From the BLURB:
After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on 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.
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 book in Meljean Brook’s new steampunk romance series, ‘The Iron Seas’.
I need to start this review with a confession. . . I didn’t particularly care for ‘The Iron Duke’, but I think the fault is entirely my own.
I stopped and started this book about five times in the space of two months. I’d read the first chapter, retain no information of what I’d just read, get frustrated and give up. When I did finally ‘commit’ to finishing the book, it was a bit of an uphill battle. . . I read that first chapter again (sixth time lucky!) and still didn’t retain much of anything. Which proved to be quite damning since so much information is contained within that opening chapter. . . I didn’t want to go back and re-read (again!), even though I knew a lot of the world-building had been over my head. Bounders, Horde, Frenzy, Duke of Anglesey aka ‘The Iron Duke’ aka ‘Rhys Trahearn’.
Suffice to say, the nuts and bolts of the plot were mostly lost on me. I know that Brook’s series is set in an alternate steampunk world which is still living in the aftermath of a regime overhaul. The Horde were a cruel leading body who were able to be overthrown, in large part, because of ‘The Iron Duke’, Rhys Trahearn. Rhys is this world’s steampunk version of Che Guevara, having used brute force to overthrow the Horde and set London society free.
However, bastard children of the Horde still live, and like Mina Wentworth they live with the stigma of their heritage. Even though Mina is a detective, she is still held mostly in contempt. Until a murder investigation brings her to Rhys Trahearn’s door and sees the revolution’s hero falling for outcast Mina while searching for a brutal killer. . .
Don’t be fooled by the ab-tastic cover of ‘The Iron Duke’. At its centre this book is a steampunk political thriller and murder ‘whodunit’. Romance is a focus, but it’s mostly titillating tension until the final stretch. . . To be fair, the cover art is misleading (to me, at least). I thought this would be a bit of steampunk steaminess –I expected erotica. What I got instead was a high seas adventure filled with political intrigue and a romance focus towards the end. . . I've got nothing against the storyline itself, I just wasn’t in the mind-set for it and was a bit overwhelmed by the multilayered, complex plot.
I will say that Meljean Brook’s steampunk world is brilliant. It’s a world full of that wonderful brass technology and outlandish science (including giant rats/cats who roam the London streets and eat beggar children! Ack!). Brook’s social complexities in this steampunk society are equally wonderful – I loved that Mina was an outcast protagonist, ostracized and despised for her heritage. Mina and her mother have a fascinating and complex Oedipus history between them that is both tragic and a bit of brilliant storytelling on Brook’s part.
The romance was so-so for me. I did like Rhys and Mina’s auspicious first meeting, which was a great combination of Elizabethan niceties and underlying heat. . .
His gaze fell to her glove again. “There we are,” Trahaearn said. “Now to. . .”She pulled her hand away at the same time Trahaearn gripped the satin fingertips. He tugged. Satin slid in a warm caress over her elbow, her forearm.Flames lit her cheeks. “Sir – ”His expression changed as he continued to pull. First registering surprise, as if he hadn’t realized the glove extended past her wrist. Then an emotion hard and sharp as the long glove slowly gave way. Its white length finally dangled from his fingers, and to Mina seemed as intimate as if he held her stocking.
But ultimately Mina and Trahearn’s romance didn’t do a lot for me. For starters, it’s one of those ‘love at first sight’ set-up’s (for Trahearn at least). I was okay with that ‘instant chemistry’ and Trahearn’s consuming need to possess Mina. . . until more of his background was revealed and he admitted to never really feeling any sort of romantic inclination towards women before Mina. At that point I thought Trahearn needed a little more tension and resistance in his feelings for Mina.
Overall I feel a little indifferent and slightly confused about this book. I’m reluctant to give it a rating because I know that if I had been prepared for the plot’s complexities and in the proper mind-set for such a rich storyline, I would have absorbed and appreciated more.