Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Review: The Iron Duke

 The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
This first novel in a series has a lot going for it.

First of all the steampunk world is phenomenal, one of the best I've read.  It's set in an alternate 19th century (I think, no actual dates to go by) when for the past 200 years England and Europe have been occupied by The Horde, Mongol invaders with highly advanced technology, including nanoagents that infect the blood and can be used to control the populace.  Nine years after their control is broken and a revolution removes the Horde from England, the rich who fled to North America have come back.

So there is a very complex class system of the wealthy who didn't experience 200 years of enslavement and the poor nobility who did, and then the lower class whose bodies were modified to do labour.  The heroine, Mina, is fantastic.  A product of rape, she has Horde features and faces racial hatred and violence, while being a badass Detective Inspector in the police force.  But her mother is a countess, so she lives in both worlds.  If it sounds like I'm giving away a lot, I'm really not.  This is the very basic setup.  It's a wonderfully detailed and thought-out world.

Then it's also a romance.  The hero, the Iron Duke himself, was a pirate who is a national hero for destroying the tower used to control the populace.  He's very much a romance novel type: arrogant, dismissive, and forceful.  So the romance starts out in a way that is familiar to anyone who reads romance very often.   She doesn't respond to his charms, he becomes obsessed with having her, she resists but secretly longs for him, etc.  Meanwhile there are murders and conspiracies and airships and firefights and giant armored kraken attacks, etc.  But although the romance starts out in a pretty cliched place, it ends up being one of my favorite stories of romance, ever. It's certainly not usual that a romance novel makes me shed tears at multiple points in the story.

Speaking of romance, there are quite a few explicit sex scenes.  On the one hand, they are well-written and well, hot.  And I personally hate when a novel skirts around the sex like its taboo.  No, this book calls things by their names and makes it very clear what's going on.  On the other hand, there are a lot of sex scenes and a lot of them take place in a row, so for a chunk of the book not much is happening besides the heroes getting laid.  Mostly I'm including this information for readers who wouldn't normally read a romance novel, but who are interested in the steampunk.  Know what you're getting into, but I hope the prospect of sexy times doesn't scare you off, because the steampunk society and technology is really incredible.

This novel manages to cover a lot of ground without being longer than it should be, and it juggles a bunch of different genres skillfully.  It's definitely my favorite new steampunk series and I'm looking forward to reading the rest with glee.

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