Desert Isle Keeper
The Kraken King
The Iron Duke is #80 on AAR’s Top 100 Romances (2013), but in my opinion, The Kraken King, the fourth book in the series is even better.
Zenobia Fox is the author of the novels starring her adventurer brother Archimedes, but these books have made her a ransom target for people seeking to extort the treasures and riches her brother has uncovered. She escapes an airship hijack (her fourth kidnapping attempt of the year) and finds herself rescued by Ariq, the governor of Australia’s Krakentown, the man also often called The Kraken King. This steampunk-swashbuckling-road-trip-romance-adventure saga crosses oceans and continents and never stumbles in building either the worlds or the relationships. I loved it and highly recommend it.
What’s to love about the plot? Well, The Kraken King was originally published as an eight-part serial, so each eighth of the book has a mini plot arc running alongside the main plot arcs (Zenobia and Ariq’s romance, and Krakentown and the assault it is undergoing by mysterious marauders who may or may not also have been after Zenobia). This means nonstop forward momentum in the book. Sometimes the momentum comes from action sequences like airship explosions; sometimes it comes from the deceptive quiet of suspense. Particularly tense is the disquieting Red City and its quarantine zone, where Ariq and Zenobia await an audience with the Empress of Nippon while under constant surveillance by clockwork devices called the Empress’s Eyes.
I loved that the book took us to Australia and the Pacific, which are unusual settings for the typical Europe-focused steampunk novel. Some readers may notice possible racial undertones of the isolationist Nippon and the Golden (Mongol) Horde, which overran this alternate Europe and infected them with nanobots. However, the ties to history, the political power plays within and among the countries (no monolith here) plus the fact that there are well-developed individual Asian characters including Ariq, made this story work for me.
And Ariq! I will admit to a weakness for his bulky, muscular body type, but beyond that, I loved that this powerful leader-of-men was warm and open in his emotional life. His concerns about being with Zenobia are political (is she connected to his enemies back in the Golden Empire?) rather than ‘my mommy never loved me’ or ‘my ex was a bitch’. I liked Zenobia, too, with her quick, clever wit, her practical streak, and her emotional vulnerability around around being pursued or desired for her brother’s money. Her bodyguards, Mara and Cooper, are terrific secondary characters.
The Kraken King is part of The Iron Seas series. I recommend reading The Iron Duke first (this story contains spoilers for it, plus The Iron Duke is terrific and sets up the world effectively). There are spoilers here for the second Iron Seas book, Heart of Steel, but I disliked that book so I’d say just read a plot summary. Although each chapter of The Kraken King can still be found separately on Amazon, the edition we have linked to here is the complete collection of all eight chapters, and is cheaper and less hassle than buying all eight at $1.99 apiece.
If you like swashbuckling, action, adventure, intrigue, plot twists, true love, and steam in the airship’s cabin as well as the balloon, this is your book.