The Iron Duke (The Iron Seas #1)

From Goodreads:

The Iron Duke (Iron Seas, #1)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.

**Trigger warning: This review discusses rape-like aspects to the novel.

What I Liked:

Genre Blend

The book nicely blends the mystery, romance, steampunk, and sci-fi genres. While not completely seamless, the blend creates an exciting world with a treasure trove of mysteries and plenty of passion. Legendary historical figures like Gengis Khan and the Mongol Horde mash up surprisingly well with zombies and kraken. The steampunk aspect of the book is well-thought out and brought to life with floating dirigibles, clockwork hearts and limbs, and nanoagents thrown in spice things up.

Diverse Heroine

Our protagonist, detective Lady Mina Wentworth, is Asian-Anglo. I for one was intrigued to find a romantic heroine who isn’t statuesque, buxom, and some luminous shade of blonde. Mina has a lot of depth to her and I was surprised about her absence from the cover. Though the story is titled The Iron Duke and a headless, toned male torso fills the porthole cover, the book is very much about her struggles to overcome racial and gender prejudices. Addressing obstacles Mina faces due to her race is a bit ambitious for a romance novel but I appreciated the author’s successful attempt to address her problems instead of just glossing over them. Whether investigating murders or hanging by a rope 10 ft above a kraken, Mina is likable, smart, competent, and professional.

What I Didn’t Like

Rape-Tinted Romance

This is quite probably my biggest problem with this story. I’m all for the aggressive, alpha male hero who’s determined to win over his lady of choice, but both characters are soooooo emotionally damaged when it comes to sex. Rhys (our pirate-turned-patriot hero) was sexually abused as a child and has fought his entire life to put those feelings of helplessness behind him. Mina connects sexual desire with the Frenzy, a Horde-induced bout of lust and sex powerlessly experienced as an adolescent. But it’s the dubious circumstances of their first sexual encounter I had a hard time getting past. Rhys mistakes “No more, Trahearn. Please.” for “Please don’t stop” and ends up orally raping Mina. After discovering that “no” actually meant “no,” Rhys is horrified about their encounter and determined to re-start their relationship on mutually desired terms. I understand he’s a rogue with a heart of gold and she’s learning to trust her heart and be comfortable with what she wants and needs. These are staples of the genre I usually really enjoy. However, the dubious consent colors the rest of the story and prevented me from truly loving the romance.

Perfect Waste of a Cool Character

Achilles Fox, dashing privateer-turned-adventurer, is disposed of far too quickly. The serial adventurer of his day, Fox makes an extremely likable and intriguing rogue. He’s a former pirate who now searches zombie-infested forests for rare treasures. He also shares his adventures with his sister who in turn profits from her serialization of his exploits. An alluring mix of kindness, danger and adventure, amirite? Sadly, I didn’t get to fantasize about all of Fox’s character and romantic possibilities for very long. He dies after uncharacteristically taking the ship and its captain by gunpoint. Mind you, he was thrown overboard and no body is seen being torn to shreds by flesh-hungry zombies. Either way a waste of the only likable character who’s not involved in a fustercluck romance plotline. Boooooooo.

Overall

Fantastic blend of romance, steampunk, and mystery genres. Mina’s mechanical world and love life steam off the page. If you can ignore the dubious consent aspect, this book is definitely engaging and worth your time.

3 out of 5 stars

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