The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
Series: Iron Seas #1
Published by Berkley/NAL Publishing Group on October 1, 2010
Genres: Erotic, Romance, Steampunk
First in an all-new series where seductive danger and steampunk adventure abound in the gritty world of the Iron Seas.
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.
There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad in this book. Let me start with the good:
The story/world building is fantastic. The book is set in an alternate Victorian England where the Mongolians (known as the Horde) have slipped nanobots into all of the tea and sugar – infecting the whole of England (with the exception of those who had enough money to run away to America). Once infected the Horde controlled everyone via radio towers. They used them sort of like slaves, regularly creating something called a Frenzy which made them have uncontrolled sex with anyone nearby. These Frenzies allowed them to create more people to infect with nanoagents. This continues for over 200 years (IIRC).
Into this situation walks the Iron Duke. For reasons unexplained his nanoagents are different and for this reason he is able to get close to the tower that controls the nanoagents and destroy it. Now the people are trying to gather themselves and learn to control themselves (emotionally as well as physically) again – as the nanoagents controlled their emotions, too.
The story follows Mina – the daughter of a countess who was raped by a Horde member during a Frenzy and who is hated for her bi-racial attributes – and the Iron Duke as they race back and forth to discover why (and how) the current captain of the Iron Duke’s former ship was murdered.
The plot was interesting and the story was rather fast paced in places.
The characters were…meh. I didn’t care a lot, to be honest. I think what made me feel that way is the relationship between the Iron Duke and Mina – which was uncomfortable and somewhat off-putting. Rhys decided he wanted to have Mina and was going to have her – if she wanted it or not. In keeping with this theme…Rhys attempts to coerce/force himself on Mina one evening. He didn’t (physically) hurt her – but his actions (having sex with her when she clearly says “no” with (I guess) the understanding that she will be swept away by his wonderful love making that all will be ok. I guess). Mina and Rhys entire relationship is structured in this way: She says, “No. I don’t want you.” He says, “Yes, I will have you even though you say no and don’t want me.”
Now, add in the whole “rape” background thing going on…and you have a book with a rather rape-y atmosphere. Both Rhys and Mina have to deal with sexual trauma in their pasts, Mina’s mother’s rape during a Frenzy (which caused her to blind herself when she see’s her daughter’s face) and the whole rape-tastic idea of the Frenzy to begin with.
That is what dropped the rating for me from 4 stars to 3. The way things turned out I think the author might have done better with removing the majority of the awkward relationship scenes (and the rape issues) and making this just a straight Steampunk novel rather than a “paranormal romance.” The romance was lacking.