The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If you’ve read any of my past reviews, then you know I have a genre that I like to stick to. Namely, homosexual teenage boy fiction. Wow, that makes me sound like a perv. Whatever, let’s just go with it.
The Iron Duke could not be farther from that genre.
After 3 months of watching Felicia Day and her lady cohorts discuss various books on the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club hangouts on Google+, I decided to read along. But trust me, those things are fun to watch in complete ignorance of the subject they’re talking about. Anyway, yes, if you couldn’t tell by the name of the book club, this is full-on sexy lady fic. Only, in steampunk Victorian England with pirates and zombies and kraken and shit. Oh, and nanobots. *yay*
Mina, our vaginal heroine, is a tough female inspector specializing in murder cases. One night, she’s sent on an urgent investigation over the depositing of a dead body (by airship. *double yay*) on the front lawn of none other than dread-pirate-turned-war-hero-and-now-nobleman, Rhys Trahaern, the Iron Duke in question. Rhys takes an immediate fancy to Mina and, through use of his wealth and notoriety, makes himself a part the investigation. What begins is a wild chase across Europe by boat and airship to solve, not just a murder, but a conspiracy that could destroy the entirety of England. With plenty of saucy pirate behavior.
So, I admit, I walked into this with low expectations. I mean, I’ve read 2 of the Sookie Stackhouse books and wanted to set them aflame, and I attempted an Anita Blake novel, but found the writing so bad that I gave up. Meljean Brook, however, may have just changed my mind about trashy summer romance novels with a twist.
You see, the world that she has crafted isn’t just a straight-forward steampunk novel. It actually has some great original concepts. The fact that nanobots play a significant role in shaping the physics of this world made a lot more sense than some other authors’ treatments I’ve read. Plus, zombies coming from something other than a mysterious plague is refreshing. Now sure, you could argue that the creation of nanobugs requires technology far more sophisticated than clockwork and coal, but suspend your disbelief for a little while. There are a few other universal laws that are made possible by this, but I don’t want to spoil them for you.
The story itself is pretty well-paced and there were very few moments, if any, where I was yelling “Get on with it!” at my nook. Brook manages to keep things moving at a good clip, maintaining the excitement and mystery throughout. Part of that is due to some fantastic characters. I found myself completely enamored with Yasmeen, female captain of the airship Lady Corsair. As well, Trahaern’s right-hand man, Scarsdale, is one of my new literary crushes. While both of them are side characters, they have fairly significant roles in the entire book and I would readily give the sequel a try just for them.
As for Mina, she’s one of the better female leads I’ve read, with equal parts badass and delicate flower. Not like that complete waste of X chromosomes, Sookie Stackhouse (“Well, gaawwww-ly. Ah can read peoples’ minds, which shore gits me beat up a lot, but fortunately Ah got some vam-pahrs tuh rescue me all the time.” grr).
It’s Rhys that I have issues with. For a kick-ass, swashbuckling, dreadful pirate, he sure can be an emotional pussy. I mean, he’s more a woman than Mina is. “I have money and power. Come, let me make you mine, for I have only just met you, but I loooooooove you!” Rhys has his shining moments, but compared with every other character in this book, he’s really the one I care least about. In fact, it seems his companions are braver and more heroic than he ever is. All I ever really got from him was that he wanted Mina as his woman, and damn the world for telling him otherwise. Not very piratey behavior.
Anyway, the book is very enjoyable and fun to read. However, the ending really just tosses what should have been an epic final battle aside in two sentences and leaves the climax for a lame rescue operation and an absolute BS close call on Mina’s life. I don’t want to give it away, but her mother must be some kind of fucking GOD with clockwork and rubber tubes, not to mention needing the speed of The Flash to accomplish the whole thing. Yes, even in a world of nanobots and kraken, I had trouble buying it.
Oh, yeah. And there is the matter of the sexy bits. Now look, I don’t read romance books. They’re just not my thing. So I don’t know how this compares to other sex scenes, but I had to speed through some of those moments to keep my stomach from turning. Of course, I’m also deathly terrified of vaginas and lady bits. There could be shark teeth in there, I don’t know!
That aside, I think this is a pretty damn good book and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone (so long as hetero sex doesn’t make the tapioca rise in their gullet). It may be confusing for someone who isn’t familiar with the mechanics of steampunk, but the author lays out the universe very well.
My final verdict: 3 to 3.5 out of 5. And my thanks to Miss Felicia Day for getting me to read something I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
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