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Thursday, November 22, 2012


Author:  Bec McMaster    
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)Steampunk fantasy  
Ratings:  Violence--4; Sensuality--4; Humor--2   
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks   
          Kiss of Steel (9/2012)
          "Tarnished Knight" (e-novella, 4/2103)
          Heart of Iron (5/2013)
          My Lady Quicksilver (10/2013)    
          Forged by Desire (9/2014)  

     This post was revised and updated on 11/15/2013 to include a review of My Lady Quicksilver, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of novels 1 and 2 and novella 1:     

          NOVEL 3:  My Lady Quicksilver          
     The hero of this hefty novel (a bit too long at 431 pages) is Jasper Lynch (aka the Nighthawk). Lynch is the founder and current Guild Master of the Nighthawks, an army that handles London's law enforcement. His job is the center of his life, and his honor is all important to him. He never lies, never breaks his word, and always tries to do what is rightall qualities that are challenged by his inconvenient lustful attraction for his nemesis, Mercury, the infamous leader of the humanists who set off the bomb that climaxed the previous novel. 

     Mercury (aka Rosalind "Rosa" Marberry) is determined to continue her crusade against the Echelon and to find her missing brother, Jeremy, who got mixed up with the real villains of the bombing incidentmechs who broke away from Rosa's group and went off on their own violent crusade. Jeremy has been missing for several months now, and Rosa will go to any lengths to find him. As the story opens, she learns that Lynch is looking for a new secretary, so she applies for the job in the hope that she can rifle through his Nighthawk records and find some trace of Jeremy. What she doesn't count on is falling in love with Lynch.

     Early in the book, Lynch catches up with Mercury one night, and they share a passionate kiss and some suggestive taunts before she escapes from him. He tells her that he found her scent on a scrap of her cape that she left behind at the bombing scene and that he has been searching for her ever since, so when she goes to work for him, she has to disguise both her appearance and her scent. This, then is the book's biggest problem. Lynch is a very smart blueblood with super senses, so how are we to believe that he doesn't immediately recognize that Rosa and Mercury are the same person? He and Mercury have shared a grope, a kiss, and a conversation, so even though she was wearing a half-mask at the time, he still heard the intonations of her voice and learned the curves of her body and the taste of her kiss. As Lynch and Rosa work together, they begin to flirt and eventually get into a few clinches, but even then he doesn't have a clue. Remember, Lynch is not only a super-sensitive blueblood, he is also a very observant detective who never misses a detail at a crime scene. So…how can this man possibly be fooled so easily and for so long? The answer is…he can't; so this story line (for me anyway) was doomed before it even began. 

     (Pop-culture connection: I feel compelled to point out that deep in their flirtation, Lynch and Rosa play a game of "strip chess," which has, incredibly, been discussed by the hilarious guys on The Big Bang Theory. Howard mentions the possibility on series 2, episode 18, "The Work Song Nanocluster": "Hey, you know what'd be a great idea? We get some girls over here and play Laser Obstacle Strip Chess." Click HERE to read the transcript.)

     Lynch's conflict all through the story is that he can't stop having passionate thoughts about Mercury, but is still highly attracted to Rosa. Rosa's conflict is that she is lying constantly to Lynch at the same time that she (and her alter ego, Mercury) are falling in love with him. At one silly point, "Rosa" actually gets jealous of Lynch's attraction to "Mercury." Both Lynch and Rosa have tragedies in their pasts that complicate their romance even further.

     The action part of the plot centers on Lynch's investigation of a series of bluebloods who seemingly go berserk and kill everyone in their houses, from servants to children to consorts. Also on Lynch's plate is an order (and a threat) from the Prince Consort that he must bring Mercury to court within three weeks or receive the penalty that Mercury would receive: execution. Another implausibility arises here: Even though the Prince Consort and his spymaster have had troops scouring London for months in search of information about Mercury, no one (except Lynch and Rosa's friends) know that she is a woman, which turns out to be the key to the plot resolution.

