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Meljean Brook

REVIEW:  The Kraken King Part V-VIII by Meljean Brook

REVIEW: The Kraken King Part V-VIII by Meljean Brook


Dear Ms. Brook,

The journey we started weeks ago has reached its end, and even after weeks of waiting for this moment, I’m having a hard time saying goodbye. But alas, I’m not a Kraken, so I have to let go, but not before I tell you that, as you can see, this serial was so good that it put me in a cheesy mood.

Anyway, let’s get Kraken (no more puns, I promise!).

I want to be as vague as possible about events from the previous parts as well as what happens in the final four, but I do want to mention that part V opens with a heartbreaking moment of loss for Zenobia that, together with the events of the previous installments, truly sets the course of the story. She realizes that she has to rescue herself regardless of how much she trusts that Ariq or her brother will eventually save her. But she’s unwilling to be a tool to manipulate those who love her, and she wants the choice to be hers. The recklessness of her act doesn’t go unnoticed, but this is ultimately about agency. Besides, she’s so smart and clever, that there’s never a doubt that she will make it. And these things: taking action, fulfilling her dreams of adventure, and seeing the world, are the main part of a character arc in which the romance plays a key role, but it’s not vitally linked to it. Needless to say, Zenobia was my favorite part of the serial.

All the other non-Zenobia things that I liked but that I was too lazy to organize in a more cohesive, traditional review:

  • Ariq is a fabulous hero who complements Zenobia and also shines on his own. His character arc is subtle (perhaps too subtle for my taste) and entirely linked to the romance. Falling in love changes his priorities and shows him things about himself that are good and bad. But love was already a vital part of his character; the love for his brother, his mother, his people, his country, and his new home, are relationships that shaped the man he is and made him a hero worthy of a great heroine.


  • They fall in love fast, but Ariq and Zenobia come from different parts of the world and spend most of the time in danger. The cultural differences inform their characters and trigger believable conflict and misunderstandings that are resolved through mature communication. But their complicated and unusual situation makes Zenobia, who is, above all, incredibly pragmatic, particularly cautious, so even if she is irrevocably in love, that doesn’t stop her from having a plan B in case things don’t work out.



  • And speaking of culture, I love that not only are most of the characters POC, but they are the dominant culture. There is a lot of work put into the history and world of these people, and neither the text nor Zenobia fetishize Ariq’s –or anyone else’s– features. She finds him super hot, of course, because he is big, strong and all-around swoony, but there’s no mention of how exotic he looks, how different he is, or any other charged and problematic language. There are a couple of words in Mongolian, but no long phrases that could end in disaster and send the author to Google Translate jail. Instead, we are told the language they are speaking at the moment and that’s it. I thought that, from my white reader POV, the representation was very well done.


  • So. Many. Women. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I kept being surprised by how many characters that I was assuming would be men when first mentioned, turned out to be women. First we have The Twins, two wicked minor characters that delighted me for the short time I got to meet them. And then there’s the Empress and her general, the two most intimidating and fabulous sources of conflict and delicious tension I’ve read in a while. None of them clearly fit the enemy or friend categories, something that speaks more about layered characterization and storytelling than about rigid roles. This brings me to…



  • …the villains! The Kraken King has two of them, and they have motivations and backgrounds that raise the emotional impact they have on our leads. These are, by far, the best villains this series has seen, and even better, the stakes are actually high. What’s at play here goes beyond the romantic HEA, and even if we can trust that the outcome will be a good one, at times it feels like getting there will be impossible. Seriously, anyone who thinks the promised happy ending makes the genre predictable should read this book.


  • And last but not least, The Kraken King is an all-you-can-eat buffet of action, adventure, giant monsters and even bigger robots (kind of, this ain’t Pacific Rim, that somehow manage to not get in the way of the main relationship or the political intrigue, because yes, this is about wit as well as strength, and they all come together beautifully during the final climax.



P.S. I still don’t like serials, but I didn’t have a hard time following yours. I thought the letters at the beginning of each part were a clever “previously on” reminder, and in a way, I’m glad I got to stretch the reading experience.


