The second novel in Delphine Dryden’s Steam and Seduction series, Scarlet Devices, takes steampunk romance to the races and plays out like a standalone novel, with little need to read the prior book. Dryden takes the expansive backdrop of the U.S and turns it into a cross-country trip, complete with stops at towns such as Colorado Springs and Harrisburg, PA. This wonderful choice of setting brings steampunk to towns which aren’t often written into fantasy or scifi. Dryden weaves an entertaining read.
Fresh from university, Eliza Hardison is determined to crusade for workers’ rights until her cousin Dexter, the Makesmith Baron, prevails on her to represent Hardison House in the American Dominion Sky and Steam Rally.
The competition is fierce, but only one opponent really matters to Eliza. Dexter’s protégé, Matthew Pence, was always like a big brother to her. But now she’s grown up, and Matthew has made a break from Hardison House with his own business venture—and made his own entry in the rally.
Matthew intends to win while keeping Eliza safe on the perilous route from New York to San Francisco. As the threats escalate through treacherous skies and uncharted American wilds, though, Eliza and Matthew must work together, discovering a bond deeper than either could have imagined…but is winning the rally more important than winning at love?
I quite enjoyed the overall plot of Scarlet Devices. Dryden kept me interested with her plot despite some of my preferences in books not being met. Unfortunately, all of my issues with Dryden’s plot choices are ones that I identify with the romance genre and help add to why I don’t usually venture into it. The first of my complaints was the numerous sex scenes, which felt a bit forced and unnecessary to the plot. In addition, despite the technologically driven plot, technology was rarely explained. For example, I didn’t know the color of the car and ship the main character drove until much later, as if I needed to dig for descriptive clues. This was a bit frustrating since it hindered the development of a mental image in my head. The biggest grievance of all was the ending – a perfectly happily ever after stereotypical ending which is by no means my style.
I found Dryden’s character development to be decent. I liked the characters; I simply didn’t like what they did. The main protagonist, Eliza Hardison, was strong-willed and she focused on her passion for racing rather than her passion for men. One of the great highlights was when she unfurled her balloon and she internally smiled at the homage to her Chinese heritage. Her supposed suitor, Michael Pence, was neither stereotypical nor immediately attractive. I liked how he felt like the irritating brother’s best friend who subtlety Eliza began to consider as something more. The fellow racers are somewhat skimmed over but I was still happy to see Dryden note origins and slight characteristics for them all.
The switch in perspective from Michael to Eliza was sometimes haphazard but ultimately leveled out. Overall, I found Scarlet Devices to be an entertaining read with a terrible ending which left a negative taste in my mouth. That being said, Dryden’s writing was well placed and clear and I wanted to see what happened in the end. Each of my complaints are a matter of taste and as such, I strongly recommend this to romance fans or others who enjoy a fairy tale ending. If, like me, you enjoy a discordant finale, move past Scarlet Devices.