     If it weren't for the dual-identity plot device, this would be an O.K. story, but that identity element was so impossible to believe that it spoiled the entire book for me. If you can overlook the identity issue, you might enjoy the story, even though McMaster occasionally slips into 21st century slang. For example, at one point, Lynch tells Rosa, "You look amazing." (p. 320) One major positive point is that for the first time we have a resourceful, intelligent,  heroine who is much smarter and definitely a lot tougher than the ones in the previous books. Click HERE to read an excerpt from My Lady Quicksilver

     The next novel will tell the love story of Lynch's second in command, Captain Garrett Reed, and his partner, Perry, both of whom play supporting roles in My Lady Quicksilver.

     In this world, vampirismcalled the craving virus (aka CV)first manifested itself in the Far East, where the Imperial family of China viewed the virus as a divine gift. When an English traveler became infected, he wrote a book about his adventures and sold his blood to the aristocracy (aka bluebloods) as he traveled, spreading the virus across Europe, primarily to France and England. The French blue bloods were wiped out during the French Revolution, frightening the English blue bloods into building their own security force called the Guild of Hunters, which uses both mechanical and human soldiers. The robotic soldiers include metal jackets, which shoot fire, and earth shakers, which can tunnel underground. 

     Two law enforcement groups handle crime in London, and both are made up of armies of roguesbluebloods who have been accidentally infected with the craving virus. These men and women are given a choice as to which group they join: The Coldrush Guards serve as direct protectors of the Queen and the Prince Consort, while the Nighthawks Guild handles general law enforcement in London. The two groups are bitter rivals, each believing itself to be the strongest and most important.

     Aristocratic society in London is called the Echelon, and it is ruled by the blue bloods. Echelon males usually undergo a blooding ritual when they are 15  years old during which they are infected with the craving virus through an injection of infected blood. This gives them increased strength and stamina, better vision, longevity, and freedom from disease, but it means that they must sustain themselves on human blood. It also sentences them to a horrible end-of-life cycle during which they will inevitably "fade"transitioning from blue blood to vampire, a mindlessly violent condition from which there is no recovery. Once a blue blood becomes a vampire, he is executed. 

     The powerful blue bloods of the Great Houses rule society with an iron fist. They are mostly arrogant egotists who abuse their powers and don't worry too much about anyone but themselves. The females in Echelon society generally spend their lives as thrallsblood sources for the blue bloods. Although the law purportedly prohibits a blue blood from infecting othersespecially the unwilling, the arrogant blue bloods do what they want, and they sometimes infect a person just for the novelty of it. Not everyone makes it through the change process; some become vampires instead of blue bloods and must be killed immediately.

     England is ruled by the Prince Consort, a blue blood whose human Queen is frequently drugged and is seemingly just a puppet under his power. The citizens of London are forced to pay blood taxes to the blue bloods, and many of them also sell their blood to the drainers (wholesale blood dealers) in order to survive in this poverty-stricken world. 

     Werewolves (aka verwulfenalso exist in this mythology, but there are not many  in England because the blue bloods killed most of them off, believing them to be dangerous enemies. The Scandinavian countries are now ruled by the verwulfen, and in Germany they are used in the military. 

     This series has many similarities to Kate Locke's IMMORTAL EMPIRE SERIES, which is also London steampunk with an aristocratic vampire class. Click HERE to read my review of that series.

          NOVEL 1:  Kiss of Steel          
     The heroine of book 1 is Honoria ("Honor") Todd, a young woman who has been forced to move herself and her siblings to Whitechapel after the murder of her father, an inventor and a scientist involved in attempts to create a serum that will cure the craving virus. Whitechapelan East End London neighborhood that is also known as the Rookeryis under the control of Blade, a rogue blue blood with the nickname "Devil of Whitechapel." Honor is making her living teaching young women how to fit into high society so that they can become successful thralls. Her sister, Lena, works in a clock factory, and their brother, Charley, is quite ill, actually in the beginning stages of the craving virus. After their father's murder, the three had to make a quick escape from the Duke of Vickers, a powerful blue blood who had been making violent sexual threats against Honor. Honor has hidden her family deep in the Rookery, hoping to keep out of Vickers' sight.

     One day, Honor is commanded to appear before Blade, who has heard that Vickers has put a price on her head and is wondering just what is going on. He requires payment from Honoria for the safety of her and her family, and she fears that her safe haven in the Rookery is in danger and that Blade is a villain just like Vickers. What she doesn't know is that Vickers was the one who infected Blade with the craving virus when he was just a boy and then engineered his out-of-control blood lust into madness that caused him to kill his own beloved sister. Blade's goal has always been to kill Vickers for what he has done. Blade is nearing the fadethe point at which his dark side will take over and he will lose all control.

