Wednesday, December 11, 2013

REVIEW: The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

The Iron Duke (Iron Seas, #1)The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: On Kindle
Narrated By: NA
Original Publication Year: 2010
Genre(s): Romance, Steam-punk Fantasy
Series: Iron Seas #1
Awards: Nothing major but a number of reader’s choice awards

Steam Punk, Pirates and the British Navy! With these three things going for it, I was very excited to read this book. I LOVE me some big old sailing vessels, be they legal or otherwise and I was imagining a steam punk Jack Aubrey with some romance thrown in. Expectations were therefore very high, so it’s important to say, right off the bat, that if this resembles your imagining in any way, you may be disappointed in the lack of shippy goodness. There are other things to like however.

The first thing to note is that this is very definitely first and foremost a romance novel. It comes along however with a pretty intricate plot and some heavy world building which I liked very much. In this way it reminded me a bit if the Soulless series by Gail Carriger though less competently done perhaps, because in The Iron Duke my feeble brain did have some trouble keeping up with things. I’m not entirely positive if my slowness was due to reading comprehension issues or if the plot/world-building was a little too complicated and/or under-explained. Regardless here is what I think I know.

We begin in a steam-punk Britain (indeterminate 18th century, with some steam powered mechanical gew gaws and airships). It is an England and Europe that has somewhat recently (within 5-10 years) been liberated from an enemy known as The Horde who seem to be middle-eastern in origin. The horde is technologically advanced and kept its empire under control by infecting the population with nano-agents which makes them uber-healthy and strong but also enslaves, because The Horde can send out a signal to direct the nano-agents and therefore those that are infected with them. Liberation was mostly achieved through the actions of one man, Rhys Trahaearn and his ship Marco’s Terror and because of his actions; he has reached legendary status and is known as the Iron Duke. In this post-liberation world, there is conflict between the people who stayed in England and were infected with the nano-agents, called Buggers, and the people who fled England for America and who do not have the nano-agents, called Bounders. You following me so far?

The heroine for the story is Mina Wentworth, a member of the nobility (I think her father’s an Earl) whose family stayed in England during the occupation and are therefore Buggers. She also happens to be a detective chief inspector with the police and the product of a Horde union. What this means, I think, is that during a frenzy (an orgy orchestrated by The Horde), her mother was raped by a member of The Horde and apparently this fact is very obvious just by looking at Mina though I can’t for the life of me remember if it was ever spelled out what about her and others like her makes it obvious that they are the product of such a union. This makes her an object of hatred and disgust by most of the British populace, however it does not prevent Mina from being loved by her family and being very good at her job. All right, we’re almost there.

Hero and heroine collide when a body appears as if out of nowhere on The Iron Duke’s well guarded estate. Mina is sent to investigate. Sparks fly and a convoluted plot is set in motion which involves flying all about Europe on an airship, running away from zombies, and battling a kracken and a ship of the line. There’s also some family drama in there. Phew!

Taken as a whole, I was swept up in the adventure of the novel and it was a moderately addictive page turner. Probably my favorite bit, however was the first third which takes place in England. I very much liked Mina as the tough and smart detective inspector who is awkward at tea parties and balls. When she gives in to The Iron Duke’s blackmail and sets off with him I actually started to like her less especially because he was pretty significantly uninteresting to me. Rhys is the stereotypical “Alpha Male” found rampant throughout the romance genre and I found very little depth to him otherwise.

Basically what I am saying is I thought this book had real promise as a steam-punk adventure and crime/mystery novel but unfortunately all that part of the plot was muddled and rushed because of the focus on a lackluster romance. This book would have worked much better for me as a steam-punk mystery with a side of romance, instead of a steam-punk romance with a mystery. The steam punk world being presented was intricate and interesting but I felt like it wasn’t allowed to be presented fully and clearly, because the romance needed to be the focus.

Final Verdict: For most people who are looking for a romance, this book will likely provide you hours of fun reading. Even if you are hoping for something more, you will likely still enjoy it. Despite my disappointment, I will likely seek out books two and three to learn more about the world.

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  1. I discovered this book through Felicia Day's book club "Vaginal Fantasy" (it's a crazy sounding term until you get used to it, and then it makes perfect sense)

    I thought the Horde were actual aliens - bug-like in some way, but also probably cyborgs.

    1. Ha HA! I totally missed any alien/cyborg possibility! Makes sense. This just proves my point that the intricacy of the world could have been explored and explained a little bit better. Or may be it just proves that I have reading comprehension issues:0)

      And I am actually aware of the vaginal fantasy book club! It gets mentioned a good bit on a podcast I listen to (Sword and Laser) because one of the hosts of that (Veronica) also participates in the vaginal fantasy club. I've not read along with them before - is it pretty worthwhile?