Title: The Iron Duke
Author: Meljean Brook
Copyright: 2010 (Berkley); 378 pgs.
Series: The Iron Seas #1
Genre: Steampunk/Paranormal Romance
From Good Reads.com: 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.
Comments: Skimming some of the reviews, just before I began reading this book, I was almost convinced not to even start it. Steampunk is relatively new to me. I’m pretty sure I haven’t read any, and some of those reviews had me wondering whether I’d like this author’s take on the genre. I’ve read science fiction and fantasy, so I knew I could do the “suspension of belief” bit and hopefully understand the world she created with minimal confusion. Even so, I went into the book half expecting it to be a ‘did not finish’.
Turns out, I worried for nothing. I really enjoyed all aspects of this story. The steampunk parts were interesting and I had no problem following that part of her world.
As to the alternate history, I was very interested in how the author changed thing. The Mongol Horde (or the Horde) controlled England for approximately 200 years before Rhys breaks their control — so the Horde came some time in the 1600s (Cromwell/Restoration time frame). There was no Glorious Revolution and, ultimately, no Victoria. Also, no Napoleonic Wars. Why bring this up? Mostly, so you get an idea of what’s different. England has a king, who’s incapacitated thanks to the Horde. He has a regent council since his son is underage. It’s like the Regency era got push later a bit on the timeline. So, instead of Napoleon, there’s the Horde; instead of Nelson and Wellington, there’s Rhys — doing double-duty as both the naval hero (Nelson) and the Iron Duke (Wellington). Clever. A statue of Rhys stands in the square formerly known as Trafalgar — I pulled out a tourist map of London to help figure out “the same, but different” parts.
Not all the nobility stayed in England. Those who fled to the New World took their money, culture, and their traditions with them. They are called “bounders” by those who stayed. The bounders are returning to England to reclaim their lands and their seats in Parliament. Some feel that the “buggers” — those infested with the nanoagents — shouldn’t be allowed to hold positions of power, just in case the Horde finds a way to regain control. This is one source of conflict that will probably be central to the books in the series. One interesting aspect of the society in England is the acceptance of women in positions that they wouldn’t have held until the late 20th century. Mina is a cop — a detective inspector.
I really like Mina. Besides being a cop, she’s also the recognized daughter of an earl. “Recognized” because she was conceived during a “frenzy” and her mother was raped by a member of the Horde. Her parents could have turned her over to a crèche, but instead, they raised her. They are loving and supportive, and at times I actually had to remind myself of her history. But not everyone is accepting of her. Mina favors her paternal side in looks, so she has had to deal with prejudice — from name-calling to outright violence. Her partner, Constable Newberry, is there as much for her protection as he is to help her solve crimes. The hatred for the Horde is so strong, even her status as a cop doesn’t protect her from harm.
I also liked Rhys. He’s a man used to getting his way. He takes care of what’s his and he doesn’t care for the social aspect of being a duke. His good friend Scarsdale usually has to help him navigate the world of polite society (which is funny, because he was the navigator on the Terror). Rhys meets Mina and falls hard. He doesn’t realize, though, that he’s falling in love. The more time he spends with her, and gets to know her, the more he begins to realize that he wants her in his life permanently. For the first time, he sees a future with a wife and family. What I liked about him most was the fact that Mina’s heritage didn’t matter to him in the slightest and he doesn’t expect her to give up being a cop just to be his duchess.
I also liked the secondary characters: Newberry, Scarsdale, Yasmeen. I loved the adventure they have and it makes me wish that this series was about Mina solving crimes. Sort of the steampunk version of Eve and Roake. Or maybe the A-Team — where Face is the one afraid of flying and Murdoch is a female with BA’s attitude. Even so, I’m still looking forward to reading the next book.
(Cross-posted from my entry in the bookshelf bingo game on Good Reads, with some modifications)
Start: 6 February 2012
Finished: 12 February 2012