>> Thursday, November 03, 2011
TITLE: Heart of Steel
AUTHOR: Meljean Brook
COPYRIGHT: 2011 (out last Tuesday)
SETTING: Alternate reality Europe and North Africa
TYPE: Steampunk romance
SERIES: 2nd full-length novel in the Iron Seas series
Return to the gritty, alluring world of steampunk with the New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Duke.NOTE: If you haven't read the previous books, you might want to read this page the author has put together explaining what this world is like.
Growing up in the dangerous world of the Iron Seas, the mercenary captain of the airship Lady Corsair, Yasmeen, has learned to keep her heart hard as steel. Ruthless and cunning, her only loyalty is to her ship and her crew-until one man comes along and changes everything...
Treasure hunter Archimedes Fox isn't interested in the Lady Corsair-just the captain and the valuable da Vinci sketch she stole from him. When it attracts a dangerous amount of attention, Yasmeen and Archimedes journey to Horde-occupied Morocco- and straight into enemy hands.
Captain Yasmeen commands one of the most notorious airships around, the Lady Corsair. She's been a magnetic presence in two earlier stories in the series, the magnificent Here There Be Monsters and The Iron Duke. In the latter, we saw just how important maintaining discipline in her ship is, when she tossed adventurer Archimedes Fox overboard, into the canals of zombie-infested Venice. Archimedes had made the mistake of pulling a gun on Yasmeen when trying to convince her to fly him where he wanted to go, and any captain worth their salt knows that you do not ever allow anyone to attempt to usurp your authority.
But Archimedes has survived his latest run-in with zombies (as Yasmeen suspected he would, when she sent him into water, which zombies refuse to go into). Bad stuff happens right after they meet again, though, and both are soon immersed in breathless adventure, going after some priceless treasures that will allow Archimedes to be free from a quite dangerous creditor and Yasmeen to restart her life.
When Meljean Brook sent me my review copy, she warned me that Heart of Steel was very different from the previous Iron Seas books, a fast-paced adventure story, rather than the intense romantic mystery that was The Iron Duke and the almost cabin-romance that was Here There Be Monsters. Now, breakneck action is not normally my preferred kind of reading, but this is one of my favourite authors we're talking about, and I had no doubt I'd enjoy her take on it.
And yup, I totally did. It looks like, properly done, I really do enjoy adventure stories. And the bonus of having an adventure set in this particular world, is that we get to do quite a bit of exploring of what's going on all over Europe and North Africa. We even go into Horde-dominated areas and meet some interesting people, including a young budding inventor whom I really hope we'll meet again in the future. It's fantastic worldbuilding, as always. It's also exciting and most of all, fun.
For all that travelling and escaping from extremely hairy situations, Brook does not stint in the romance department. These are two extremely different people. They both have had some difficulties in their past (and who hasn't, in this world?), but have turned out diametrically opposite in their romantic outlook.
Archimedes starts out already half in love with Yasmeen, or rather, determined to fall in love with her, as he puts it. He goes after her full tilt, whereas she, although willing enough to have some good times between the sheets, is much more of a cool customer, and has some well-earned trust issues. But he wins her over, and how! He does it not by being overbearing and macho, but by showing her that he respects and admires the hell out of her. That thing about not challenging the authority of the captain? It doesn't threaten Archimedes' masculinity to defer to Yasmeen in front of others. He knows that they are equals, and he knows she knows that as well. I loved him, and I loved Yasmeen. I especially appreciated that Brook didn't defang her.
My only (quite slight) problem with the story was that the conclusion didn't deliver the big bang that I was hoping for. After all the danger they've faced and especially, after all that Archimedes has gone through, trying to pay his debts, there was something there in the conclusion that I found a bit disappointing... a bit of a "you're kidding me!" kind of moment.
Still, that's a minor thing, considering I loved every other moment of the book. I can't wait to see more bits of this world. Brook has just posted a map of how things look like, and I'm especially looking forward to visiting the Far Maghreb, where I'm from!
MY GRADE: A B+