Series: LONDON STEAMPUNK (OF SILK AND STEAM)
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)
"The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace" (free e-novella, 8/2014)
Forged by Desire (9/2014)
NOVEL 5: Of Silk and Steam
The final novel tells the love story of Leo Barrons and Lady Aramina (Mina), Duchess of Casavian. Echelon society believes that Leo is the son of the Duke of Caine, but in reality, his biological parents were Caine's wife, Marguerite, and Sir Artemus Todd, a gentleman scientist to whom Caine had given patronage. Todd's other children (by his wife) are Honoria, Lena, and Charlie, so Leo is their half-brother, a fact that they have all kept hidden from public knowledge.
For the past eight years, Leo has been infatuated with Lady Aramina. Although Aramina is physically attracted to Leo, she hates him because she believes that his "father" (Caine) was involved in her own father's assassination. As in all of the romances in this series, their love story stumbles down a passionate, angst-filled road to an eventual HEA.
Because this is the final novel, McMaster ties up all of the loose ends from previous books, weaving them together into a suspense-filled plot that follows Leo and his allies as they move into the final stages of their attempt to take down the psychotic prince consort. I will not go into much detail on the plot, but I will say that many secrets are unveiled, some scores are settled, and several people learn shocking new information about past events in their lives. All of the main characters from the previous books make appearances, some in major roles (e.g., Blade and Honoria) and some in lesser roles (e.g., Lena and Will). The final showdown is lengthy and violent, but most—not all—of the good guys make it through. One more thing: As the story begins, Honoria is hugely pregnant, so you know from the beginning that her labor is going to come at a particularly exciting and dangerous point in the plot (as do most of the hot love scenes between Leo and Aramina). One interesting element of this series is that it's the first one I've read in which an organization called Humans First is an ally of the good guys. Usually, those types of groups are the enemies of the heroes and heroines.
Leo has been a character in this series from the beginning so we know many details about his life. We don't know that much about Aramina, though, so it is interesting to learn about her secrets and her fears. As the two begin to trust and rely on one another during some minor crises, they have to figure out how far that mutual trust will go. As it turns out, Leo and Aramina have much in common, but they have kept their deep and dangerous secrets so well hidden that neither one is aware of the other's clandestine political activities. As they fall more and more in lust, their attempts to trust one another are sometimes blocked by political intrigue, betrayal, and inaccurate information about past events. Both Leo and Aramina are intelligent, mature people who generally think things through and don't stumble into the plethora of TSTL moments that hampered some of the earlier heroines. (I'm talking about you, Lena and Honoria.)
This is a fine ending to a terrific series that combines elements of romance, urban fantasy, and steampunk technology to introduce us to a group of well-developed, sympathetic characters who are at the center of an engrossing series story arc. I recommend that you read this book in the context of the series because of its frequent references to past events. If you haven't read the previous books, you won't have a clue as to the relevance or importance of many of this book's revelations. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Of Silk and Steam.
Two law enforcement groups handle crime in London, and both are made up of armies of rogues—bluebloods 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.
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 thralls—blood sources for the blue bloods. Although the law purportedly prohibits a blue blood from infecting others—especially 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.
NOVEL 1: Kiss of Steel
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 fade—the 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 nicely—without 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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Kiss of Steel.
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.
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.
NOVELLA 1.5: "Tarnished Knight"
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 another—which appears to be McMaster's formula for this entire series.
NOVEL 2: Heart of Iron
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.
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 Lena—never 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 from Heart of Iron.
NOVEL 3: My Lady Quicksilver
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 incident—mechs 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 man-boy nerds 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 is falling in love with him. At one silly point, Rosa actually gets jealous of Lynch's attraction to "Mercury." On the serious side, 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.
