appreciate the emotional resonance. Yasmeen and Archimedes have a good amount of humor, sweetness, respect and sensibility which make them worthwhile. I liked the racial (almost specific or maybe generic) diversity bit and the gender role assignment flexibility was well done, well reasoned and welcomed. Overall, it delivered as expected.
tl;dr Great steampunk adventure romance. Airships! Zombies!
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Further reading in the Iron Seas world:
A short story prequel, “Here There Be Monsters” in the Burning Up anthology and short story concurrence “The Blushing Bounder” in the Wild and Steamy anthology.