Heart of Steel

Meljean Brook
November 2011, Steampunk (19th Century Europe and Africa)
Berkley, $15.00, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425243303
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Hot

A world controlled by the Horde. Nanoagents. Clockwork men. Europe over run with zombies. We can be only one place: The Iron Seas. This outstanding steam punk series combines dangerous women, adventurous men, endless action, and scintillating romance. Lovers of this genre really can't do better than to pick up one of these tales.

This novel starts off with a condolence call. Yasmeen, captain of one of the most renowned mercenary ships around, is visiting the sister of one Archimedes Fox. Yasmeen was forced to push him off her airship when he attempted a coup, but she is no thief, and Archimedes left behind quite the treasure. Negotiating a fee turns out to be rather difficult though, since what awaits Yasmeen is a trap. As she escapes and searches for information as to just why a trap was waiting for her she is taken down by a dead man. None other than that charming liar whom she has just declared dead.

Archimedes Fox knows Yasmeen has a soft spot for him. She could have shot him outright when he tried to take the Lady Corsair. Instead, she threw him into a canal surrounded by zombies. Maybe not an ideal vacation spot, but given the adventures Archimedes had survived before, darn good odds for living to see another day. Now the two are together again, on an adventure more dangerous than either has ever undertaken before. Much will be sacrificed. Many will die. But for people used to dangling off scary edges, these are the best possible conditions to fall in love.

Unlike the last novel in this series, which was a mystery with lots of action, this is a straight out action adventure tale. Archimedes and Yasmeen travel to lots of different exotic locales as they hunt for sketches by the master, da Vinci, and work hard at staying one step ahead of their enemies. Archimedes owes a great deal of money to Temur Agha, a man with nearly unlimited resources, and he is determined to get the monkey of debt off his back once and for all. Yasmeen requires both cash and vengeance and knows that Archimedes is her best bet to obtain both. Yet what started out strictly as a partnership on her part is slowly changing. Her luck with men has been quite abysmal in the past, but can this seemingly carefree adventurer actually be the loyal equal she has longed for in the darkest part of her heart?

Archimedes is a truly great character. While he has all sorts of alpha characteristics, he doesn't use them on Yasmeen. He knows she needs to maintain discipline on her ship by being top dog, and he lets her have that position. He trusts her as a partner and is delighted at her survival abilities. It's likely that in a fight Yasmeen might best him and he is OK with that. He plans to love her, not fight her. I thought Brook hit a near perfect balance with him - he is fun, gregarious, charming, strong, bold, and brave - and yet smart enough not to constantly get into contests over who's better and stronger. I was half in love with him by the end of the novel.

Yasmeen felt a bit more like a caricature. She is Wonder Woman incarnate. We are given reasons for that, but Wonder Woman without a weakness becomes shallow, and that happened a bit here. She also had the alpha habit of labeling everything "mine" - my ship, my crew, my responsibility. She was able to share some - especially towards the end when she lets Archimedes take care of something significant for her - but it was still just as unattractive on her as it is on most alpha heroes. One thing really missing was the big change most alphas go through where the heroine reconnects them with the emotional world. Archimedes opened her heart to love, but the gut wrenching emotional scene was missing; it was done softly and slowly. I found Mina in the Iron Duke not just tough and strong but also multi-layered. To me, Yasmeen's mysteries were just secrets, not layers. This was very nearly the only flaw in the novel. Had it been in another type of story, this might have really dragged things down but here it just bumped it from perfect to great.

As mentioned before, this is a straight out adventure story and the action is almost non-stop. When they aren't on the ground searching for treasure and battling zombies (or other villainous beings) they are in the air watching for mutiny and treachery. Those who like a slow, character driven story might wish to look elsewhere. It reminded me a good deal of Pirates of the Caribbean the original (and most brilliant) in that it captured that films sense of fun, adventure, and rollicking good time.

In the last few novels and short stories in this world I felt occassionaly overwhelmed by the steam punk elements. In this one I didn't find that to be the case. The technology is there, and it is interesting, but it fits far more naturally into the story in my opinion.

I would recommend this to anyone looking for a great tale.

-- Maggie Boyd

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