Of Silk and Steam
I adore steampunk. The combination of historicals and paranormal elements and Jules Verne-esque science fiction is just so much fun. I’ve read a couple of Bec McMaster books before and really enjoyed the setting and the characters, and was hoping for another homerun with this one. Sadly, I was disappointed from just about the beginning.
Mina (Lady Aramina Duvall) is one of the seven dukes (well, six dukes and one duchess) who, alongside the queen and prince consort, basically run England in this alternate universe 1880s London. Mina is smart, strong, a great fencer, and a vampire. Well, a blue blood, which is basically the same thing. For those who have not read previous books in this series, blue bloods are those who have been infected by a virus that makes the host stronger and faster, and causes intense blood cravings. After a while, those cravings become all-consuming, the aversion to sunlight begins, and the blue blood devolves into a vampire, stark raving mad. Mina, however, is still completely in control of herself, to the point of obsession. Leo Barrons is positively fascinated with her.
Mina, however, believes that Leo and his father caused her father’s death, and has sworn revenge. On top of that, she’s busy with her best friend, the battered-wife queen, and the rebellion, so she certainly doesn’t have time for a romance. She is determined to keep her passions and reactions completely under control, smothering any and all feelings that crop up. Leo just wants to get under the ice queen exterior.
Mina’s control issues quickly frustrated me almost to the point of anger, and then Leo’s reaction (paraphrased, “I know you want it, I just have to push past your resistance!”), while common for alpha heros, quickly turned quasi-rapey for me. For example, early on in the book, Leo helps Mina out of a dangerous situation, and has an incredibly incriminating letter of Mina’s that she wants back. In exchange for the rescue, he gets a kiss. In exchange for the letter, he…gets to look at Mina’s naked breasts. When she obviously, and loudly, objects, he basically responds with an “oh well” and she feels forced to acquiesce, both for her safety and for someone else she cares about. Dubious consent issues, ahoy! Nothing says love like “show me your boobs, or else!”
With a romance novel, you want the hero and want to be the heroine, right? Neither worked for me here.
The political intrigue is by far the most interesting part of the book. There are layers upon layers of corruption, rebellion, and conspiracy going on here, with the prince consort and the queen at the center of the mess. The secondary characters in this rebellion were wonderful, and the threads weaving it all together worked perfectly. Of course, the secondary characters were pretty much all the main couples from the previous books, and the rebellion storyline is something played with throughout. It felt, in some ways, like an overall wrap-up. But, that being said, it worked well, and the ending is by far the strongest part of the book.
So, to sum up, great plot, not-so-great characters. Read it if you enjoy the series. For me, it’s not a keeper.