Unlike the other two reviewers, I bought this book primarily for its steampunk credentials, a genre I am really beginning to get into at the moment, and was actually pleasantly surprised by how interesting the steampunk world was. At first glance, Meljean Brooks has created an alternate Victorianesque London, albeit without Victoria on the throne, but the backstory of her world is much more intriguing than that, and it is in the historical details that Brooks really shines, such as her inclusion of Marco Polo's trip to visit the lands of Kubilai Khan, something which happened in reality, only without nanoagents.
The Horde, recognisable, if you know your history, as the Mongolian Empire of the Khan's (only lasting a few more centuries) kidnapped a group of European scientists, centuries ago, and forced them to make war machines, including the nanoagents that many people are 'infected' with. These left British society under radio control, where religion, marriage, and many other conventions were completely dispensed with, creating a moral vacuum when Horde control was destroyed by Rhys Trevelyan, the eponymous 'Iron Duke', nearly a decade ago. The attempts of the people left behind to rebuild their society from the ground up are what makes this book so interesting for me, and will keep me reading the series in all probability.
The plot of this first 'Novel of the Iron Seas' begins with a body landing on the Iron Duke's doorstep, bringing the heroine, Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into Rhys's life. While it became almost inevitable that the two characters would end up together, I definitely found Mina's character much more compelling, and far more interesting, although I developed more sympathy for Rhys as his back-story was revealed and his motivations became a little clearer. Still, the characters that really shone for me were actually the supporting cast, characters that I am hoping are going to be developed more, and given their own stories, in later books.
The writer was also very good, especially for a genre novel, and Brooks has left plenty of scope for exploring the whys and wherefores of her world in later books, particularly the existence of the 'Black Guard', a shady organisation of slavers and men uninfected by bugs, determined to 'free' England from infected people, and the zombies, seemingly caused by malfunctioning nanoagents that are transmittable through bites.
All in all, then, although there isn't a lot that is groundbreaking, or even new, in Meljean Brooks's novel, it is a good story, and well-worth adding to either your steampunk, or romance, library.