Friday, July 27, 2012

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Why I read it: I've had this on my TBR for ages and after finally reading Here Be Monsters in the Burning Up anthology, I decided to read it.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  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.

What worked for me (and what didn't): I've read very little Steampunk.  I listened to Gail Carriger's Soulless (which I liked) but I've been a bit reluctant to take the plunge after a bad experience with some paranormal history books a few years back.  But, I've heard time and time again that this book is excellent and I did buy it so I decided to take the plunge and read.  It did take me a bit of time to get into.  It helped I think that I had some background of the concept of the Horde and the nanoagents and "mechanical flesh" from reading Here Be Monsters so I can't say it was any worldbuilding issues which kept me apart from the story at first.     However, by about the 1/3 of the way in, things started to gel and by the halfway mark I was hooked.  I'm not sure I can say anything particularly illuminating about why I found it difficult to get into - I just did.  

At some point in the book, it struck me that Rhys and Mina are a bit (but not entirely) like Roarke and Eve Dallas.   As I'm a fan of the in Death series this is a good thing.  Rhys has a tortured past, is very wealthy, has scant care for the law and he always takes care of his own.  Mina is a police officer and much of her self esteem is tied up in her badge.  While she was well loved as a child (at least, I gather that under Horde rule that was the case - maybe I'm wrong and people didn't feel love then?), she was the result of her mother being raped by one or more members of the Horde and this has caused significant trauma in her family.

Her half Horde (ie Asian) features stamp her as being part Horde and she is reviled wherever she goes.  She fights hard for acceptance and finds that those who come to know her accept (and even love) her but she tries to stay under the radar mostly.  Rhys cannot stay under the radar and as such, Mina knows she should avoid him.

I liked the way racism was an issue in the book and how seeing the individual rather than the stereotype can change hearts and minds but there has to be a lever of some sort (or regular positive proximity) to encourage people to be willing to look.  At the same time, it wasn't heavy handed social commentary - it was very much part of Mina's story and not at all preachy.

I liked that Rhys struggled to express himself and didn't have much time for courtesies and enjoyed Scarsdale's role as his "social interpreter".  Because I spent time in Rhys's head, I found myself forgiving him things which I might not otherwise have. 

In the end, I was caught up in all the swash and buckle of the story and heat of Mina and Rhys's attraction - Rhys does certainly have a way with the dirty talk. :)

There was one scene right near the end which glossed over some important events and that was a little disappointing - after all the build up I'd have liked to be present for the big explosion.

What else?  Yasmeen, the Lady Corsair is a fascinating character, as is Archimedes Fox so I'm looking forward to reading Heart of Steel but I must say the one I want most to know more about is Scarsdale, the homosexual navigator with the unfailing sense of direction.  There are some novellas coming out soon and I think at least one features Mina and hopefully Rhys so I'm looking forward to seeing how they're getting on.  Heart of Steel is on my TBR and I imagine I'll be picking it up very soon.  

For me, The Iron Duke had a bit of a slow start, but I ended up enjoying it very much.

Grade:  B+

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