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Interview & Giveaway with Meljean Brook

Interview & Giveaway with Meljean Brook


Full disclosure. I’ve been reading Meljean Brook long before she was a published author. She had a blog and wrote about fun (and kind of dorky) stuff. My favorite pieces were the Missy related ones ( Missy is the preteen? early teen? alter ego of Meljean who loved reading inappropriate category romances. When Meljean published her first book, I admit to being kind of shocked. It wasn’t adorkable at all. It was serious, sexy, and introduced me to a new level of world building in paranormal romances.

I guess because I’ve followed her for so long, going on eight or nine years now, I feel like I have an internet friendship with Meljean. I think her books are pretty amazing but you should know that I consider her a friend. Before this past year, though, it was definitely more me emailing her and her responding every four months. Now I get an email from her about every other month. It’s a big step up for us!

For those who know Meljean, she disappears into a writing cave for weeks at a time only to surface for a short time like a dolphin in need of oxygen and then she dives back into the writing waters. I try not to bug her because I’d rather have her writing books than answering my stupid emails which are often–when is the next book coming out or in this case, am I ever going to get Part 7?

With that caveat, disclaimer, and warning, let’s proceed on. The big question is are you doing this serial because you want all the money? I mean, really, don’t you authors get paid millions already?

Meljean Brook

MeljeanBrook1-200pxSee, now — the reason I only respond once every four months is because it takes me that long to stop laughing after you ask questions like that.

But, okay. I can be serious. I’ll admit to struggling with this answer, because as I mentioned on Sunita’s post a few weeks ago about length and format (, it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly how transparent to be online regarding sales, money, and so on. That’s pretty personal information and although I don’t mind sharing embarrassing moments online — how many times have I tweeted about wearing Wonder Woman underwear on a day when I need a little extra boost or spilling my drink down my shirt? — sharing details about my income seems a little different, because invariably it ends up putting a number on my “success,” (or lack of it) even though I don’t personally feel that the quality of my work and my income are directly proportional. There’s always the sense of “now everyone is going to find out what a loser I am.” I don’t believe I am; but still, it’s one of those fears that is difficult to quash.

Then, of course, it runs the danger of making readers feel a crazy obligation — either to reassure me or to support me. And that makes me twice as uncomfortable and makes it twice as difficult to be transparent, because how many authors have said crap like, “I need to pay my bills! I need to feed my kids! I’m going to quit because bullies are ruining my sales!” and I really *hate* that. So if I can, I’d like to preface this all with a statement that *I am responsible for my own livelihood.* Full stop. Readers are not responsible for it in any way, shape or form. I couldn’t make a career out of this without readers, of course, but whether my career fails or succeeds doesn’t depend on anyone but me (and my publisher, to a lesser extent.)

So I wouldn’t answer this at all, typically. I might make a joke and shrug it off. But that wouldn’t do anything to dispel what I think is a very common assumption about serials — that it’s all a money grab. (And for some authors, maybe it is.) But I’ve seen that “greedy” label come up over and over, and I’ll admit a little discouraging that, in this current online environment, the first response to an announcement about serials is: the author is just trying to grab more money. Which is not to say that isn’t the reason behind many serials, just that in all the discussions about the work, the first assumption is never: The author must have thought the story would be better that way. So I think that’s really sad … but at the same time, I can’t blame everyone for not assuming that authors care about their craft or their readers, because more than a few authors have made this bed, and now we all have to lie in it.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t tuck in my sheets in my little corner, and maybe make it a little more comfortable for other authors like me, so that maybe the “greedy” label isn’t tossed around so haphazardly. So the very short answer is: No. I’m not making all the money. And I probably won’t make any more money on the serial + compiled release than I would have if it had just been released all at once. It doesn’t make any difference to me, financially, because the amount I received in my advance (which is a modest one) is probably all the money that I’ll ever see for this book, and the total royalties for the sales probably won’t exceed that whether it’s a serial or a compiled novel.

The long answer is: I didn’t write it as a serial for the money. I wrote it as a serial for many reasons, which I’ll list below and which we might not be able to address in the course of this interview, but which I’ll be happy to take up in the comments if anyone wants to know more.