     The plot follows the budding romance between Honor and Blade as both keep deep secrets from one another until well into the story. The love story plays out nicelywithout the ubiquitous instantaneous love/lust/sex found in many series. Instead, the two proceed cautiously; they are attracted to one another but slow to act on that attraction. That builds the sexual tension and allows the romance to simmer to its inevitable boil. The action part of the story is built around Blade's search for a vicious vampire who is killing people in the Rookery and who seems to be fixated on the Todd siblings. Of course, Vickers is a part of the action as well, and the reader knows from the beginning that he will get his comeuppance eventually.

     This has the makings of a good solid series. The steampunk isn't overwhelming; there's just enough to flavor the story (e.g., steam carriages, robotic soldiers). The characters are well drawn, and the hero and heroine are particularly well developed. We get their full back-stories and understand the reasons both are afraid to trust and to love. Honor has one or two TSTL moments, but on the whole, she is a courageous and intelligent heroine. Blade is the typical tortured alpha hero who has trouble communicating and has always believed that he will never find true love. The author tells a good story, and she threads the angst through the story lines in a skillful and graceful manner, for both the main and supporting characters.

     Book two will tell the love story of Lena Todd, Honor's sister, and Will Carver, Blade's verwulfen sidekick. That book will deal with the Humans First Party, a nascent humanist movement that is forming in opposition to London's vicious blue bloods. Click HERE to read an excerpt from that book.

     Just one last word about the cover art: Neither of the characters pictured on the cover appears in this book. Honoria is a buttoned-up, proper lady who would never show her legs in public, not to mention the fact that she is malnourished and exhausted through most of the book. Blade has white-blond hair and extremely pale skin because he is so close to the fade. I'm guessing that the publisher is marketing this as an urban fantasy and chose a cover design that is stereotypical for that genre.

          E-NOVELLA:  "Tarnished Knight"          
    This e-book comprises three separate parts: 
    >  "Tarnished Knight": a novella that tells the love story of Rip and Lena 
    >  "Lena's Decision": a sneak peek at the events leading up to the second novel, Heart of Iron
    >  an excerpt from Heart of Iron

     The second partthe sneak peekis about one third the length of the novella. I'm not sure why it wasn't included as a prologueor even as the first chapterof Heart of Iron because it summarizes all of the early events in the relationship between Will and Lena that lead up to the beginning of that book. Consequently, if you don't read the novella first, you won't have all of the pertinent details. Not knowing about this "sneak preview," I read Heart of Iron before I read the e-novella, and I was still able to understood the star-crossed lovers' situation quite well. Some of the events were covered in Kiss of Steel, just not in this much detail. In any case, their relationship is so much like all of the others in this series, that it doesn't take a rocket scientistor a "sneak peek"to put it all together.

     The eponymous tarnished knight of the novella is John (Rip) Doolan, Blade's chief enforcer. Rip is a giant of a man who has a mechanized right hand. His kind are called mechs: humans who have been forced to replace one of their limbs or organs with a mechanical part. Viewed as less than human, mechs are feared and despised by most people. 

     In Kiss of Steel, Rip was highly attracted to Esme, Blade's former blood thrall and now the housekeeper and cook for Blade's warren. But when Rip was fatally injured during events in that book, Blade was forced to infect him with the Craving Virus, and now Rip fears that if he comes in physical contact with Esme, he will harm her (i.e., drain all of her blood). They spend the entire story pining for one another, misunderstanding one another, hurting each other's feelings, and keeping secrets from one anotherwhich appears to be McMaster's formula for this entire series.

     The action part of the story involves the Slashers, a gang of hoodlums who kidnap people and drain their blood, selling it either to the Echelon's draining factories or on the black market. As proof of gang loyalty, Slashers are required to maim themselves in some way, so they generally have at least one mech limb. When Rip discovers that a new gang of Slashers has taken up residence in the tunnels under Whitechapel and has begun kidnapping women and killing their families, he and Blade investigate the situation and try to track down the killers. The leader of this particular Slasher gang is determined to take down Blade and replace him as the boss of Whitechapel, so you can guess early on that he will try to grab someone from Blade's household. Hmmm, I wonder who that will be.

