A Major New Release

Ever since I first heard about this book, and the Iron Seas series of which it is a part, I’ve been eager to read it.  For more than a year I have waited for it, read anything and everything I could find related to it, and talked about it. Ad nauseum, my family assures me. I also adored the story “Here There Be Monsters” that kicked off the series, making me anticipate the first full-length book even more.

So when I received an ARC from the author, I was thrilled — and yet, I was also suddenly anxious.  Would this book live up to my expectations of it?

On Twitter, Meljean Brook expressed the same concerns.  How could this book live up to its hype? She even held a contest asking people to come up with review lines that would help lower some of the expectations — some of the entries were hilarious, but I could tell that there was real concern behind all the joking.  This book is much anticipated, and no book pleases all readers.

I’m happy to say that I LOVED this book.  It is one of the best books I’ve read in a VERY LONG TIME. For me, it is almost the perfect blend of elements that I often have to seek in separate books: a unique and interesting fantasy concept, strong world-building, an exciting plot, complex and intriguing characters, and powerful romance.  This book has them all.

However, in the spirit of lowering expectations and acknowledging that not every book is for every reader, I’ve compiled this list of reasons why someone might not love this book as much as I do.

Reason 1: Complex, nuanced world building

As a long-time reader of epic fantasy, I can be pretty picky about this aspect of fiction.  In a fully realized fantasy setting, you get a sense that the author knows his or her imaginary world as well (or better) than you or I know our contemporary world: knows its history, its geography, its economy, its government(s) and the fabric of daily life there — what people wear, what they eat and drink, what choices they have, and the degree of variety in each of these things. However, as with good contemporary fiction, a good book in an alternate setting does not need to confront the reader with every one of these details all at once, or at a level that overwhelms the characters and story.  A good fantasy or historical setting (or in this case, fantasy history) gives the reader a good feel for the world and the rules that govern it that develops gradually over the course of the novel, with details added as needed that fit consistently into the picture of the whole.  This book does that — the world of the Iron Seas is rich and very different from ours, but I never felt like I was reading JUST information about the setting.  If you don’t like being transported someplace else that thoroughly, you won’t like this book.

Reason 2: Alternate History and Alternate Science

The basic premise of the Iron Seas books is alternate history, à la Harry Turtledove and many other fine writers of speculative fiction.  It posits a different event at some point in human history and then develops a world both different from and similar to our own, as it could have diverged from that historical point.  Some people don’t like history, or aren’t interested in thinking about how certain events in the past shape the future, and they might find it tiresome that this book gets you thinking along those lines.  Along with that is the different technological development that makes the machines, the transportation, even the people in this world different from our own — I’m a tech geek, and I love gadgets, airships, and flashily equipped sailing vessels in my fiction.  I also really enjoy how Meljean develops the social and ethical dimensions of the nanotechnology, artificial body parts, and other things made possible by the technology of this alternate world.  Technology is a two-edged sword, and this book embodies that without getting too preachy or overtly philosophical.

Reason 3: Complex Characters

Some readers like their good guys squeaky clean — and even more importantly, their good girls. Those people might not like this book.  All the characters have dimension; none of the central characters is flawless. They make mistakes, they have weaknesses, they change their minds and then change them again — you know, like real people.  At the same time, the central characters are heroic in that “bigger than life” and “committed to their principles” way.  Even the villains are believable and motivated, also bigger than life and committed to their way of doing things.  And there are all sorts of complicating factors, like the possibility of doing a bad thing in a good cause, or hurting someone you care about to save them from a greater hurt, that make the characters’ choices even more interesting.  But not easy, on them or on the reader.  There are also really wonderful secondary characters, about whom I cannot wait to read more — some readers don’t like that, I guess.

Reason 4: Powerful Romance and Hot Sex

I used to think I had to read one set of authors for romance and another for great fantasy world-building and stories.  With a few exceptions, the fantasy authors I read seemed to downplay romance, even if their books had a happy ending.  Let’s face it, Aragorn and Arwen don’t get much face time in The Lord of the Rings, and although I love Guy Gavriel Kay more than perhaps any other author writing today, every lovely romance subplot in his books is accompanied by a death or loss that makes the ending moving and poignant, but rarely fully happy. And don’t get me started on The Mists of Avalon, an amazing work of epic fantasy where couples just can’t make it work.