--Three most important reasons for writing the serial–


I personally like the format, and I thought it would be an awesome challenge for me as a writer and would fit the steampunk/adventure genre perfectly. Plus I thought it would be fun to write this particular book as a serial because the heroine writes serial adventures in-universe. So it made the dork in me happy.


It allowed me to write it in parts, which allowed my publisher to edit and format the story in parts instead of waiting for me to finish the book before beginning the production process. I was concerned about the two-year gap between Iron Seas novels, and the serial allowed me to get the story to readers faster than a full novel could have been released. (I’ve talked about this more on my blog, too.


I broke my brain on the final Guardian book, which was a 200,000 word novel that wrapped up an eight-novel + five-novella storyline, and which took me a year to write. I was pretty close to burnout, so I told my editor that I just wanted to write short things for a while (I really like writing novellas). So writing The Kraken King in eight novella-length installments allowed me to focus on smaller bits of the narrative at a time, and to hang the story on a completely different framework than a longer novel.

–Other factors that played in, but on a much smaller scale, because the above reasons are things that I can be sure about and the following reasons are maybes, and I don’t base decisions about my career on “maybes”–

Four years ago, when the first book in the Iron Seas came out, steampunk as a genre was being touted as the hot new thing. It was going to gain a huge audience. That hasn’t happened. And I don’t think that it’s because readers simply aren’t interested — it’s just that there are still SO MANY people who have no idea what steampunk is, or that it even exists. Even now on Facebook, after a status update from a reader that mentions one of my books, I often see comments from other readers/friends of readers that ask “What is steampunk?” Offline, it’s rare that I don’t have to explain what steampunk is to someone after they’ve asked me what I do for a living. Many people simply don’t know that it’s out there — just as, before Twilight, many readers didn’t know about paranormal romance or Young Adult romance, and there was a surge of new readers (and books.) Or even Fifty Shades. How many times have we gnashed our teeth because of comments like, “This is completely new and wonderful!” when most romance readers know that erotic romance has been around for a while? Yet whatever else it did, that book opened up a new audience for erotic romance in general.

So steampunk hasn’t had that moment of discovery in a wider audience. I would give anything for a blockbuster steampunk movie to come out, just because it would tell the audience that it’s out there and that it exists and it’s fun.

Now, I don’t think The Kraken King is going to do that. I think it’s a fun story and a romantic story, and I think readers will enjoy it, but I only mention the size of the audience because it leads into the other considerations for a serial novel:


All of my previous Iron Seas books have come out in trade format, which is listed at $16/$10 (print/ebook). For a reader who is new to the genre, $10+ is a huge investment to make in a book they really aren’t certain they’ll enjoy. So a lot of readers pass over the books, and even when the price drops after the mass-market reissue, the moment has passed and they don’t come back to it. BUT, even though the total of the serial is just as much as the print version, there seems to be a large segment of readers online who will try a serial novel for $1.99. So there is the hope — but not the expectation — that we might be able to broaden the audience by appealing to that population of readers who are buying serials and will give the first installment a try.


We don’t really know why it’s been so difficult for steampunk to catch on. I’ve received tons of emails that are basically, “I didn’t think I would like it, but then I read it and now I want more!” So the serial allows us to change up a few things in the presentation to (hopefully) make it more appealing. The covers, for example, are so gorgeous — and much different than the original gears-and-mantitty of The Iron Duke, or the costumes of Riveted (which was a cover I really loved.) And because the serial is released over an eight-week span, it doesn’t release like a flash in the pan. So it’s visible longer and, hopefully, will be talked about a little bit longer, and with the increase in chatter maybe some readers who are on the fence about steampunk might give it a try (either as a serial or a compiled novel, or someone else’s steampunk romance, it doesn’t really matter to me.)


It will give me a better idea of whether to continue the series as I’m writing it now. I don’t want to call this a last-ditch effort to broaden the Iron Seas audience, but it kind of is? At least as it’s being packaged and released now. Because if the audience is there but we (my publisher or I) can’t find out a way to access it — or worse, if I’m completely wrong and the audience isn’t there — then I’m basically spinning my wheels. And I don’t expect to get rich as a writer (cue laughter again) but I do want to at least see some upward progress — just as if I were in any other career. You expect to do better as you go along, not end up in a rut (or worse, losing sales and readers) and so if what I’m doing now isn’t working then I need to figure out another way to do it.

