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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 December 2010
My first encounter with the author Meljean Brook came about in the anthology Burning Up (Berkley Sensation) where I read the story written by her which placed characters in this alternative reality. I was definitely intrigued and planned to check out this particular novel once it was released. I'm glad I did.

This book takes place in such a different world that many readers will be like me and not have encountered it before. Nanoagents were introduced into the human body when the people ingested sugar or tea. Once infected the "bugs" were in place to allow the Horde to control most of the population. Many upper class Englishmen escaped to the New World, but now that the Horde control has been destroyed they are making their way back to an England populated by many different kinds of people. Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth was conceived when her mother was caught up in a Horde frenzy and thus Mina shows her obvious Horde lineage. Because of this she must try to do her job while being hated and persecuted because of the way she looks. Rhys Trahaearn is a scoundrel and pirate who has recently been made Duke of Anglesey as a reward for destroying the method the Horde was using to control the nanoagents. When the body of a partially frozen dead man is discovered on the steps of the Duke's home, police intervention is called for. Although certainly not by the Duke.

If you decide to read this book I would suggest that you pay very close attention to the first three or four chapters, since this is where so much of the explanation for this world is given. Not all of it, but an awful lot. Some of the information could perhaps have been made a little clearer, but I was able to figure it all out. This is a steam punk novel, people are equipped with mechanical body parts which make them stronger, faster or simply better able to perform specific jobs. Vehicles move with the aid of steam and are incredibly innovative in their design. Airships travel the skies with ease. And weapons are being designed which would allow one faction or another to rule as they see fit. All taking place in a world which at first glance seems to be during the Victorian time period. Woven within all of this technology is the love story of two characters who don't think they will ever find someone who can love them for what and who they are. So, basically, a love story with a bunch of steam. It took this couple 2/3 of the book to begin their passionate interludes, but once begun they seemed to happen constantly from then on. Maybe just a little too frequently for me, but that's just my opinion. It was very clever of this author to place Rhys and Mina in a situation where the almost constant liaisons could take place by having them up in an airship for long stretches of time. All of the characters in this story are very well developed and the writing is quite well done. Even without seeing it mentioned in the book description it was fairly obvious this will become a series of novels.

Meljean Brook's contribution to the anthology mentioned above was my first initiation into the steam punk sub-genre of fantasy fiction. Since then I've read two other novels, written by two other authors who are not writers of romantic fiction and I'm seeing a lot of the same technology described in all these novels. Don't misunderstand me, I think this author has created a really great reading experience with this book, but I now know enough about the sub-genre to wonder if I will want to continue reading steam punk novels. I absolutely enjoyed this one, even if I did have some slight quibbles. I simply think this might not be the genre that will hold my attention any longer. After three novels, it's beginning to be rather deja vu for me, only this time with a lot of sex involved.
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on 13 June 2011
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.
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200 years ago the majority of England was infected with nanoagents by the Horde. Only the wealthy aristocracy were able to escape infection by leaving the country and moving to the New World. After the population was contaminated the Horde activated the nanoagents and were able to take full control of every person. For 200 years the population lived in fear and poverty, stripped of their emotions and forced into having mechanical upgrades by the Horde. Everything changed when The Iron Duke destroyed the control towers, the Horde was overrun and driven out of England. Now the aristocracy (known as Bounders) have returned to claim the land they believe is rightfully theirs, those who remained behind and were infected (known as Buggers) are resentful of their return and struggling to deal with the return of their emotions. Mina is a Detective Inspector but because of the circumstances of her birth and the fact she is obviously of Horde heritage she doesn't receive the respect she deserves. She crosses paths with Rhys (The Iron Duke) when a body is thrown out of an airship onto his property and she is sent to investigate. But whose body have they found and why was it delivered to Rhys? Is it part of a conspiracy against the whole of England and will Mina be able to stop it in time?

