Third Daughter (The Dharian Affairs, Book One) by Susan Kaye Quinn
(This was a review request. I received an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)
So I'll be honest. Every time I'm contacted by an author with a request to review their book, I'm both excited and a little scared. Because I never know what I'm getting into. There are some bad books out there, and I've seen them.
So understand how THRILLED I was to start reading this one and discover that it was really, really enjoyable. Before I get into the details of the book, I just want to get it out there: I REALLY loved this book and read it in less than 24 hours.
Third Daughter is a steampunk fantasy romance set in an world that is definitely not our Earth. It does, however, resemble India rather a lot. The whole of the story is set in this alternate fantasy Not!India, which sets it apart from the majority of steampunk novels out there. If I have any quibble with the book, it's that it took me a long time to really feel like I understood where I was and how the different fictional countries related to each other. I wasn't sure how much this world was supposed to reflect the real world. Eventually I just kinda gave up, relaxed, and went with it, but a little more explanatory detail or a map at the beginning would have been lovely.
The protagonist is Aniri, third daughter of the Queen of Dharia. She is the somewhat typical rebellious young female heroine: climbing out of her room to meet her lover, more interested in fencing than court intrigue. She's just waiting for her 18th birthday and her chance to escape her mother's palace. Until she's pulled into peace negotiations with a neighboring barbarian kingdom that include her marriage to the heir to the throne. Determined not to become political bride, she sets out to spy for her country and create peace.
This is an adventure/steampunk/romance that really gets the proportions of its mixture right. Though the plot set-up may sound like typical romance novel fare, romance is actually the smallest component of the book. Most of it is delightful spy/undercover agent shenanigans with a steampunk flair. Because this isn't traditional India. It's advanced-steam-and-clockwork-technology-Fantasy-India! I hope that sounds like fun because it is. There's plenty of swordfighting in corsets and swinging from ropes on airships and nearly being assassinated.
The characters are excellently drawn as well. Aniri is lovably flawed and insecure while being inclined to said swordfights and corsets. Her love interests become more interesting the more time you spend with them, and the supporting characters stand out in their well-developed personalities.
Basically, this is a really well-written book, and if it's your kind of thing at all, you should go read it. Right now the Kindle version is only $3.99, which is a STEAL. I'm eagerly awaiting the promised sequels.