Kiss of Steel, by Bec McMaster

>> Friday, March 27, 2015

TITLE: Kiss of Steel
AUTHOR: Bec McMaster

PAGES: 448
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks Casablanca

SETTING: Alternate-reality Victorian London
TYPE: Steampunk romance
SERIES: London Steampunk #1

Most people avoid the dreaded Whitechapel district. For Honoria Todd, it's the last safe haven. But at what price?

Blade is known as the master of the rookeries—no one dares cross him. It's been said he faced down the Echelon's army single–handedly, that ever since being infected by the blood–craving he's been quicker, stronger, and almost immortal.

When Honoria shows up at his door, his tenuous control comes close to snapping. She's so...innocent. He doesn't see her backbone of steel—or that she could be the very salvation he's been seeking.

Kiss of Steel is billed as steampunk, but although there are some steampunky things here, it's more of a paranormal, alternate-history romance, set in a world where beings we would call vampires (here called Blue-Bloods) have replaced the British aristocracy.

These beings are all infected with a virus that causes a craving for blood. But that's not enough to be part of the Echelon (the aristocracy). When a person is infected, this can take two paths. If they're given a Blue-Blood's blood to drink, they become Blue-Bloods too. This means they develop superhuman speed and strength (not to mention hearing, sight, and all sorts of things) and can heal from pretty much anything. They do need to drink blood to stay alive, though. After many years the craving for blood gets the better of them, and they become vampires. These are are out-of-control, mindless beings, extremely dangerous, because their strength and speed are even more extreme than those of Blue-Bloods.

However, Blue-Bloods are extremely protective of their powers. The Echelon is a small group, and to maintain their status, they keep tight control over who is allowed to join them. So most infected persons are not given a Blue-Blood's blood. I'm not 100% clear on what happens then, but it seems like they either starve to death or become vampires as well. Probably the former; it makes more sense.

All that basic world-building out of the way now, on to the actual plot! Blade is a rogue Blue-Blood. He was created as a game by a sadistic Blue-Blood called Vickers. He was meant to be kept locked up, but he escaped and took refuge in the rookeries. He managed to make an alliance with the locals to protect them from exploitation by the Blue-Bloods (whose demands, both for blood and taxes had got to extortionate levels) and they were able to fight off the Echelon and their troops, who have left them alone ever since. By the time the book starts, Blade is basically the master of the rookeries.

Honoria Todd and her family are new residents of the area. They're there under an assumed name, since they're being hunted by the very same man, Vickers, who turned Blade all those years ago. Honoria's father was a doctor who was working for Vickers on a cure for the blood-craving virus. He fell out with man and sent his family to safety before he could kill them all. Vickers is determined to have them back, both because Honoria took her father's diaries, containing details of his work, and because he's long had an unhealthy and very creepy interest in Honoria.

As the book starts, Honoria's family are on the edge of disaster. They're in a very precarious financial situation, in spite of Honoria and her sister having jobs. Also, the brother, Charlie, is not doing well. Turns out Dr. Todd infected him with the virus to test his vaccine, and the vaccine didn't work. Charlie is getting weaker and weaker and has to be kept tied to the bed, but if Honoria and her sister try to get help, they fear the Blue-Bloods will simply have him killed.

And then Blade takes an interest in the family. He's figured out they're the very people for whose location Vickers is offereing a huge reward, and he's interested in understanding why he's enemy is interested. And once he meets Honoria, he's interested in a whole lot more.

This was all right. I started out by liking it quite a bit and feeling very engaged. The world McMaster created was interesting and different, and I liked how the relationship between Blade and Honoria developed. He realises quite soon that she's verging on desperate, and he tries to help, all the while trying to keep this assistance wrapped in a semblance of a commercial transaction (he can't let her know that he's a kind, decent person, rather than a self-interested cut-throat). There's also a vampire haunting the rookeries and behaving in an unusual manner, and the mystery of that was interesting.

However, I sort of lost interest at around the halfway point. The book felt really long and like it didn't really need to be. I continued to read, and there was nothing there that I found bad or offensive. I wasn't bored enough to ever be tempted to DNF, just not interested enough that I actively needed to know what happened next. Also, as the book went on I became less engaged by Blade and Honoria as a couple.

