“ Print Length: 104 pages / Publisher: Berkley / Published: 7 Aug 2012 „
Eight months have passed since the events which brought Mina Wentworth and Rhys Trehearne together and their lives, once lived separately, are now entwined although they still have their own careers, Rhys as an entrepreneur and politician and Mina has returned to her position as a Detective Inspector of Police. Their new relationship means the dynamic of their lives has changed bringing with it a special set of problems. Mina also has been allocated a new case investigating the murder of an aristocrat which is connected not just to the world of automation but in a circuitous way also linked to Rhys.
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***Spoiler alert: Although I've tried to keep them to a minimum, it's impossible to review this story without revealing some of the events which take place in the previous novel***
One of my favourite reads of last year was The Iron Duke, a first rate steampunk novel and the first in Meljean Brook's Iron Seas series. It was one of those books I simply couldn't put down and didn't want to end. Meljean Brook had previously been known for rather cheesy paranormal romances and steampunk was a totally new direction for her to take and she'd made a very promising start. Whether through pressure from her fans who also didn't want the book to end or not, the author has continued Mina and Rhys's story in this novella which is additional to the Iron Seas books and forms a sort of epilogue to that story. In my opinion, the author should have quit whilst she was ahead.
Rhys Trehearne is known throughout England as The Iron Duke, a national hero who saved the country from the Horde. The Horde are a vile people who swept across mainland Europe and ultimately to England, controlling the people they subjugate by infecting them with nanogens. The Horde may have been beaten back across the Channel by Rhys Trehearne but their legacy lives on in England and the country is only gradually returning to normal. Those aristocrats who managed to escape across the Atlantic before the Horde arrived are now slowly returning. Known as Bounders, these aristocrats are generally despised by those who were unable to escape from the Horde and they're still not fully accepted. Mina understands how it is to not be accepted because she's the result of her mother having been raped by one of the Horde and her eyes betray her heritage causing many people to distrust and dislike her. Their attitude to Mina has somewhat changed, however, since she put her own life on the line to save the Iron Duke.
After the dramatic events which brought Mina and Rhys together, she has resumed her duties as a Detective Inspector of Police and she is currently investigating the death of Viscount Redditch, an aristocratic Bounder recently returned to England. He was known to Mina and Rhys as they had recently dined with him when Redditch had tried to gain Rhys's support in his plan to prevent factories from becoming too automated and thus putting factory workers out of jobs.
In The Iron Duke, the romantic element is kept to a bare minimum allowing the more exciting aspects of the story to take precedence. I know that Mina and Rhys are now a loved up couple but the author seems to have reverted to her original role of romance novelist and in the process has completely changed her lead characters' personalities as well. They're no longer the strong and independent characters of the previous novel but have become a pair of besotted idiots. Rhys lives in fear of Mina sustaining some fatal injury during the course of her work and she, too, doesn't seem able to function without his approval and is terrified he'll move on to someone else but what really got my goat was their constant need to "shag". This is the author's choice of word to describe the sex act, not mine. I think possibly she's chosen this word (a) because it's a uniquely British word and (b) to imply that this is a different reality but, personally, I think all it achieves is to reduce what is supposed to be an act of love into something far less so.
On top of that, I would have preferred these romantic elements not to have been there at all or at the least to take a back seat to the murder investigation but, sadly, that was not the case and the crime elements are so minimal that they may just as well not have been included.
One of the most appealing characters in this story is one from the previous novel, Lord Scarsdale. He's also a Bounder and friend of Rhys and was involved in the overthrow of the Horde. Fortunately, his character remains the same as in the previous book as he's still charming and enigmatic and I'm hoping that eventually he'll have his own story in the series.
This isn't totally awful and there were aspects of the story which I enjoyed, not least that Meljean Brook continues to build on the fascinating world she's created. I'm sure this novella will be lapped up by those fans of Meljean Brook's romance novels but for steampunk fans, I strongly urge you to read and enjoy The Iron Duke and the other full length novels in the series but steer well clear of this one unless you want to be very disappointed.