Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook (Iron Seas #2)

Return to the gritty, alluring world of steampunk with the New York Times bestselling author ofThe Iron Duke.

Growing up in the dangerous world of the Iron Seas, the mercenary captain of the airship Lady Corsair, Yasmeen, has learned to keep her heart hard as steel. Ruthless and cunning, her only loyalty is to her ship and her crew-until one man comes along and changes everything…Treasurehunter Archimedes Fox isn’t interested in the Lady Corsair-just the captain and the valuable da Vinci sketch she stole from him. When it attracts a dangerous amount of attention, Yasmeen and Archimedes journey to Horde-occupied Morocco- and straight into enemy hands.

I’m not going to lie, I was somewhat wary of picking up the second book in this series given that I REALLY disliked the hero in The Iron Duke. However, I had been a fan of Yasmeen and I was madly in love with the world the author had created, so I read the second book anyway.

As before, the world building is excellent. It says something that my absolute favorite steampunk world to date is featured in romance novels. This isn’t a knock against them, but is related to a fact I wish more people knew – romance novels, just like any other type of book, can be well written and have excellent world building to rival that of any SF novel. I love the way all of the technology – the nanoagents that control people’s emotions and augment different physical attributes, the mechanical body parts, the various types of machines and weapons – all have an enormous impact on every single aspect of life and of history. In terms of peoples and nations, 19th century Earth looks almost nothing like ours many of the national/ethnic boundaries are drawn very differently. (That being said, I really wish these books included a map of which land is governed or controlled by which people). I also love how all this change includes differences in how government, warfare, gender, race, ethnicity, and religion work and are dealt with in this world. All of the steampunk elements are an intrinsic part of the world; nothing feels extra and all of the consequences arising from the technology are accounted for. In this particular book, more of the history of the New World (the Americas) is revealed and a whole host of nations ties or a stake in the conflict.

Yasmeen is one of the best heroines in a romance novel I’ve read, and that is because she is the ultimate badass. She commands people like no one’s business, has a deadly sense of humor, and has no problem with crossing the line and killing people if need be, especially if they deserve to die. Yasmeen is incredibly ballsy and does what she wants to do because she wants to do it. She’s an extremely powerful person for whom her crew and friends have the greatest respect, but in order for her to maintain that power as a the Corsair’s captain, particularly given that she’s female, she can show no quarter or allow anyone to do anything to her that would give the impression that she’s weak. That was one of my favorite parts about the relationship between her and Archimedes. He falls in love with her because he loves how powerful she is, and loves her most when she is being completely herself – in other words, scary and dangerous as hell. As I was reading, I couldn’t stop comparing the two of them to Zoe and Wash from Firefly (and imagining Gina Torres playing Yasmeen in the theoretical movie version of this book) – both Yasmeen and Zoe are more of the alphas of their respective relationships while Archimedes and Wash are the betas who have their own awesome, useful skills.

However, I was not entirely sold on how the relationship gets its start – Archimedes tells Yasmeen that he deliberately intends to fall in love with her because he’s never been in love before and since she’s been in his thoughts for so long, he figures she’s the one for him. Sorry, but what? I can understand him admiring her and wanting to be closer to her as an impetus for his feelings, but the deliberate decision to fall in love with Yasmeen, even as she warns him it’ll be one-sided and he’ll end up with a shattered heart, is something that doesn’t make sense to me. It felt like for a good half of the book, he was attracted to her more because she was a challenge to him than because he legitimately cared about her. This is somewhat connected to why I didn’t like Archimedes as much as Yasmeen. He’s too much of a daredevil, taking risks and pushing buttons, particularly Yasmeen’s, just to see what happens. While Yasmeen’s character makes total sense in the context of her past, Archimedes daredevilry was less grounded.

Also, the plot was at times really hard to follow. While I appreciated that the plot drew in all sorts of different territories, kingdoms, and factions of people, it got confusing really quickly. There were many points where a person would reveal that they were working for the other side all along, and eventually I lost track of who was allied with whom and which people were trying to achieve what outcome. Also, the ending was really rushed and although all the good guys vanquished their enemies and all that, there wasn’t much satisfaction or release of tension in the outcome.

Although I don’t think it’s the case, I really wish this series had an overarching story, because this world is practically begging for a grand scheme of epic proportions. However, I’m OK with the books being more or less standalones. And this time I liked both the world building and the romance. Besides my doubts on how it all got started, Yasmeen and Archimedes form a great relationship at the end, and it’s very clear it’s one of mutual respect and love. Hopefully the books will continue to explore new and different places within the world and the couples will be just as good.

Disclosure – library

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