Review: The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: October 2010
FTC: Purchased myself

The Blurb:
After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power — and fear — of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.
Mina can’t afford his interest, however. Horde blood runs through her veins, and despite the nanotech enhancing her body, she barely scratches out a living in London society. Becoming Rhys’s lover would destroy both her career and her family, yet the investigation prevents her from avoiding him…and the Iron Duke’s ruthless pursuit makes him difficult to resist.
But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans — and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.
This one is for the holdouts. Readers, like me, who view overly hyped  books with skepticism.  The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook deserves every bit of praise it's received and then some. This is one of those books that will shape the publishing world for years to come.

I am a steampunk virgin. Before this book, I'd never read a steampunk novel. In fact, steampunk fans have made me a little...hesitant in the past because they seemed so proprietary over what makes a book steampunk versus gaslight.  And my only experience with the steampunk aesthetic was through some spectacularly awful movies. But with several people familiar with the genre applying the steampunk label to this, I felt I had to give it a shot.

I was worried that this would be a little too weird for me. I read historical, contemporary, paranormal, and a little urban fantasy, but I knew going in that this book was strange brew of sci fi and historical romance.  And it is unusual. But I found that the world building did not take away from the central focus of the story: the characters.

Mina is a mixed race Detective Inspector called to the house of the Iron Duke, Rhys Trahaearn, to investigate a body on his estate. What follows is a worldwide adventure that takes Mina from  crowded, soot filled London to the open seas and back. Her emotional journey is just as intense, as she struggles with an unwanted attraction to Rhys and the knowledge that anything permanent between the two is just not possible for several, concrete reasons.

A side note: this book is a perfect example of how something in a genre that celebrates Happily Ever After can still have depth, still deal with some serious issues, and still be true to the conventions of the genre. Racism, cruelty, and man's inhumanity to man are all elements in this book. But despite the seriousness of setting and characters, there are flashes of humor and plenty of adventure.

If you can't stand anything paranormal, fantasy or scifi, this book probably isn't for you.  Otherwise, I urge you to give this book a try.

My Grade: A

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