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Bec McMaster

REVIEW:  Heart of Iron by Bec McMaster

REVIEW: Heart of Iron by Bec McMaster

Dear Ms. McMaster:

Your first gaslight fantasy/steampunk novel took my pleasantly by surprise and I was excited to read the follow up, Heart of Iron, which paired Lena and Will. Will is a wuthvern in Britian where shapeshifting is outlawed. The English wiped out the Scottlish clans in the battle of Culloden and what’s left of them are scattered, mistreated, and in hiding. Will prowls the rookery and has been the bodyguard of Blade since Blade took Will from the pits where the outlawed verwulfen are forced to fight for their lives.

Bec McMaster Heart of IronLena is the sister of Honoria Todd, the heroine in Kiss of Steel. Lena starts the book exhibiting a sad amount of naivete. Caught up in the romantic political idea of humanism, Lena is busy spying on the blood drinkers and the nobles to provide any information she can to the leaders. Lena doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions but instead is thrilled by the secrecy of it and the idea of “true” equality for humans. There was an interesting conflict for Lena that was never fully developed and that is initially she has desire to be part of higher society, a status which she can no longer attain since her family’s fall from grace. Set against that backdrop, Lena’s working with the humanists to create an order more equal is a understandable motivation. However, this was never really presented as the conflict that Lena was facing.

Instead, Lena’s motivations are per trade is much more pure and somewhat romantic. And those two would have been okay if they were challenged in some way other than her being na├»ve and foolish. When Will tells Lena that notes she is passing is in the same code as notes Will took off a couple of individuals sent to assassinate the Blade and his Beast, she scoffs. She’d never do anything to hurt her sister and her brother. But she knows nothing about her cause and apparently is okay with lying and spying on her guardian.

Her lack of knowledge regarding the humanist cause and her willingness to spy on it and reveal secrets she learned from her family really rankled. She just came off too obtuse and, given her circumstances, she shouldn’t have been. Perhaps too much of her past was excised out of the story in an effort to give more attention to the romance and Will’s storyline.

Will is a verwulfen, or a werewolf. In London, where werewolfism is outlawed and he is viewed with great disgust. We learn in “Heart of Iron” that the verwulfens were primarily Scottish in origin and they were crushed and outlawed (like the kilts and bagpipes?) after Culloden. But verwulfens are reviled in London, supposedly, to such an extent that Will is not only the sole verwulfen but he is a marked man, unable to roam the streets without risking arrest and imprisonment. But the leaders of England are in need of Will’s services. A treaty needs to be made with the Scandinavian contingent of verwulfen and Will is picked as an emissary. So many things seem wrong with this. Why Will other than he is a verwulfen? Why would England parlay with people it deems no better than animals? If they only have one verwulfen and he is outlawed, why would you need to have a verwulfen emissary at all?

Nonetheless, when the Scandinavian verwulfen showed up with a goddess amongst them, I was ready for Will to throw over Lena. It’s a bad sign when you think that the hero belongs with a completely different character. As the humanist plot is revealed more fully, we have a semi ridiculous scene which places Lena in great jeopardy and tries to invoke a sense of ambivalent morality regarding humanists. Unfortunately, rather than a true fight for freedom we simply have another faction trying to use yet another faction. The Scandanivanians were dropped for much of the book.

Wierdly, book 2 felt like almost more of a setup than book 1. While I learned more of the world, it wasn’t as cogent as the first book. The heroine was frustrating. Will’s refusal to tell Lena why they couldn’t be together and thus hurting her repeatedly was also frustrating. Even though the two loosely related threads came together at the end, it seemed both overstuffed and too thin at the same time, like a pastry whose cream is abundant but weak in flavor. C

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster

REVIEW: Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster

Dear Ms. McMaster:

I purchased this book during Sourcebooks after holidays sale for 99c. I had heard a lot of talk about it and it was a title listed on several year end “best of” lists, however it was the promotional price that finally spurred me to pick this book up. I have tried several steampunk books since Meljean Brook’s Iron Duke but none have delivered, many focused too much on the external trappings of the steam world and too little on how the political and social aspects would be utterly transformed if steam powered contraptions were so fully integrated into everyday life. In short, the “punk” aspect of the subgenre wasn’t given voice.

Kiss of Steel by Bec McMasterKiss of Steel is the first historical steampunk since the start of the Iron Seas series that balances both in depth world building, romance conflict, and social conflicts.

In late nineteenth Century England, Queen Alexandria sits on the throne but her power is deemed to be nominal. The true power lies in the hand of the Prince Consort and a ruling quorum of seven Dukes and Duchesses. They oversee the part of England known as the Echelon. To be part of the Echelon, you must be born of the right lineage and, at the age of fifteen, be given the blood rites. In this historical England, blue blood isn’t just a saying. It denotes a specific male personage who has partaken of tainted blood that allows them longer life, increased acuity in all senses, and greater strength. The downside of the virus is that at some point you must be killed because it turns you into a ravening beast. They call it a vampire. In another book it might be termed zombie.

In the slums of Whitechapel, Blade rules. Blade is a rogue blue blood, someone who isn’t supposed to exist. He escaped the Duke of Vickers who infected him and fought off a horde of metaljackets and royal assassins until the people of the slums rose up against the ruling class and the Crown left Whitechapel to Blade.

Honoria Todd’s father was a scientist in the employ of the Echelon. He was working to create a vaccine that would render the virus impotent. Honoria’s father believed that to remove the blood curse would level the playing field. However, his research got him killed and Honoria and her family flees to leaven. When she fails to present herself to Blade, he summons her.

Honoria Todd is holding her family together by the thinnest of threads, earning money as a finishing tutor to girls trying to capture a husband from one of the Echelon. She offers the only thing she has in barter for Blade’s protection, other than her body, and that is to teach him to speak better. This part of the story is wisp thin but I think both Blade and Honoria acknowledge that. Blade accepts her offer because he’s attracted to her and it gives him an excuse to spend time with her.

Honoria and Blade are tied together by their mutual hatred to the Duke of Vickers. Vickers has placed a bounty on her head. Vickers would like to see Blade dead. The worldbuilding, while rich and detailed, raises more questions than it answers. Who kills those in power that enter the Fade? Clearly they don’t go quietly into the night. Why aren’t women allowed to partake of the blood rites? How does longevity affect those with the virus? What good would the vaccine do to those who have the virus? How will the HEA work out between the long lived Blade and the human Honoria?

The unanswered questions to the worldbuilding left me a tad frustrated at the end of the book. Not all of them needed to be kept secret to spur the series and some of the questions represented plot holes that I felt should have been closed in this book. However, that aside, there is a compelling romance within this steampunk series and lovers of that historical fantasy fiction would be remiss to not pick this book up. B-

Best regards

Jane

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