I've had The Iron Duke on my wish list for quite some time now, I've heard nothing but good things about this book and the author so was really looking forward to reading it. I have to admit I'm still fairly new to steampunk but it's a genre I've really enjoyed discovering. Meljean Brook has done some amazing world building and I can't wait to continue reading the series. Things can be a little confusing in the first few chapters as you try to get to grips with the setting and the history of the Horde but I was completely hooked from the moment Rhys stepped onto the page.

Mina is intelligent and works hard at her job as a Detective. She constantly has to fight prejudice, not just from being a female in a job that is traditionally viewed as a man's work by her peers but also because of her Horde background. She faces insults and threats on a daily basis but she is brave enough to keep going and she just wants to do her job to the best of her ability. She is also fiercely loyal to those that she loves and will do whatever it takes to protect them. She is immediately attracted to Rhys but she is worried about what would happen to her family if it is publicly known that she is dating England's hero.

Rhys was a pirate before he destroyed the tower and is now one of the most well known faces in the country. His sins have been forgiven in the face of his help destroying the Horde tower and he has even been given the title of Duke of Anglesey as a reward. At heart Rhys is still a pirate though, he is arrogant and expects to be obeyed. If there is something he wants he goes for it and isn't willing to take no for an answer and what he wants more than anything is Mina, no doubt about it he plans to make her his. Although he could come across as overbearing (especially at first) there is something sweet and deliciously sexy about him - who doesn't find a ruffian pirate at least a little hard to resist? - and the more you get to know about his back story the harder you will fall for him. I loved the way he changed as he gets to know Mina and sees how fearful she is of someone having power over her, she was controlled by the Horde and refuses to let anyone have that kind of hold over her again. As Rhys learns more about her past his attitude towards her changes and this is where the relationship really started to take off for me.

Along with the main characters we have some great side characters, I particularly loved Scarsdale who was always able to put Rhys in his place and provided a lot of light relief throughout the story. I really hope we get to see his story in a future book. I was excited to discover that Yasmeen will be the heroine of the next book, she is an airship captain and quite a tough cookie and I'm really curious to find out what her secret is. At the moment I'm not too sure about the hero of the next book though, I'm not his biggest fan going on what we've seen of him so far but it'll be interesting to see if Meljean Brook can change my mind. The plot is strong and fast paced, full of conspiracies, intrigue, prejudice and discrimination it is a real page turner that you won't want to put down. If you love a story with a strong romance, likable characters and interesting world building then The Iron Duke is one I would highly recommend. Even if you're new to the steampunk genre I think this would be a great place to start.
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on 18 December 2010
SEt in a totally different world, sort of Victoriana on steroids. Steam is the only propulsion method as the internal combustion engine (ie petol/diesel) never made it. The Horde (eventually I worked out that they were Chinese/Oriental) invaded Europe and England several hundred years previously after infecting the westerners with nanoagents (bugs) via imported tea and coffee. Those who could afford to fled England for the USA to avoid the infection - but they still considered themselves English. Once enough people were infected, the Horde set up control towers that quashed resistance (and emotions, and could control people physically. The Horde also alter people surgically, giving them 'enhancements' so that they can do specific jobs (so miners have their hands replaced with mining tools, seamstresses with sewing tools etc etc - think Borg from Star Wars). Occasionally the Horde need more workers, so they use the control towers to instigate a Frenzy where random matings happen. THe children created like this get brought up by creches. Several hundred years later, Rhys, a pirate/privateer captain, storms the control tower in London, which leads to a revolt that drives the Horde from England and Europe. A few years after the Horde have been expelled from England, the 'English' in the USA start to return. True to form they are Puritanical and slightly evangelical in their beliefs about purity and what constitutes a human being. THey take back their ancestral seats (the aristocrats do, anyway) and they start to take up positions of authority too.
London can't be lived in without being infected by the nanoagents - this is because of the pollution. THe nanoagents may give the Horde control, but they also confer superior healing power and strength although there is a down side that serious injuries may cause the nanoagents to go into overdrive and cause death by 'bug fever'. Something that isn't quite explained is how the zombies came about, but they are somehow linked to the nanoagents.
Mina is the product of a Horde frenzy, her aristocratic mother and father kept her, but her Horde features give away her genetics, so she is badly treated. Despite being a detective inspector, she needs a body guard to walk around London. Mina and Rhys meet when Mina is called to investigate a dead body discovered in Rhys' mansion. He wants her, she doesn't feel she can have him (particularly due to the newspaper cartoons and flyers that go round when it's discovered that they know each other). As they solve the crime they fall in love - although neither of them care to admit it - and also discover that the crime is bound up with the Black Guard - a sort of Nazi/Evangelical movement devoted to purifying England by getting rid of all those infected with nanoagents. It all ends with the inevitable HEA, although it's nicely handled.

