Series: STEAM AND SEDUCTION SERIES
Plot Type: Steampunk; Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings: Violence—3; Sensuality—4; Humor—3
Publisher and Titles: Berkley Sensation
Gossamer Wing (11/2013 )
Scarlet Devices (2/2014)
The hero of the third novel is Lord Barnabas Smith-Grenville, who was an early drop-out in the cross-country race featured in Scarlet Devices. Barnabas had joined the race as part of his search for his missing younger brother, Phineas. Phin is a disgraced military officer who is rumored to have become an opium addict, but Barnabas can't believe that is true. As the story opens, Barnabas has just arrived in London, where he has his first undercover assignment for the Crown. Unfortunately, that assignment isn't very exciting. Barnabas is charged with posing as a suitor for Rutherford Murcheson's daughter, Frederique ("Freddie"), and then spying on her—reporting back on where she goes, what she does, and the people with whom she interacts. Murcheson views his daughter as being too independent for her own good, so he has vowed to keep her in check. Murcheson is a big shot in the British spy system, so Barnabas is determined to succeed on this mission even though he sees it as a complete waste of his time and talents.
>2. In the aftermath of Lord Orm's downfall in the Dominions (which took place at the end of Scarlet Devices), Orm's London operation is still in operation, headed by Orm's bastard half-brother, Rollo Furneval. Rollo is a hardhearted, pragmatic thug who wants to make as much money as possible from the huge stock of opium he has in his warehouse on the London docks.
>3. Murcheson has connections with Britain's secret undersea spy center in the Atlantic Ocean off the French coast. Since this is an earthquake zone, the center has a huge seismograph that not only graphs the severity of the earthquakes, but also predicts them. Unfortunately, some of the undersea seismographic stations have been destroyed, and Murcheson needs to discover the identities of the saboteurs.
This book has a more complex plot then the previous two novels, and it occasionally gets a bit convoluted, mostly because none of the main characters (good guys and bad guys alike) know the full truth about what's going on until the very end of the book. The lead characters are fairly well developed and are quite likable individuals. Although both Freddie and Barnabas feel pressured by their families, neither (at first) understands the difficulties of the other's situation. Freddie feels handicapped by her gender; if she were a man, she could lead the life she wants and become a makesmith. Barnabas feels the pressure of being an Earl's elder son, which means that sooner or later he will be forced to move to New York and handle the family estate for the rest of his life. Eventually, the two grow to understand one another, and love blooms.
This is another solid story in an entertaining series. If the plot drags in a few spots, don't worry, because the final chapters speed along at a fast clip. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Gilded Lily on the book's amazon.com page. Just click on the book cover at the top of that page.
The time frame for the series is unspecified. Here's what the author has to say about it: "Although I may leave clues as to the approximate era in which STEAM AND SEDUCTION is set, I will never specify an actual year. You are welcome to guess, of course! Here’s a hint: despite the fashion aesthetic, it probably isn’t set in the Victorian era [1837-1901]. You'll find another hint on the cover of Gossamer Wing." The only hint that I found on the book cover is an image of the Eiffel Tower, which was completed in 1889. So…perhaps we're looking at the early years of the 20th century.
NOVEL 2: Scarlet Devices
The lovers in this novel have close connections to Dexter Hardson, the hero of book 1 (Gossamer Wing). Eliza Hardison is Dexter's cousin, and Matthew Pence is his chief assistant. They have know each other since Eliza was a child, but Matthew has not seen her since she went off to college so in his memory, she is still that bothersome little girl who was almost like a little sister to him. As the story opens, the two meet at Dexter's birthday party, and Matthew can't believe his eyes. Eliza has grown into a lovely young woman, and a feisty, independent one at that. When Dexter talks Eliza into being his pilot in the upcoming American Dominion Sky and Steam Rally, she learns that Matthew, too, is a contestant. The 15 pilots will drive their steam-powered velocimobiles from New York to Colorado Springs, where they will then take to the air, piloting their airships across the Sierra Nevada and then on to San Francisco.
The story follows Eliza and Matthew as they make their way west, falling in love along the way. The plot conflict is caused by a villain who wants to keep the pilots from crossing the Sierra Nevada. For his own nefarious reasons, he has started rumors that the Sierra Nevada are impassible because they are a source of poisonous gases that will kill anyone who tries to cross them, either by land or by air. Unfortunately, many people have disappeared from eastern and Midwestern parts of the country, and no one ever sees them again. Now, when someone disappears, people say that he "went west," meaning that he is probably dead.
As the story begins, Eliza views Matthew as someone she has to impress, rather than as someone with whom she might fall in love. She remembers back to their days in Dexter's workshop when he wouldn't allow her to use various tools and do exciting experiments because she saw her as a fragile female. Eliza is sick of being kept away from the exciting parts of life because she is a woman, and she fears that Matthew's continuing need to protect her is a sign that he would never allow her any independence. Matthew, on the other hand, admires Eliza's tenacity and intelligence, but he can't help feeling protective because she is so young and physically petite and delicate in appearance. As their road trip continues, the two get to know each other better, and they soon fall for one another—first in lust, and then in love.
Although the author has stated that her series is not set in Victorian times, the plot language certainly seems to say otherwise. For example, Matthew refuses to "ruin" Eliza by consummating their love, and that term—ruin—is straight out of a romance novel set in the 19th century.
This is a light-weight paranormal romance that includes quite a bit of steampunk. The action plot doesn't really do much to interrupt the ongoing love affair until the very end of the book, when both the hero and the heroine are put briefly in danger, but soon escape to their HEA. The villain is easy—too easy—to spot early on, as is his involvement with the Temperance Ladies who pester Eliza in every town along the race route, calling her a slut and a whore. This novel isn't as strong as the first one, mostly because of the obviousness of the plot and the simplistic and heavy-handed pro-feminist theme. Eliza and Matthew make a nice-enough couple, but the idea that a single young female in this strictly regulated society would be allowed to go off alone with a bunch of strange men into the wild frontier lands is improbable. Granted, there are two other women pilots, but they are both much older than Eliza. Back in book 1, the only way that Charlotte was allowed to go off on her adventure was to agree to a temporary marriage so that she would have a suitable escort who would protect her. It seems unlikely that Eliza would be spared similar social constrictions.
One last note: The cover art shows a train puffing black smoke in the background, but there are absolutely no trains in the story, just velocimobiles and airships. The cover is more accurate in portraying the lead characters, particularly by showing the heroine's Asian heritage. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Scarlet Devices on the book's amazon.com page. Just click on the book cover at the top of that page.