REVIEW: Hearts of Steel by Elizabeth Camden
His steel empire has catapulted him to the top of the world, but loving her could cost him everything.
Maggie Molinaro survived a hardscrabble childhood in the downtrodden streets of Manhattan to become a successful businesswoman. After a decade of sacrifice, she now owns a celebrated ice cream company. But when she offends a corrupt banker, she unwittingly sets off a series of calamities that threaten to destroy her life’s work.
Liam Blackstone is a charismatic steel magnate committed to overhauling factory conditions for the steelworkers of America. Standing in his way is the same villain determined to ruin Maggie. What begins as a practical alliance to defeat a common enemy soon evolves into a romance between two wounded people determined to beat the odds.
A spiraling circle of treachery grows increasingly dangerous as Liam and Maggie risk their lives and fortunes for the good of the city. It will require all their wit and ingenuity to protect everything–and everyone–they hold dear.
Dear Ms. Camden,
Having enjoyed the previous book in this series, “Written on the Wind,” I just sort of skimmed the blurb before asking to read this book. Well, actually I think I asked first then read the blurb. But regardless, this is a great finish to this trilogy and one that readers can jump in at any point and read.
One thing I’ve loved about your books is that the women are often running their own companies or are holding jobs. In the last book, the heroine was a bank analyst. Here Maggie and her Uncle have built their own thriving ice cream business from the ground up. It’s Maggie who has pushed to keep expanding, to risk what they’ve got in order to grow and be the best. She hasn’t done this just on a wish and a prayer but after studying their situation, their income, their competitors, and their location among other things. She works hard, down to learning how to fix and maintain a lot of their equipment. When a wealthy man won’t pay his bill, Maggie isn’t going to just let it go.
Liam Blackstone is a fish out of water. Born to wealth, he was kidnapped at age three and raised in the working class. Now restored to his family and heritage, he’s taken a position on the board of US Steel which even he acknowledges he’s under qualified for. He’s used his position and leverage to help the unions and the working men rather than the stockholders, something which hasn’t gained him any friends in the boardroom. When he realizes that his arch nemesis is trying to stiff a working woman out of $95 ($2600-3600 today), Liam pressures the man to pay his debt and then uses this as a means to counter Charles Morse’s efforts to get Liam off the board.
But Morse isn’t going to put up with anyone standing in his way. He’s crushed opponents before using bribes and intimidation. Do Liam and Maggie have what it takes to stare him down and get justice for the little guys?
One thing I really like in this book as compared to the last one is that Liam and Maggie spend little time apart. When they meet, they both feel a little warm glow and “maybe, possibly” there could be more but there’s no jump into any else just yet.
When their relationship does progress a bit, they’re still in early stages when realistic and potentially devastating conflict reasons arise that pull them back from anything more – she has unintentionally riled a powerful man who can’t have his skin-flint and unethical ways exposed to his fellow bankers. If Liam helps her, he risks his place on the board of directors and his ability to fight for the rights of the 160,000 steel workers employed by US Steel. This is taking place around 1902 so labor unions and securing decent treatment for workers in companies owned by robber barons are things being hashed out and fought for (in some cases, literally). If you’ve forgotten your US history or never had lessons in such, google robber barons, monopolies, muckrakers, Tammany Hall, and antitrust legislation.
In addition, Liam has worked himself ragged to rabble rouse for the rights of men with whom he used to work before he found out who he is. With a peptic ulcer that is eating him up, if he pushes himself too hard physically or mentally, he could collapse or the ulcer could rupture potentially leading to his death. He’s also been hurt recently by a woman who was feigning love for him because of his newly-discovered wealth and position and who cruelly mocked him to her friends. This isn’t something that happened years ago and which Liam just can’t let go – it’s still a raw betrayal. When he overhears something from Maggie that sounds very similar, it hits Liam hard. Yet instead of lashing out and cutting all ties, he pulls Maggie aside and tells her, “I’ll keep helping you and the other underdogs but there’s no ‘you and me’ anymore.”
Maggie’s reasons for being a penny pincher – which she freely acknowledges she is – are also baked into her. Her immigrant family arrived with nothing, fought to establish themselves with years of hard work, have built their business from nothing into their American Dream, and once faced losing it all. She’s known poverty – true poverty – and is determined to never go back to that. Eventually Liam rethinks his initial reaction to what he heard and admits that “there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to risk being poor.” He also knows what she’s up against when she takes on Charles Morse and admires her grit and determination.
The weapon used against the residents of NYC by this particular robber baron is ingenious and one I wouldn’t have thought of but given the time period, it’s essential. It also really happened. Watching the way it’s manipulated and how the NYPD, ship docking rights, graft and bribes are used to back it up is a lesson in political corruption and greed that, unfortunately, is still with us today. Where there is a great amount of money, there will be lawbreaking done by those elected to protect us.
Maggie and Liam both have a past “someone.” They both have to work through a bit of jealousy towards the other’s someone. Booyah for including scenes that let these jealousies gently die and prove that those past relationships are over. Liam and Maggie express to the other the fact that they’re falling in love. Liam also tells Maggie that they’ve withstood tests to their relationship, they’ve seen each other at their best and worst. They not only love each other but also respect each other.
At times during the story, I got impatient with Liam’s temper. His modus operandi is to go full tilt at who he sees as an enemy and there are times when pride spurs him even faster. He does pay a price for this. Eventually he also holds his tongue a tiny bit and keeps from using his fists but I wasn’t fully convinced he had changed until the epilogue. There was also a bit more religion in this book and not just watching characters practice their religion or read a Bible but also a bit of gentle reminders (mainly towards Liam) to be more a man of God and find God in his life.
The resolution of the external conflict was handled well with Liam deciding not to use certain weapons because he found them morally distasteful and also to allow his attorney to use the power of the law to enact change and attempt reform. Perhaps less satisfying than “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, Prepare to die.” but also more long lasting and, as Maggie also wants, more able to help the little guys against the greedy ones. And the underdogs are who these two, who have hearts of steel, are fighting for. B