I did finish the book, though, and I liked that although Honoria was written in a way that sometimes bordered on TSTL, with her taking many risks and insisting on going with Blade to situations that were clearly extremely dangerous to anyone who wasn't a Blue-Blood, it turns out that she can handle herself. She doesn't hesitate to defend herself or those she cares about, and that was good.

Before I close, I should mention the way Blade's speech is written, because it's something that might bother some. He speaks in what's clearly meant to be a cockney accent and uses unorthodox grammar ('I were', that sort of thing), and the author writes his dialogue phonetically. I admired that McMaster kept that up until the very end and made it clear that there was nothing wrong with Blade speaking the way he'd been brought up to speak. But honestly, by the end it had got a bit old and had started to grate.

On the whole, this was ok, although not good enough to make me want to read more in the series, I don't think.



Sun,  27 March 2015 at 12:50  

I remembered reading this book a couple years back and being distracted by the speech pattern. It just required me more attention than necessary. Being a non-native speaker might be the reason.

My grade was about the same as yours but at that time I was in a steampunk reading mode so I soldiered on. Book 2 wasn't that great but better than I expected. I haven't picked up the next one though.

Rosario 28 March 2015 at 08:20  

Yeah, it was a bit distracting for me as well. It wasn't quite necessary to read bits out loud to figure out, but almost!

I do like steampunk, but I really do prefer it when it isn't mixed with paranormal (although McMaster did take pains here to portray her vampirism almost scientifically!).

Christine,  2 April 2015 at 17:40  

I really loved this book, it got me out of a huge book slump I was in when I first read it. The author's voice really worked for me; I enjoyed her almost tactile descriptions and cinematic presentation. I will fully admit I like both Vampire and Steampunk books and I thought she did a great job incorporating both. Blade's way of speaking didn't bother me at all, in fact I liked how it reminded me of his background and the fact that he admits fairly early on to Honoria he is almost illiterate. It also reminded me of Derek Craven from the Lisa Kleypas book (one of the ones with "You" in the title) that I also like. When Will spoke his was also written phonetically and I appreciated there was a difference with his speech reflecting his background in Scotland and his more advanced (though still child's level) reading abilities.

I really appreciated the world building and the effort put into it. While I enjoy Meljean Brook's series very much McMaster's just seemed to make more sense and was better thought out. The aristocrats have become "Blue Bloods" which better cements their hold over the lower classes who literally pay in "blood" money to them. In France the Revolution was the commoners getting rid of the aristo vampires by cutting off their heads and Culloden in Scotland was the culmination of the English war against the Scottish Verwulfen. It's a nice mix of real history with the alternate and it all makes sense to me. I also appreciated the tour of London, from the slums of Whitechapel to the Ivory Tower and it helped me put the world together in my mind. All of the books in the series take place in and around London so you get full understanding of how all of the society works, from the top to the bottom.
Honoria and Blade also worked for me as well, but again, self made man meets bossy bluestocking is romance "catnip" for me. I thought Honoria was a very well realized character, the older sister feeling in charge of the younger siblings and determined to carry on her father's work while gradually coming to understand his frailties as well. There are times Honoria is just wrong but fails to see that her younger sister she dismisses is right because Honoria is too much in her head and used to thinking everything her father did was right. Her understandable tension with Will is something that is not resolved and carries on into the next book. I appreciated that as well because I read too many series or connected books where the friend of a previous book's hero just goes on for pages thinking glowingly about how fantastic and perfect the hero's wife is. Will has some very real concerns about Honoria's affect on Blade that is also carried on in the series.
I guess it comes down to that indefinable thing of why something just works for you when it doesn't for someone else. I very much enjoyed your review though as I find it interesting to read a different take on the same book.

Rosario 3 April 2015 at 11:00  

Hi Christine, thanks for this. What's really interesting is that I completely see all the points you touch on, but they all struck me a bit differently. The world-building, for instance. I liked it, on the whole, but I didn't get the feeling I get with Meljean Brook that there is a huge, fully thought-out world out there and we're only seeing a tiny bit. This felt a bit more shallow to me, so like I said, it's interesting that you felt the opposite about those two (both really good!) worlds.

I hadn't thought of the Derek Craven comparison, but yes! I can't believe I missed it! :)

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