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 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-
i picked up this book on sale as well because I was not willing to try this author otherwise. I think there is a lot of potential in the world but there are a lot of questions I have aout how things actually worked. The romance between the main characters was to me, the weakest part of the storyline. Especially the rapid progression from lust to love.
I think the rest of the story was more interesting than the romance lot. There were glimmers of some interesting female characters and I loved the family dynamics. I think there were definitely some interesting points about how you survive after the death of a parent and how these bonds are strained.
Your review gives me hope! I love science fiction romance and steampunk. Unfortunately, I haven’t found many book that satisfy both the SF aspects and the romance aspects. The Iron Duke was wonderful, and I did enjoy the sequels as well, although the world building was less prominent (something some readers were very happy about). It seems a lot of SFR and steampunk romances being published these days border on erotica, and while that’s fine, it isn’t what I’m looking for. I want a more solid storyline and romance and not an excuse for lots of sex scenes. Of course, some of the best science fiction books with romance in my opinion are two by Lois McMaster Bujold as part of her Vorkosigan series: Shards of Honor and A Civil Campaign.
I bought Kiss of Steel during the sale, too. I’m looking forward to reading it.
I’m in the middle of this book right now :) I’m enjoying it quite a bit thus far. While not exactly comparable to Meljean’s offerings, I am really liking the story and characters and would be interested in reading more as the series goes along.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Enough to ignore any quibbles and I’m looking forward to #2. I’ve been reading romance since 1976 and in the last 15 years I find it harder to find books that hold my attention.
I just finished this book and while I enjoyed it for the most part I was also frustrated by some aspects. I was confused by the sisters’ relationship as I got the idea towards the beginning that things were extremely strained and tense between them, to the point where something very hurtful was said by the younger sister to Honoria, but not long after that they seemed to be the best of friends. Also I was confused by Honoria’s reluctance to do, what ultimately, was the only thing that could be done for her brother and which Blade did eventually do. (Trying not reveal spoilers bere) That poor boy suffered needlessly in my opinion. I guess it just bugged me.
And last of all, once again the art department screws up the cover. The hero does not have dark hair and I’m pretty sure the heroine would not be caught dead I’m that getup. ;0)
P.S. Is it just me or am I the only one fascinated with the Prince consort?
@Shelley – I think his hair darkens as his viral load drops, maybe. My gripe would be that the cover makes her look a whole lot more actiony than she is. Also, I thought Honoria procrastinated because 1. Hoping for miracle cure and 2. Needed someone powerful like Blade to finish it. I was interested in a lot of the secondary characters, which isn’t a bad thing for a series.
@Anne V: That could be it even though I don’t recall anyone saying anything of much substance until the excerpt from the next book. And you’re right, if she was so damn smart (smart enough to decode her father’s diary) why hadn’t she retrieved these before then? I thought I would like her a lot more than I ended up doing. There is a free story on the author’s website telling Esme and Rip’s story. Looks promising.
@Shelley: oh – I didn’t read the excerpt. I was basing that entirely on the repeated mention of vampires have some sort of albinism that gets more acute with viral load increase, so if his viral load was dropping maybe he was reverting to normal coloration. also, I am a big geek and I frequently extrapolate lots of something from nothing at all. So – yeah.
@Anne V: Like a school boy, I keep giggling to myself whenever you guys say “viral load.”
@Anne V: Yes, I do remember the discussions/narration regarding the loss of color but I’m fairly certain that even though other observations were made regarding his changes, nothing was said, at least not too much in depth, about his hair color.
A small aside – I didn’t think near enough time was dedicated to her father’s situation at all. Just my 2 cents worth.
@Jane: That’s just freakin’ funny! *snort*
I thoroughly enjoyed this book- it’s officially the book that got me out of my reading slump. I would give it a higher rating than B-. For me it was easily a B+/A- as it never bored me and I liked the hero and the heroine. I didn’t have the problems with her thatsome of the other commenters did- I thought she was intelligent and rational and I felt her reluctance to trust a “man” she met so recently was very realistic. It didn’t bother me that everything wasn’t wrapped up in a bow and explained at the end (world building wise). It’s obviously the kick off to a series of books set in this world and my appetite has already been whetted for the next one. I liked the author’s style very much and was disappointed she had no backlist to read during the wait for the next in this series. There are definite similarities to Meljean Brook’s “Iron Seas” books but I don’t think “Kiss Of Steel” suffered by comparison. For whatever reason this book kept my interest after Milan’s “Duchess War” among others failed to hold it beyond the first couple of chapters.
I bought this book during deal but it has vampires. not just once off scenes, either.
Only one comment here explicitly mentions that there are vampires in the book and I missed it! And I read the bloodrites aspect a bit too clinically (given that vaccines were mentioned).
Have I got the steampunk genre entirely all wrong? Is steampunk the new term for vampires?
Jane – i love your website.
but if there are any unearthly blood sucking things (or other gory stuff) in books reviewed here is there some scope to make this more obvious to us squeamish readers eg, a vampire alert or something like a trigger warning? (just an idle request).
@kbum: True steampunk has no vampires, werewolves or any magic. I’m sorry I didn’t mark the vampire part of the book. I’ll definitely do that in the future.
awesome, thanks ! my threshold for reading blood-related themes is surprisingly low (am i the only one?) This book certainly had a vampire theme, especially in the second half.
While the Iron Duke also had a tainted blood element it was an easier read (for me) – it carried off the effects of the nanobots in blood because (I dimly recall ) the nanobots were mostly transfered by needles ( &/or through breeding ? defintiely not by biting) and the transfers were also mostly conveyed to the reader as past events. Whereas in the Kiss of Steel, the various transfers of blood unfolded during the story, and was more graphic in the descriptions. The reader had a front row seat; I felt like I was watching someone mutilate themsevles/others or that I had walked into an abbottoir. Given my squeamishness, all of this got in the way of the story.
The ideas were interesting, though, with that virus expression -vampire link ( trying to avoid a spoiler). I gather Will’s story will be told in the next story. Werewolves I can mostly handle (but not the blood and intestines bits) – I’d like to read more about the microbiological basis of werewolves.