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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 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

Best regards,


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Christine
    May 01, 2013 @ 14:24:19

    I enjoy this series far more than you do it seems. Kiss Of Steel was a great surprise for me (picked it up from DA site on a daily deals link) and I absolutely loved it. I think McMaster’s world building is great and I enjoy the fact that she focused on London for the first two books rather than hopping around the globe. I was entertained by the construct of the Blue Bloods (literally) becoming the ruling class and how she used historical events in the world building history (the guillotine and reign of terror was France’s way of killing the vampire-like elites in their country, Cullodden as genocide of the Verwulfen ) I was very excited to get an arc of Heart Of Iron because I was looking forward to Lena and Will’s story and had enjoyed the free novella Bec McMaster had posted on her blog which takes place between these stories. I liked Lena as a character and felt for her situation. She wasn’t clever enough for her father to be interested in her as he was in Honoria, who served as his assistant, and was largely treated as ornamental by the family. Not every heroine has to be a genius or a ninja etc. Lena’s frustration at her helplessness and limited choices was very sympathetic. I liked that the heroine of the first book, her sister, was not glorified throughout this one.( In so many books of a series the friends of the first hero just sit around mentally rhapsodizing about the perfection of their friend’s wife and how spectacular she is.) Will’s problem/s with Honoria carried over into this book as did Lena’s. Honoria’s faults of always thinking she knows best for everyone and overbearing ways are still affecting the people around her for good and bad. (Honoria is curing Blade, but at what cost?) Lena’s relationship with her was more fleshed out as well and things seen from only Honoria’s side previously are shown in a different light.

    I disagree that Lena was spying on her family. Unless I missed something, she was just a go between, passing notes to her former employer- who not only aided and comforted her after a brutal attack but seems to have been the only one who noticed and nurtured her talent for clockworks and automaton making.

    Regarding the treaty with the Scandinavian Verwulfen, it’s expressed in the books that England is thin on allies. France and Spain plus New Catalan have executed all the Blue Bloods and Verwulfen, as well as many others not infected in their new version of the inquisition and even Blade mentions in the first book he is fearful of this spreading to their shores despite his feelings for the Echelon. Will had become allies of a sort with Leo Barrons in the last book so it made sense he and his allies would make use of Will when trying to convince the Scandinavians they could accept Verwulfen. (It reminded me of that episode of Mad Men where they take the one Jewish worker at the agency from their mail room to sit on a meeting with Menken’s department store because the owners are Jewish).

  2. Joy
    May 01, 2013 @ 19:41:18

    This review is really confusing. Who is Lydia? I thought at first maybe Lydia was a typo, but then she is mentioned again.

  3. Christine
    May 01, 2013 @ 19:58:33

    @Joy-” Lydia” is a typo/mistake -the heroine’s name is Lena, a nickname for Helena.

  4. Jane
    May 01, 2013 @ 19:59:09

    @joy my bad. Sorry.

  5. Donna Thorland
    May 02, 2013 @ 21:38:41

    I enjoyed Kiss of Steel, so I’ve been looking forward to this one. Overstuffed-pastry-full-of-Scandinavian-werewolves, here I come!

  6. Randy Nelson
    May 03, 2013 @ 04:15:10

    Heart of Iron is out next May and features Lena, who is Honoria’s younger sister and Will, Blade’s verwulfen lieutenant. Their story was so much fun to write. There’s nothing better than taking a taciturn, wounded hero and setting him up with a flirtatious young woman who refuses to let him push her away. Add in a plot to destroy the Prince Consort, and well… There’s a lot of derring-do in this book. Thanks so much for having me! I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into my steam-fuelled world!

  7. JLC
    May 25, 2013 @ 19:28:07

    Yeah, I’m with you Christine. I too love McMaster’s London Steampunk series. I read about 6-8 books a week, & I can easily say that “Heart Of Iron” is my favorite book of 2013. Since I work in the editing & publishing world, that’s saying a lot on how impressed I am with this book.

    With all the Twilight Bella-copycatted heroines out there, I don’t get how anybody could call this heroine “frustrating”. For all the reasons Christine mentioned, I found her a breath of fresh air!

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