NOVELLA 3.5: "The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace"
The murder case is intricately plotted, with lots of mysterious secrets and plenty of red herrings. It's a great whodunit mystery, and McMaster keeps us guessing all the way to the end as to the identity and motivations of the villain(s). Every time I thought I knew the answer, new clues surfaced and new suspects emerged, throwing a whole new light on the situation. You'll notice that I haven't discussed the titular "Clockwork Menace." That's because the "Menace" is deeply imbedded in the plot, and I don't want to give away any spoilers.
There are one or two inconsistencies in the story line, the most important one being the conflicting statements given by the understudy, Miss Radcliffe. During her first interview, when Garrett asks her whether Nelly had any admirers, Miss Radcliffe answers, "I couldn't say….Some of the girls have…well, admirers, but not Nelly." Then, about half-way through the book, Miss Radcliffe volunteers that Nelly "had a beau, I think, who sent her peonies. I caught a glimpse of the card once." This appears to be an authorial slip-up rather than a planned piece of the conflict because Garrett and Perry just accept the second bit of information without questioning Miss Radcliffe about her earlier "no-beau" statement, which directly contradicts her second statement. It's as if McMaster needed to plant a clue somewhere about a possible suitor, so she randomly dropped the peony dialogue into the story without rereading to check the continuity.
Even though the action is set three years ago—well before the first three novels—this substantial novella is a perfect introduction to Forged by Desire (FbD) because it allows us to view the genesis of the simmering sexual tension in the relationship between Garrett and Perry (which comes to a boil when they share a passionate kiss at the opera in My Lady Quicksilver). It also explains why Garrett puts a tracking device on Perry—something that becomes a critical plot element in FbD. Especially important is the fact that we get the beginnings of Perry's back story, which will be fully disclosed in FbD. Reading this novella is a no-brainer for all of you who are keeping up with this series because as of the date of this post, "The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace" is absolutely free at both Barnes & Noble and amazon.com. So why not do yourself a favor and read it before you read FbD.
Click HERE to go to the amazon.com page for this novella and click on the cover art to read an excerpt from "The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace."
Another personal problem for Garrett is his newly awakening love for his former partner, Perry Lowell. In the previous book, they shared a passionate kiss while on a mission, and now he doesn't know quite how to handle their relationship. Neither does Perry. She has been in love with Garrett for years, but believes that he is just infatuated with her and will soon tire of her. Once again, McMaster gives us a troubled romantic relationship filled with secrets, misunderstandings, and plenty of angst. Both Garrett and Perry have appeared in earlier books, but this is the first time we have had a chance to learn their back stories.
While all these emotions are roiling in the background, Garrett and Perry are faced with tracking down a mad serial killer. When the bodies of two Echelon debutantes are found in a burned-out blood-draining factory, Perry suspects that she knows the identity of the killer—particularly when she sees that the women's hearts have been cut out and that they have been infected with the blue-blood virus. Ever since Perry joined the Nighthawks, she has been keeping her tragic background a secret. As the story moves along, we get more and more information about the horrible things that happened to Perry before she ran away from her position as a thrall to a wealthy duke and a pawn of his sadistic doctor. Unfortunately for Perry, both of her nemeses turn up in London, threatening her freedom and her life. At that point, Perry is forced to make some difficult decisions about whom she will protect and how she will protect them. Garrett, meanwhile, is dealing with increased periods of out-of-control rage (due to his high CV levels), his love for Perry, and the realization that she is keeping dangerous secrets from him.
Many of the lead characters from earlier books appear at various points during the story, with all of them gathering together at the end to decide what they will do about their continuing problems with the Council of Dukes and with the prince consort. Their final decision signals some major excitement in the next book, which, I believe, will be the last in the series.
This is another solid addition to a terrific series. Perry and Garrett are perfect as the tortured lovers, and the two villains are chillingly evil (but, unfortunately, one-dimensional). McMaster does a good job of making Perry a strong, take-charge heroine while still showing her debilitating fear of the two monsters who hurt her so badly in the past. Garrett is a great hero—dealing with a terminal condition but still smart enough and tough enough to rescue his lady love—only to find that she can rescue herself! Click HERE to read an excerpt from Forged by Desire.