So the serial is basically an attempt to do something different — in both a writing sense and in a marketing sense. But I don’t expect to actually make more money from it.

Is this the last of the steampunk then? I mean, it’s not like I’m not going to follow you everywhere even when you tell me stop and that you’re annoyed with my questions about when the next book is coming out? But what’s next for Meljean Brook? I saw a new penname called Milla Vane? What’s she writing? Will I like her as much? 

MeljeanBrook1-200pxIt isn’t the last of the steampunk. No matter what else happens, I still have one more novel under contract with my publisher (it will probably be the Blacksmith’s story.) Basically, I’m just kind of in that period of “I need to figure out how I’m going to move forward” — which means a lot of conversations with my agent and editor in the upcoming year. It might be that interest/awareness of steampunk continues to grow and by the time contract renewal comes up, the issues we’re facing now won’t be issues anymore. It might be that we decide to go to digital-only format — which I hate to do, because I still have a print audience — but that the different pricing options available will help chip through that audience wall.

Or maybe I’ll do something completely different with my publisher and the steampunk (which I love too much to give up) will just have to be something I release on the side … like issuing it as a serial on my blog or writing more steampunk novellas and self-publishing them. (And because I imagine this will come up: Self-publishing as a primary activity is not really an option for me because I’m such a slow writer, and it’s really hard to sustain/build an audience in self-publishing without frequent releases. It’s a supplemental option for me, not a primary one.)

Milla Vane is another experiment for me. I actually picked out the name and bought the website a few years ago, because I knew the Guardian series was coming to an end and I needed to think about what I would be doing post-Guardians. I tossed a couple of different ideas to my agent and editor that had been kind of sitting on the back burner in my head for a while — mostly pretty safe options, like some contemporary romantic suspense and paranormal suspense. Those still interest me and I’d like to write them at some point, but the one that really, really, really grabbed me by the throat was a dark fantasy series about barbarians. Like Conan. Or the Beastmaster.

I know. I know.

So last spring I kind of chatted with my editor about it, and we both agreed we weren’t really sure of the market for something like that — and even if we did, we’d probably want to use a different pen name, because there are certain expectations that come with a Meljean Brook story, and I planned to have way, WAY more beheadings and a rougher edge to the sex and romance than my established readers were probably expecting. So the different name would have to serve as a warning, I guess.

But we put it aside. And then I had the awesome opportunity of writing a Red Sonja comic book story, so I got to dabble in a barbarian story a little bit, anyway. I was still thinking of it, though, and sketching out all of the worldbuilding and everything on the side, and planning to maybe self-publish a story or two in the next year, when I wasn’t so behind on other work and deadlines, and I didn’t have any other contracts looming.

Then my editor sent me an email that was basically, “I have an anthology coming up — do you want to try the barbarians?”

And I was like, “OH MY GOD, YES.”

So Milla Vane is writing dark barbarian fantasy. I’m going to call it “Barbarian heroes who can only dream that their dicks are as big as the heroines’ mighty swords.”

“Does Missy have any writing aspirations?”

MeljeanBrook1-200pxI think that Milla Vane *is* Missy, in a way.

The thing about discovering and reading romance that still sticks to me is how very visceral it all felt at the beginning. And maybe that’s because I was eight years old, and had no idea what those hard thighs really were, but even into my teenage years it seemed that my gut was always twisting and my heart was always being ripped out.

It all felt very raw. Every emotion, every story. And although I probably remember it that way through a selective filter — the stories that didn’t rip me apart didn’t make much of an impression, so I simply don’t remember them as well — that’s something I really want to explore with Milla Vane. Why did Johanna Lindsey’s work (not all of it, but especially the late 80s/90s stuff) work for me like it did? What is it about HPs that *still* get to me, even though I know what a terrible asshole the hero is? And why can I tolerate that in a HP but not a contemporary single title?

So there’s something about that very raw aspect that really appeals to me and I want to play with it some, feeling it all out. It might be that I end up crossing lines all over the place, and it goes beyond raw into horrible and uncomfortable. Even if it does, I don’t mind dwelling in that place for a while.

And now for our Giveaway


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