Reviewx2: Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
Because this book is so awesome, it needs more than one review.
Dear Ms. Brook,
I’ve greatly enjoyed many of your books, yet for some reason I’ve never felt compelled to review one until now. While that may be perceived as rude, it turns out that other reviewers at DA (or other blogs) have gotten to the review faster than me, making me feel that adding my voice to the chorus would be redundant. However, with The Iron Duke, I feel compelled to add my two cents, redundancy notwithstanding. Here There Be Monsters was simply an appetizer to an intricate, frightening and dark Steampunk world that I want to revisit over and over. However, it is the depth and complexity of the characters that breath life into The Iron Duke and make it so enjoyable.
The Horde (which are clearly from some part of Asia, and I’m guessing is a more terrifying version of the Golden Horde) had ruled England for over 200 years by controlling the citizens through radio frequencies that activated nanoagents, or microscopic bugs, in their bodies. Unbeknownst to the English citizens, they were ingesting the bugs with their sugar which had been bought on the cheap from the Horde. To understand what ‘control’ means in simple terms, if the Horde decided it wanted the entire country to stop on a dime, it would send out a radio signal and ones body would freeze in place. If it was time to make more babies, the Horde would send out a signal and ones body would be compelled to fuck the next closest body (known as a Frenzy). The Horde suppressed everyones emotions and held control over everyones actions, making the English citizens bodies in to somthing like a simple machine. Worse, the citizens were aware of all of their actions and unable to control them.
Nine years prior to the start of the book, pirate captain Rhys Trahearn single-handedly overthrew Horde rule, making him a national hero and earning him the title of the Duke of Anglesey, better known as the Iron Duke. Trahearn built a merchant-marine empire with the influence of his name, and has a tendency to take possession of everything he desires, earning him more than one enemy along the way. When a dead body is literally dropped on his doorstep and Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth arrives to investigate, Trahearn realizes he doesn’t have everything he’s ever wanted.
Mina is the daughter of an impoverished but titled family, and has worked her way through prejudice and sexism to achieve her rank in the police department. Mina was conceived during a Frenzy that the Horde initiated during a state function. Mina’s parents, along with all the peers of the realm were in attendance at the function, and Mina’s Horde heritage is apparent to anyone that looks at her. It would have been simple to have Mina constantly self-sacrificing and hoping for acceptance within her own family, but Ms. Brook has taken the more complex and interesting route: the Wentworth’s all love each other, and protect and defend each other with every fiber of their being. The rich interaction makes Mina’s reluctance to surrender to her desire for Trahern that much more believable.
When Trahern uses his influence to take charge of the investigation, Mina refuses to allow him to railroad her. Once they discover that Trahern’s former airship (which is now a vessel in the British Navy) has been hijacked and the crew is being held for ransom, Mina will not allow the case to drop; her brother is among the crew being held. But it is more than simple piracy, there is a conspiracy that could allow the Horde back into England and Europe, and Mina and Trahern are in a race to stop it.
Mina and Rhys’ emotionally tangled and incredibly hot relationship is the absolute backbone of the book. While there were a few moments that Rhys seemed a bit wooden to me (and frankly, he remains a bit of an enigma which while frustrating, is still appealing. I am now on my second reading because of it), the absolute heat and excitement between them, even in the quiet moments, is totally compelling. And if you must know, the sexin’ is absurdly good.
The secondary characters in the book are as delightfully deep as the hero and heroine, and add to the rich narrative without having flashing “sequel” signs above their heads. Lady Yasmine Corsair, who made an appearance in Here There Be Monsters, is a mystery I’m quite desperate to learn more about. Trahern’s second in command, Scarsdale, is a bright spot of comic relief even as he is miserable. I cannot believe I have to wait any amount of time for the next in the series. A