Now, what to say. I've already mentioned that the zombies aren't explained, and neither is Rhys' iron skeleton, nor is the importance that he is born with nanoagents and not infected by them. Apparently his nanoagents can't be controlled by a Horde device, which is how he manages to destroy the control tower, but you sort of have to work this out rather than have it explained. And this is the problem, minor tho' it is, with this book. IT's a great story, set in a great world, with great characterization and a good romance, but there are issues that just aren't explained quite enough. I am, however, intrigued enough with this instalment to be willing - if not quite eager - to read the next one. And I may even investigate the whole steam punk genre... maybe.
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on 15 March 2015
This novel is a beautiful romance with a great build-up of sexual tension, romantic love, plus a very enjoyable adventure.

This story reads like a murder mystery with a strong female detective lead and a completely flawed hero who I just could not help but love. The story hooks you with its steam powered engines, dirigibles and historical context. In the mix we have a strong, well written romance that connects all the mystery, history and adventure.

The Hero, Rhys Trahaearn, has a tortured past and is awkward with heroine, Mina Wentworth, when they first meet. He’s truly heroic as the novel continues, so don’t be put off by his initial attitude. Mina is level-headed and endures regular sexist and racist attack from her community. Her family is remarkable, however, and their love is a thing of beauty. When Rhys comes along, Mina takes some time to accept that romantic love can be hers to possess as well.

Mina Wentworth is intelligent and admirable. She and Rhys are both competent and work together to solve a murder. Their characters are three-dimensional and well fleshed out. I can hear Mina's voice in my head when she speaks - she is so real to me - and I love her courage, principles and intelligence. I could feel the depth of love Rhys felt for Mina.

The Iron Duke is a complete novel, and for those, like me, who don’t want it to end, there is a continuing story called ‘Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City’. It's a novella and it reads like an adventure story epilogue to The Iron Duke. It is satisfying to read a novella like this and see how the couple’s happy ever after is unfolding.

The Iron Duke is the first full length novel in the Iron Seas series and accordingly it beautifully sets up in clear detail Meljean Brook's version of a steampunk world. The world is easy to understand and a clever alternative history. Although Meljean Brook's steampunk novels are classed as paranormal/fantasy, I would rather say her steampunk novels are regency/victorian historical romances with a big historical twist. So if paranormal/fantasy romance is not for you, don't dismiss Meljean Brook's Iron Seas series as it does not have a paranormal feel to me.
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on 13 January 2013
I first came across Meljean Brook's work in a short story, and was favourably impressed, mainly by the fact that the werewolf heroine was capable and reasonable.

So I was delighted to find the female lead in the Iron Duke is equally wonderful. She doesn't simper, or wallow, or flutter. She examines corpses, thinks independently, endures bigotry, and seems incapable of being intimidated.

The world is also pretty great. No holds barred, this is a gritty, unjust, grimly steam punk Britain populated by just as many racists as deeply caring indivuals. No pink fluffiness at all.

The story line is damn fine. It has the political, social and economic flavour of the early - mid 19th C. Plus steam punk seamlessly added to the mix. And of course, this means that the story has echoes of Hornblower, Sharpe, Regency romances and my dimly remembered history lessons from school.

