Wednesday, March 21, 2012

TBR Challenge 2012: The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Phew, I made it!! I really wasn't sure whether I would or not ^_^; Once again, I cut it a bit close... But I blame it on all the new releases that I bought earlier. They were all books I was really looking forward... and lately, I've been reading  a bit slower than I'm used to. Ah well, the most important is that I made it :) Yay!

This month's theme for the TBR challenge was "series catch-up." I'm actually up-to-date on most of my series... simply because I look forward to new releases and am very good at reading them as soon as I make their purchases :) Some series I have fallen behind, mostly because I lost interest in them. The only exception that I can think of is the Women of the Otherworld series. I'm two books behind and am waiting for Thirteen, the final book of the series, to be released because the last three books are forming a trilogy. So I put my own twist on this month's theme :) I went for a series that I have yet to start and as a result, picked up The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook.

I can actually remember how excited I was to read The Iron Duke! I love Ms Brook's Guardians series and was really looking forward to more books by her LOL. However, I couldn't find The Iron Duke at the bookstore and that burst my bubble a little... Lucky for me, I was going to the States to visit Hils and found a copy while book-shopping with Christine and Hilcia at Borders. Yep, Borders still existed then LOL. Then, when it came time to read it... I just couldn't ^_^; I picked it up several times, but never got past the first chapters... and more than a year has gone by. I was determined to have it read for this TBR challenge. So let see how it turned out for me :)

PS - Last day to vote for the Week-End's Minis!

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
published by Berkley in October 2010
After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power-and fear-of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.

But when Mina uncovers the victim's identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans-and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen, as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.
Genre: Steampunk romance
Series: The Iron Seas, Book #1

The Story: Nine years have passed since England was freed from the Horde control, courtesy of Rhys Trahaearn, a pirate and captain of the Marco's Terror, who destroyed the Horde's Tower. For his action, Rhys was granted the title of Duke of Anglesey, but is commonly called the Iron Duke.

After 200 years of occupation, England is slowly putting things back together and adapting to their new freedom. However, there is still a lot of fear and definitively resentment. It means life is not easy for a woman like Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth whose features are definitively of Mongols descent and therefore, a reminder of the Horde. The daughter of the Earl of Rockingham knows that marriage is not in her future and as a result, devotes herself to her work.

When a body is literally dropped on the Iron Duke's doorstep, it brings Mina in contact with Rhys. Together, they discover the identity of the body: Roger Haynes, the new captain of Marco's Terror. Further investigation indicates Haynes was supposed to gather information about a Horde weapon, which could neutralize everyone infected with nanoagents, being auctioned and report back. Determined to regain his ship, the Iron Duke launches himself in pursuit, aboard Lady Cosair - a mercenary airship, and arranges for Mina to accompany him...

My Opinion: Sometimes, when you read a book that's been in your TBR pile for a while, you want to kick yourself and wonder why you waited it so long. Other times, you feel your instinct was right, there was a reason why the book lingered in the TBR pile. For me, The Iron Duke falls in the second category... I really, really want to love this book - it's Meljean Brook!, but even now, I don't know how I feel about it ^_^; Maybe once I'm done with this review, I'll know...

I previously read Here There Be Monsters, the prequel novella to The Iron Duke, and remembered being very confused with the world. I mean, the genre is steampunk, so it's very different than our reality and it means a lot of information... and I felt like I had a lot of questions at the end of it. Plus, the length didn't help. I'm glad to say the world building in The Iron Duke was much better and that I found it very interesting in the end :) I really liked the historical and geographical aspects of the world as well as the technology. I thought it was quite fascinating and at times, quite hard to wrap my mind around LOL. It's clear that Ms Brook invested a lot of time into creating this world and really thought about every aspect: society, other countries, etc. and it definitively paid off because she really created something unique! I really hope that in future books, there will be a map, that would make it complete :) Also, I think Ms Brook did a great job delivering the information. Indeed, she managed to avoid the dreaded information dump and instead, incorporated it into the storyline and the characters - what they said, what they did. Ms Brook believed in her readers, that we'd be smart enough to gather all the elements and get the greater picture :) It was very well-done on Ms Brook's part :)