     This novella plays out exactly as the two novels in the series. For the first three quarters of the story, the lovers exchange meaningful looks and have a few simmering scenes of heavy petting, but then they break up for whatever reasonthen they repeat the whole sequence. In the final quarter of the book, they finally consummate their relationship, but the heroine is put in grave danger from which the hero must rescue her. The author includes a helpful glossary of terms at the end of the sneak peektoo bad it's not included in the novels because it helps clarify some elements of the world-building. Esme is a much more mature heroine than the Todd sisters, so (thankfully) she doesn't have any TSTL moments.

          NOVEL 2:  Heart of Iron          
     This novel tells the love story of two people closely connected to Honoria and Blade, the romantic leads of book 1. The hero is Will Carver, a verwulfen (aka werewolf) who is Blade's second in command, and the heroine is Helena (Lena) Todd, Honoria's younger sister. Will is currently the only free verwulfen in England, but he spent much of his earlier life in a cage, tortured by humans and bluebloods. In book 1, Rip and Lena had a flirtatious encounter, but Will turned away from Lena and moved out of Blade's warren when he overheard Blade and Honoria discussing the fact that he is a danger to Lena. Since that time, Will has lived alone in a tiny room, while Lena has moved in with her half-brother, Leo (a blueblood who is an important political figure in the Echelon). Her goal is to become a thrall to a blueblood, which will ensure her a prominent place in Echelon society.

     The story mostly follows the slowly developing romance between Will and Lenaand I do mean SLOW. They spend most of their time at odds with one another as Lena continues to try to force Will into romantic games that he views as too dangerous to play. He is deathly afraid that if he has physical contact with her, he risks infecting her with the verwulfen virus, which has a high rate of fatality. Lena, though, is a spoiled society brat who thinks it is fun to push Will as hard as she can, knowing that he'll never push back. Unfortunately, Lena is not much of a heroine. She has any number of TSTL moments as she continually wanders off by herself even though she is being stalked by a dangerous blueblood. Then she spies on the Echelon for the rebellious humanists without ever questioning their motives or their actions. Will spends most of the book pining for Lena and rescuing her from the various dilemmas she gets herself into. Just like her sister, Lena keeps lots of secrets from everyonefrom Will, from Honoria, and from Leo, all of whom could have been valuable allies if she had just opened up to them. Unfortunately (again, like her sister), she takes quite a few dangerous actions without much thought and without enough information, and then she is horrified at the consequences. I hope that this isn't a trend for all of McMaster heroines in this series because I like my heroines to be a lot smarter than Lena and Honoria.

     As in the previous novel and novella, the romance goes unconsummated for the first three quarters of the book. When the couple finally stumbles their way to the final chapters, though, they make up for lost time. Both Will and Lena are virgins, but each must have read a very good sex manual or gotten instruction from someone in the know because there are no awkward moments (or motions) as each lover initiates several moves that seem a bit sophisticated for first timers. 

     The action part of the story revolves around treaty talks with the Scandinavian verwulfen government. The London bluebloods want to increase their power base, so they are willing to ally with the verwulfen of Sweden and Norway, and they want Will's help in pushing the treaty through. There is also a subplot involving some humanists who plan to disrupt the treaty talks. I'm guessing that the Norwegian verwulfen leaders and the humanist leaders will become romantic leads in future books. In fact, Rosalind, one of those humanists, will be the heroine of the next book, with Sir Jasper Lynch (founder and current leader of the Guild of Nighthawks) as her hero.

     This is just an O.K. book, primarily because of its air-headed, spoiled-brat heroine. Also, we learn a lot about Lena, but not much about Will. The basics of his horrible childhood life are dashed off in a couple of paragraphs, but we never get a chance to see any further into his soul. All of his interior monologues are centered on Lenanever on himself. To sum it up:  too much Lena; not enough Will. This is a lengthy book (420 pages) and could have been edited down a bit to take out a few of the lovers' repetitive squabbles (particularly some of the MANY instances in which Lena shakes her finger at Will and shrieks "Don't you dare..."). Lots of new characters are introduced, with not much information given about them. I guess that will have to wait until they get their own books. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

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