Meljean Brook brings a steampunk world to the romance genre fan in The Iron Duke. With a journey that brings the reader into a world of pirates, both normal and airship alike, Brook gives her own twists to the steampunk setting. Whether it is her clash of classes, races and nations or her ingenuity of a unique technology, Brook shows herself to a be a true romance author utilizing steampunk themes.
First in an all-new series where seductive danger and steampunk adventure abound in the gritty world of the Iron Seas.
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..
I found The Iron Duke to be an incredibly hard read. This was due to many aspects but mainly because of Brook’s writing style. In the past, I would have not read The Iron Duke due to its romance cover ( yes I judged a book by its cover, though front and back!), but since starting at LE, I have stepped out of my reading comfort zone and ventured into the unknown. Though a big fan of steampunk, I have little experience with the steampunk romance subgenre and was instantly intrigued when this was suggested as part of Queue the Quipster. As a first time reader of Brook, I was startled to see that she highlighted all of the clichéd aspects of romance that make many fantasy readers shy away from trying new authors. This is a complaint I have heard from many male readers who discount any new female authors because they identify female with romance. This narrow-mindedness is truly upsetting and even more so when authors such as Brook play into this prejudice.
Is it terrible to say that I wish The Iron Duke bared a resemblance to the cover model? Perhaps it was this that made me assume the title character would be downright gorgeous. Unfortunately, Brooks gave vague descriptions of his physical features, instead referring back to his statues and caricatures. Though I do not usually find this to be bothersome, when the leading lady continuously ponders on how handsome he is, you start to wonder why. The other downside to The Iron Duke was his terrible personality. He was brash, overconfident, and viewed everything around him as his property. I simply could not understand why anyone could bear to stay in the same room with him, let alone fantasize over him.
Mina, the leading lady, is a somewhat one dimensional character who is obviously conflicted in what she feels is a woman’s place in the world. While this is a theme not uncommon to steampunk, Brook once again had no clarity to her writing and Mina became a complete contradiction. Each character was nondescript, stereotypical and oftentimes banal. This comes across many times such as the fact that there is a character named Newberry (an offshoot of Newbury and an incredibly popular steampunk name) that is repeatedly described as a giant. Rarely are any other things said about this character, despite the fact that he is Mina’s right hand man. To describe Newberry as Brook did would be to say he was a giant who was also a prude. I prefer to have more depth to supporting characters, especially if they will most likely play a role in upcoming books. Brook managed to blend characters together by having simple characters with similar names. This was only made worse when mid paragraph she would switch the point of view and topic entirely; not carrying through an observation or action of supporting characters. For me this was a grave oversight as it is the supporting characters that bring an investigation story to life.
Brook’s writing shows its weakness when she attempts to create suspenseful and thrilling action scenes. These scenes end up lacking direction and details and end up being filler for relationship building. The most memorable scene in this book for me was one where an airship tank was blown up and the two main characters were nearly burned to a crisp. Sounds exciting doesn’t it? It wasn’t. In fact the only reason I remember this scene is because I had to reread the three paragraphs or so of action several times to realize what was actually taking place. Upon my first read, I took it to be a sex scene with more metaphors.This is a perfect example of how vague writing and a lack of vision can leave the reader confused.
The one redeeming factor of The Iron Duke was Brook’s unique technology. For me, she hit this aspect on the head and made me intrigued to see this adapted in different ways. I was happy to see that she infused her technology throughout several aspects, be it character’s reactions to others or how profit is made in the new society. Somewhat interestingly, this theme was actually more cyberpunk than anything, as it melded nanoagents or bugs to individuals. I didn’t quite mind the meld of higher tech robotics with an otherwise Edwardian society, but I did find it a bit odd that the predominant ‘steampunk’ element was in fact not steampunk. That being said, Brook managed to infuse an alternate history into her storyline such as using sugar as a means to infect the masses with nanoagents. These conspiracy plots were gems, but altogether made me wonder if The Iron Duke would have been more successful if it were set in a cyberpunk reality rather than a steampunk one. For me, the entire journey seems as if Brook wanted to take a story with robots who take human hosts and meld it with nifty pirate battles. One glaring example of Brook’s lack of experience melding subgenres was how characters referenced events that happened 200 years ago as if it was yesterday, yet the reasons for this were never fully explained. These ideas could have been melded into a truly entertaining adventure had it not played the backdrop to a romance.
All of these aspects made The Iron Duke a book which I had trouble finishing. With a vague storyline and an unimaginative romantic pair, Brook showed that her writing skills were not up to the task she had set to accomplish. A book which only true Brook fans may enjoy as a gateway to the world of steampunk, The Iron Duke simply wasn’t for me.