But the characters in The Iron Duke fall in love, and they have awesome (and yes, explicit) sexual feelings for each other, just like in a romance novel — because this IS a romance novel. So readers who want all the cool steampunky goodness of this setting, and the amazing adventure plot, and the complex characters, but who don’t want to read about people falling in love and having amazing sex, will not love this book like I did.

Reason 5: The Cover/Package

I have to admit, the PDF version of this cover than I’ve seen on various web sites does not do it justice. I’ve illustrated this post with a picture I took of my own shiny copy (yes, even though I have an ARC, I rushed right out and bought it), so that hopefully more of the detail comes through. Because it really isn’t a picture of The Hoff in a motorcycle jacket! That jacket is wicked cool once you see the detailing.  But some people won’t like the six-pack abs or the hint of man-titty, others won’t like the cool industrial skyline WITH ZEPPELIN behind him, and others might not like the shiny metal gears or embossed letters.  Then there’s the issue of price, because it is a trade paperback, listed at $15, and it’s $9.99 in e-book form. (Of course some stores have coupons and special offers, but frankly, I thought it was worth every penny. I used my Borders coupon on something else. It’s also 32% off at Amazon.com.)

So that’s it. I loved this book, it is on my keeper shelf already, and I plan to read it at least once more before the next book in the series comes out.  I think lots of other people will love it too — I know it got a huge consensus recommendation over at Dear Author.  But of course your mileage may vary, so I hope this description helps you figure out if this book’s for you.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. katiebabs
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 18:01:57

    I want to have babies with this book. My mind was blown away by it.


  2. twimom227
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 19:01:30

    I agree 100% with your assessment. This book rocked my world! Thanks for your excellent review!


  3. Trackback: Tweets that mention A Major New Release « Sonomalass's Blog -- Topsy.com
  4. Patterson1219
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 20:09:59

    Haven’t had a chance to read this book, but I certainly am excited to do so. Thanks for the sneak peek on all the awesomeness! =)


  5. sonomalass
    Oct 06, 2010 @ 21:06:29

    I love knowing that other people liked this book as much as I did and/or are as excited about it.


  6. Carolyn Jewel
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 08:25:04

    I read an ARC of this book. When I read Meljean’s anthology story Here There Be Monsters, I proposed to her (In a writerly way) because that story was so seriously awesome. The Iron Duke was just wonderful. I’ve ordered 2 copies of this book, one of which I will hide away for my own secret love affair and the other to to lend to people so they’ll know they want their very own copy.


  7. Vi
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 11:26:07

    This book is Mary Poppins perfect! I want to buy everyone I know a copy of it to read.


  8. Lynnd
    Oct 12, 2010 @ 13:52:11

    I also loved this book – it had everything I like in a book and zombies too! I can’t wait for the next one.


  9. SeaGrace
    Oct 13, 2010 @ 11:54:06

    I’m very grumpy with Borders right now. I wanted to use my 40% off coupon last week to purchase a copy of THE IRON DUKE and they couldn’t find a single copy in the store even though their computer said they had five in stock. After half an hour of searching it was store closing time so they wouldn’t even take the time to order one.

    I’m hoping my library gets a copy soon.


    • sonomalass
      Oct 13, 2010 @ 12:40:52

      I had almost the exact same experience with another book at Borders. The computer said they didn’t have it in stock, but they said I could order it. So I did, and then got an email saying it was back-ordered, but that I could cancel the order through their customer care process. I tried to do that immediately, but I didn’t hear back from them for three days. By that time the book had already been shipped and my credit card billed, and I had also ordered the book elsewhere so I wouldn’t have to wait for it. I got a total runaround from their customer “care” people about it; they can’t even get their stories straight.

      You should read The Iron Duke though; never let Borders stop you from getting a great book.


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