Monday, May 23, 2011
Strickly a Book Review
The Iron Duke
by Meljean Brook
5 spangles out of five
At long last I bought this book, having heard so very much about it: "It's the epitome of steampunk!" "If you get just one steampunk book, you must get this!"
Since I wasn't that interested in steampunk other than trying it out to taste the flavor, I figured the ol' Duke would do.
And what a world he lives in!
The worldbuilding is by far the star of the novel. We are in late Victorian-era England, but in another dimension where many of the British people are "buggers," infected with nanoagents. These bugs help them survive the harsh environmental conditions that pervade many parts of Britain, but in the past they also made the people susceptible to mind-controlling radio waves broadcast by the dreaded Horde.
Our heroine is Mina, a keen-brained police inspector whose birth resulted from a Frenzy—that is, a mind-controlled rape of her mother by a member of the Horde. It has left Mina with Asian features and has made her the object of derision and outright violent hatred from the populace. Now that they have been freed from the Horde, they want nothing to do with any hint of it.
And the man who freed them is the Iron Duke of the title. He is a giant of a man with an iron skeleton. He is a sea captain, an appointed lord of the realm, and immune to the bite of zombies (nanotechnology gone completely, mindlessly bonkers). He is hero to all of Britain but greatly feared by some.
You'd think the two together would be dynamite, but the worldbuilding far outshadows everything else in the book. I discovered it was rather easy to set the book down for a day or two. The characters didn't really speak that much to me, though I was greatly intrigued by Mina's social situation. Once we got into the sex of the book the character clash and plot kinda went downhill.
What will keep you reading is learning more about the world our h/h inhabit. All along I was thinking: The author can't keep inventing such outlandish ideas and not have them seriously count for anything in the story. Sure enough, this book is part of an "Iron Seas" series.
Secondary characters will certainly come forward to carry their own books. They bring with them backstories that beg for further development. We have lady air pirates, drunken non-bugger heroes, an Indiana Jones type, religious cults with cities in the sky, white slave trade, zombies overrunning Europe, and of course, the mysterious Horde.
So what if the Iron Duke is your typical if slightly overblown romantic alpha male? What you'll want to read about in this book is its world: how it got that way, how it is now, and the possibilities for its future. That's enough to land it five spangles from me.