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.
Lena 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 naïve 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