Series: The Iron Seas #1
Published by Berkley on October 5, 2010
Amazon, Audible, Audiobook, Barnes & Noble
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.
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.
I have a short list of books I’ve tagged as “Always Re-reading.” Those are the books where just looking at the cover, let alone reading them again, brings a smile to my face and gives me the warm-fuzzies. I recently re-read my all-time favorite steampunk novel and was overwhelmed by how amazing it was and now I want everyone to read this book and experience, what I think, is the best example of this genre, EVER. The Iron Duke, the first book in the Iron Seas Series, was my first and favorite foray into this genre. It is mystery and high-adventure with a poignant love story set in a extraordinary, elaborate world.
The Iron Duke, as with all steampunk, portrays an alternate history around the industrial revolution. The politics, social hierarchy, and general terms, such as bugs or Bounders, are confusing at first, but details are revealed chapter by chapter to further the understanding of the entire world. While there are mechanical automatons and giant airships, there is an aspect of the technology that is dark and frightening with definite dystopian overtones. The how and why of it are as essential as the descriptions of the devices and creatures themselves. The Iron Seas world is complex with a logical, if fantastical, history and future. In short, the Mongolian Empire doesn’t fracture in the thirteenth century, but survives to conquer most of Eurasia and Africa. The Horde is ruthless and generous, either destroying or subjugating entire countries. England has recently overthrown 200 years of Horde rule, although the scars of occupation, both literally and figuratively, run deep.
Meljean Brook takes this richly developed world and fills it with compelling characters. Mina is an everyday hero. Despite dealing with extreme prejudice at almost every turn, she is dedicated to her job as a detective inspector. Rhys is a National hero. His suicide run on the controlling tower in London ended the Horde’s reign over England. When a sinister plan threatens to steal back the hard-won freedom of the British people, and possibly the world, these two different heroes must work together to keep the Horde at bay.
With the intricate world-building and the action-packed plot, the love story could have easily been rushed or forgotten altogether. Thankfully, this is not the case. The relationship between Rhys and Mina develops naturally, from wary, reluctant allies, to passionate lovers willing to sacrifice themselves for each other.
The Iron Duke is a swashbuckling, riotous romp through a finely woven world of steam and steel. There are rabid zombies, dashing Corsair captains, daring adventurers, and fantastic beasts. It has the complex texture of a well-developed work of science fiction, with the flair and fashion of the fantasy genre. It has the societal restrictions of a Victorian novel with the breath-stealing romance of an epic love story. It is beautifully crafted and not one to be missed.
Note: There is an excellent page on Meljean Brook’s website with information on The Iron Seas Series, prequel novellas and general world information.
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