My only complaint about this world would be the hatred and resentment and the consequences it had... especially on our heroine. I understand that people hated and resent the Horde, but it made it difficult for me to accept that without a bodyguard, Mina would be brutalized and perhaps even worse. As it is, even with a bodyguard, she was frequently insulted and spat on because of her Mongolian features. And that's what I don't understand... I mean, it should be obvious to everyone what were the circumstances of her conception, that her mother had no control because of the Frenzies...It's not as if Mina was a Horde sympathizer. In fact, she probably hated them even more than everyone else and yet,  yet, the way Mina was treated was mind-boggling and speak very badly of the population. How ignorant they are... And Mina is the daughter of an earl... I can't start to imagine the treatment of normal children with Mongolian features!! Also, what was being said of Mina's parents... Even our hero wondering early after he has met Mina whether her mother has "rutted" with a Horde and her father being know as the cuckold earl. I thought it was appalling since it had happened during a Frenzy and everyone knew what it meant everyone should know better :( Another thing I didn't understand is why they let the people from the New World come back and reclaimed the titles. Yes, they had money... but plainly speaking, their ancestors were deserters. After 200 years, do these people have a right to come back and reclaim their status? I don't think so. They should have made laws to prevent it. And seriously, I can't imagine how frustrating it'd be for English people to have these New World-ers coming, still clinging to ridiculous traditions. Funny how they were from the New World, but while the world around them had changed, they had not. However, I guess that Ms Brook did a great job if I ended up feeling so strongly about these two issues :)

Something else Ms Brook did a great job with was the characters, especially the secondary ones. I love Mina's family... Especially her parents. Despite what happened, they still loved each other, remained united and more importantly, loved Mina. They were such good people and righteous, but not in an annoying way... and also skilled. You can't help but admire them and the family they have created. That everyone would die for each other says what they have created and accomplished :) And I love Scarsdale, Rhys' navigator and friend. He was so funny, but at the same time, dangerous :) I wished he was straight so he'd get his own book. And of course, Lady Corsair, Yasmeen, was as mercenary as I expected and very interesting. In comparison, I felt Mina and Rhys paled a little bit. It's not so much the characters themselves, because I think Mina and Rhys were good characters, had good basis... But it's fleshing out, development and ultimately "likable" factor. I mean, once you get to know Mina, you can't help but admire her. This woman is tough and strong and her devotion to her family is admirable. She also gives off the vibe that she's a good inspector which is good too. But I can't help but wonder how... If she is so despised, how can she investigate properly and efficiently? Are people willing to talk to her, trust her or let her investigate? At one point in the story, if it hadn't been for Rhys' presence, she wouldn't have been able to hire a coach! It think it would have been good if we've seen her more in action without Rhys. As for Rhys, yes he was an alpha and tortured hero, he was also an honorable captain. He was also a survivor and as such, he has a tendency to look out for himself and his interest first. But as a man, who was he really? I don't know as I didn't get a sense of him. Rhys knew money, knew sex... but humans? Humans interaction? Not so much. And there wasn't really a softer side to him... All in all, I found that Rhys and Mina were difficult characters to relate to and just didn't evoke any feelings in me. They were just okay. And unfortunately, I felt the same way about the romance ^_^; I didn't think Rhys and Mina suited each other that much. They were so different and sometimes, it works... because the couple comes to a certain understanding. But I don't think it ever happened with Rhys and Mina. Sure, they were attracted to each other... But even after spending so much time together, they didn't understand one another. If they did, the whole "I'm done with you" wouldn't have happened... and that really showed to me they weren't suited. It didn't feel what they had together was solid and I wished for an epilogue to prove me wrong.

I'm almost done here, stay with me LOL. My last two issues had to do with the storyline and the tone of The Iron Duke. First, I think the storyline was good. It felt like a great adventure and that's what The Iron Duke was all about :) Unfortunately, great adventure is usually accompanied with great action and I felt it wasn't the case here. There was some great build-up, but when it should have been awesome, it became anti-climatic. For example, pursuing Marco's Terror and facing Hunt or when they finally found the weapon. My reaction was, that's it? I just thought it was unfortunate that how it unfolded was kind of a let-down :( Finally, the tone of the story... I found the whole feel of the book was bit crude ^_^; I think it was was the overuse of the word "shag" which sure, it's the accurate word since the story takes place in England... but it was a bit jarring for me. Plus, that's a reason why I didn't get in the romance... All Rhys wanted was to shag Mina, to possess her like a thing :( Then, there were a few other scenes that set the tone... I guess it took me by surprise, because it wasn't what I was expecting for this series. I was expecting something more clinical I guess, with all the technology ^_^;

My Grade: C. Phew, I didn't think the review would be so long LOL. I'm going with a C for The Iron Duke because there were some very good elements and there were others I didn't care much for. At the end of the day, I feel neutral about this book ^_^; Didn't love although I really wished to, but didn't dislike either.