Is it perfect? No. The hero doesn't have the same emotional depth as the heroine (despite the kind of backstory which would entitle him to so much e-depth he should be sinking!). There are some editing errors. I tended to forget who some characters were, when referred to in conversation. I found it a little suspicious that ships could be tracked across open sea with barely mentioned navigation (missed steam punk opportunities there), and travel by airship didnt seem to be affected by weather, or prevailing wind direction.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will be reading the next in the series.
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on 5 November 2012
Meljean Brook first introduced us to the world of the Iron Seas with the short story `Here There Be Monsters', in the anthology "Burning Up". The first full-length entry in the series, `The Iron Duke', is a worthy successor.

The Iron Seas series fit into the newly growing gene of steam-punk romance. For those unfamiliar with the term, steam-punk typically takes place in a Victorian-era-like setting, in which the mechanical and industrial revolutions advanced far beyond what they did in our world. Like many urban fantasy romances, the romance is a major plot point, but the adventure/mystery plays an equal role, and those expecting straight romance will be disappointed.

As she demonstrated in `Monsters', Brook's world-building skills are excellent. Unlike some other readers, I thought the information was well balanced, and relayed fairly evenly throughout the book; this may be because I was familiar with a lot of it through the prequel. (Although it is not necessary to read `Here There Be Monsters' to follow the `Iron Duke', I highly recommend it on its own merits.) The history of the Iron Seas world, involving the infection of citizens with nanoagents, and control by a government known simply as "The Horde", is fascinating. The technology offers continued plot points, and the emotional upheaval resulting from being under emotional and physical control for so long has left an indelible impact on the main characters, and the citizenry as a whole. What sets Brook apart from other writers are the details that she so skillfully weaves into her story; examples include the racism that main character Mina faces; the impact that Horde control and forced breeding has had on the institution of marriage; and the effects of air pollution from industry.

The story centers on Inspector Detective Mina Wentworth, and the Iron Duke himself, Rhys Trahaern. The discovery, or delivery as it were, of a dead body on the Duke's estate brings the two together and soon throws them, along with a fascinating cast of secondary characters, into a globe-trotting mystery. Their romance fit well into the storyline, and was well balanced against the rest of the plot. However, Mina and Rhys themselves are one of the few weak spots in the novel. Both characters have traumatic pasts, but few of the events or their immediate repercussions, are discussed directly. For example, how did Mia's relationship with her mother heal, how did Rhys end up on the Ivory Coast as a child, etc. This loss is particularly felt because Mina and Rhys are such interesting characters in the present, and they would only be more so if they were fully developed. In contrast, the secondary characters, invcluding Scarsdale, Lady Corsair, Fox, and the Blacksmith, are done perfectly, a rareity in many books I've recently read. Brooks fits just enough detail about their characters to intrigue, and offer a rich source of material for future books, but not so much that the present story is overwhelmed. I can't wait to see what Brook does with them.

Even with its few weaknesses, 'The Iron Duke' is one of the best books I've read this year, and the sequel, 'Heart of Steel' has just jumped to the top of my TBR pile.
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on 1 July 2012
The Iron Duke is the first steampunk book I have ever read. I didn't quite know what to expect. I had a vision in my head of what a stempunk world might look like and I wasn't repulsed by it, but putting that world in words seemed a little too much for me and I thought I would hate it. In the end I was pleasantly surprised. I did like this book, and I did like steampunk.

The world in this book was unlike anything else I have read; I swallowed it up whole and enjoyed the craziness of it. It was extremely imaginative and I happily gorged myself on it.

The story was great. I was expecting the norm paranormal romance/adult stuff (Likable characters, hot scenes and so much sexual tension you could drown in it) but was surprised to find that this had a lot more substance, it had a decent storyline and didn't just rely on sex and a dominant male character. Sure it had all the normal stuff in it as well but there was much more to it than that which was a nice change.

Another thing I liked about this book was the characters. Mina and Rhys (the main characters) were great, especially in the beginning when there is a ton of tension and banter between them. But it is in the secondary characters where this book really gets its personality. Scarsdale (Rhys friend) literally made this book for me, I utterly adored him. He was charming and cheeky and by far the funniest thing in this book. Also Newberry (constable to Mina's Lieutenant) deserves a mention for being utterly adorable.

