Heart of Brass
I’ll admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up Heart of Brass. I knew it was steampunk and that it was first in a new series, but beyond that I didn’t have any real expectations. As it turns out, I ended up getting good suspense, a romance that I liked, and interesting leads. The secondary characters could have been fleshed out more, and the plot pacing felt a bit off on occasion, but this definitely seems like a series worth following.
If you like reunion plots, you’ll want to check out this book. Arden Gray has kept alive the hope of her husband’s return for seven years. Her husband Lucas, Earl of Huntley, served as a Warden of the Realm (W.O.R.), and disappeared on a top secret mission. Since his disappearance, Arden has turned her own considerable skill with machines to the service of her country and has herself become a Warden. She also uses one of her inventions to consult with Scotland Yard. Arden’s invention, a set of glasses placed on a victim and on herself, allows her to see the last few moments of a murder victim’s life – something invaluable to investigators.
While working on a gruesome murder with a Scotland Yard inspector, Arden sees a man she believes to be Lucas. However, the man Arden sees appears to be hunting her rather than trying to find his way home. Unknown to Arden, Lucas’ years of disappearance changed him. He fell into the hands of something far more sinister than W.O.R., and they have used their technology to alter his mind. However, readers see early on that some fragmentary bits of memory survive, and Lucas must struggle between these pieces of his past and the controls exerted over him in order to determine who he really is and what Arden means to him.
Lucas’ reappearance and his struggles obviously create some real tension between him and Arden, and the mixed emotions both of them face feel very real. Lucas has been told things about Arden, but he also remembers just enough to know that this woman means something incredible to him. Arden has kept hope alive that Lucas would come back, even going so far as to fight Lucas’ brother who seeks to declare him dead. Seeing Lucas and yet knowing he has been changed leaves her feeling conflicted as they have something that will not be the most easy reunion.
In addition to a romance filled with tension and high emotion, this book has plenty of outside plot action. Arden, Lucas, and the other Wardens must figure out what has happened to Lucas as well as who might be responsible. Not surprisingly, there are questions as to Lucas’ loyalty and abilities given what has happened to him. And, on top of the spy intrigue, Arden also must help Scotland Yard find a killer. Even though this sounds like a lot of plot to manage, the author basically does a good job of weaving these strands together.
My main issue with the book centered on the characterizations and worldbuilding. On the one hand, the basic outlines of the Wardens’ world make sense and I could even picture some of Arden’s fantastic inventions in use. I could easily see the setting as some kind of alternate universe in the late Victorian era. However, the spy intrigue and other parts of the plot rely heavily on a cast of secondary characters. With the exception of Lucas’ best friend Alastair, most of these characters never really sprang to life. The shadowy organization which captured Lucas never really felt real, and it’s hard to determine who they are and what they aim to do aside from hating the Wardens. In addition, the pacing of the story felt a little rushed in parts of the second half, though not so much as to completely pull me out of the story.
Though it has its flaws, the strengths of Heart of Brass definitely outweigh them. The plot reels the reader in early, and the leads were both unusual and appealing. Because of this, I enjoyed the book, and I plan to keep following the series.