Iron Duke

What’s it about? 
This review is actually going to be for the part of The Iron Seas series that I’ve read so far: The Iron Duke, Riveted, and The Kraken King. So: what are these books about? They are steampunk romances. In this world, Genghis Khan’s hordes made it all the way to Europe, and his Mongolian Empire never fell. The Horde is mechanically inclined and has learned how to mechanically graft things on to people – so, for example, if they decide you’re going to be a miner, you might lose your lower arm and get a shovel or a pick-axe grafted on instead. They don’t sound like particularly pleasant rulers. But it is the late 1800s now; the Horde never took over Scandinavia, and Britain has just successfully rebelled. Europe, however, is a no-go zone and Japan is firmly entrenched Horde territory. One of the books takes place in London and Africa; one is in North America and Iceland; the last is Australia – where the Japanese fled when the Horde invaded.

Why should you read them? 
I am generally skeptical of romance books. I’m not personally great with emotions, and I’m not so much with the stories that are all about the back-and-forth of your romantic intentions. But this NPR’s summer books theme this year is romance and I like steampunk and Meljean Brook was highly recommended. And I was looking for an audiobook I could check out from my library. Riveted fit the bill.

And I was impressed. Riveted was a good adventure, the heroine was strong, it dealt gracefully with social issues (hitting both gay and disabled issues) and the hero wasn’t an ass. The Kraken King’s hero was shockingly emotionally intelligent. The Iron Duke… sigh. He can’t express his emotions *and* there’s a rape scene. Not so much with that one. Oh, and the portrayal of evolution is more than a little appalling.

So: I have gotten over my disdain of romance novels enough to thoroughly enjoy these. I plan to read the rest of the series.

Getting into the meat of the mystery

Waistcoats and Weaponry

What’s it about?
Waistcoats & Weaponry follows up on Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies by furthering the plot of what exactly the macguffin is for. The macguffin in the series allows machines to transmit signals to other machines – something that could be used for either good or evil in a steampunk society. The mystery is which group is driving its production and what it will use it for. Waistcoats & Weaponry is diving into these questions as well as providing its usual fare of strong girls having adventures.

Why should you read it?
You should read it because the series continues to be a fun piece of work. Some of the class issues in Victorian England are brought to the forefront. Our heroine is flirting with both a viscount and a “sootie” – someone who feeds coal into the steam engines that everything needs to run in a steampunk world. She clearly prefers the sootie, but he knows that they cannot be together precisely because of his station in life. It’s handled very practically, I thought, for something that could be terribly dramatic. Overall, another good read.

Sometimes a strong heroine having an adventure is enough

curtsies & conspiracies

What’s it about?
Curtsies and Conspiracies is about nothing, but that’s ok. I mean, there was a plot – the macguffin from Etiquette & Espionage is elaborated on and there are some interesting embellishments on  vampire culture in alternate steampunk Victorian Britain. But otherwise? It’s still about the setting: a young girl at a finishing school, having adventures.

Why should you read it?
Because it’s the sequel to Etiquette & Espionage and you didn’t want that one to end. That’s why you should read it. You do also learn the identity of the handsome rake the main character danced with at her sister’s coming out ball. That said, this book is definitely a sequel – it doesn’t stand on its own. But it’s a good continuation.

Proper manners and adventure, thank you very much

Etiquette Espionage cropped

What’s it about?
Etiquette and Espionage is about a fourteen-year-old girl in an alternate steampunk Victorian universe. She is, of course, uncouth and adventuresome. She also, of course, gets sent to a finishing school to become a proper young lady. Said finishing school will also teach her to be a spy and assassin. There’s a macguffin being chased to provide a plot, but this one’s mostly about the setting.

Why should you read it?
It’s charming! It doesn’t take itself seriously (there are werewolves in top hats for crying out loud) and it has a sense of humor. Plus, I am always a fan of young women taking control of their lives. The only major theme that should be called out is: appearances matter. What you look like makes a difference. It’s presented, though, as a tool: if you want people to think you are from the country (as opposed to the city) you shouldn’t be wearing the latest fashions. If you dress like a slob, people will make assumptions about your competence. Form is function, to a degree. This doesn’t detract from the book’s appeal though – there’s no objectification going on, and it fits nicely. Overall, a winner.