Unfortunately, for me, this book had some major problems. My main issue with this is that a majority of the time I wasn't quite sure what was going on, it confused me and used words and terms that I didn't understand. I am not sure if this is because it is a steampunk book and I am unfamiliar with them of if it is just this book. Either way I felt that it shouldn't have been so difficult to comprehend.

At times the book seemed to move and an agonizingly slow pace. It took me a long time to read it. A whole day for just under 400 pages (I read really fast and can normally read two books of this length in one day.) I felt like every sentence was full of stuff that needed to be processed but still the plot never moved on.

Also, I had an issue with the romance between Mina and Rhys. It was weird because I was never quite sure what was going on with them. He, at times, seemed a little forceful and she was a bit of a tease. It was not the worse romance I have read by a long shot but still I struggled to get fully behind them.

Overall The Iron Duke was an enjoyable read that I would recommend to fans of the genre and of romance. It was a good introduction into a genre that I knew nothing about and it has definitely made me want to read more steampunk.
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on 3 February 2012
This was my first Steampunk novel and also my first look at author Meljean Brook's writing. Both of which I was suitably impressed with.

The world-building was extensive and quite frankly would take too long to try to summarise. If I even begin with the whole nano-agents stuff we're going to be here 'til Christmas, but suffice it to say, it was well thought-out, a little complex in places but this could be due to me being a complete noob, and thoroughly imaginative and enjoyable.

The overall plot was a grand high seas adventure with a little mystery thrown in that was just intricate enough- Any more on top of all that world-building I had to absorb and I don't think my brain could have coped. But as it was, it was a gentle enough part of the story that I managed fine. Although a couple of the characters names were very similar which befuddled me occasionally... but that was just a small thing. And probably my fault.

The main thing I will take away from this book is the great characterisation of both Rhys and Mina, the two MC's. I absolutely adored Mina. Her voice was the dominant one of the two, although we did hear from Rhys as well, but it was mostly Mina and she was just delightful. I loved her. Rhys on the other hand started out a bit of an arse, and ended up... a bit of an arse that I love despite him being a bit of an arse.

The romantic relationship built at a good pace. She made him wait quite a bit, which I appreciated. They were both flawed and slightly damaged characters, but strong nonetheless. And I also appreciated the depth of feeling that was evident from both sides by the end of the book . It was great on that score.

I do have to admit to laughing at some of the vernacular. As a Brit, the fact that the infected humans were called 'buggers' caused endless bouts of giggles from me. I also loved that she kept calling people 'Old knackers'. It makes a nice change to see words like that in my books. Made me feel right at home!

I will definitely be checking out more from this author and this genre. A great read.
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on 14 November 2014
Oh, this was marvellous! I adored just about every aspect of it. Mina is a wonderful action-oriented heroine. The Duke is a great alpha hero. (He does come across as a little too alpha, borderline rapey in the beginning. But it's also kind of fun seeing him learn how not to be that way.) And the side characters, they're also amazing.

There are all the expected steampunk elements--mechanical men, zombies, kraken, airships, etc. There's a very intricate and intriguing dystopian world, exotic local and romance.

But I also really appreciated that the book is adult themed. Not erotica or anything like that, but it explores some very dark human elements and a lot of people in it have a history of abuse. This was all handled without feeling extraneous to the plot or pointlessly titillating.

Plus, there are real, grown up main characters. She is almost 30 and he's past his mid thirties. I appreciate not having to imagine 21 year olds with the bearings and life experience of older characters. Much better to just be given an appropriately aged character in the first place.

There was a bit of insta-love. I could have done without all Mina's tears in the end and some of the 'misunderstandings' were cliché and predictable. But my final says is *winner.*

On a side note, I'd be curious which came first, The Iron Duke or Soulless. I thought they had a lot in common.
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