Berkley Sensation, $15.00, ISBN 978-0-425-24330-5
Historical Fantasy Romance, 2011
Meljean Brook’s Heart of Steel is set in the same alternate 19th-century Earth as The Iron Duke. You can always read that review for the background details on the setting. This book features our heroine Yasmeen, who captains Lady Corsair and is known as a tough no-nonsense lady who can put the fear of god in the hardest villains around. We also have Wolfram Gunther-Baptiste, who now goes by Archimedes Fox, intrepid explorer and adventurer. Yasmeen killed his father and took command of the man’s ship, but since Archimedes isn’t exactly fond of his father, there are no hard feelings from him. In this story, they get together to chase after an original sketch of a flying machine, said to have been made by Leonardo da Vinci, and it’s going to be an exciting trip across the Europe and even into Asia.
Let’s start with the good stuff. The title of this book refers to Yasmeen’s belief that having a heart of steel is the only way to survive in this hard, cruel world. While I am hard-pressed to call Yasmeen a hardhearted woman – she is actually quite passionate about her crew, for example – I know where she is coming from. What I really like about this story is that Ms Brook happily allows Yasmeen to be a tough and capable heroine without compromising her character in order to make Archimedes shine. As for Archimedes, he is as far from the alpha male as he can get. He and Yasmeen are good examples of polar opposites who are at the same time very alike in some ways. They are both very hard to kill, heh, but while Yasmeen is the type who will kill you with a cold glint in her eye, Archimedes will do so while whistling a sea shanty of some sort. He has a cheerful and occasional flamboyant personality, while she is more controlled and calculating. But they make a great pair in love and war, I have to say. Unlike the couple in The Iron Duke, they don’t feel like overused clichés stuck into an interesting setting – they are more interesting and memorable.
The story is fast-paced and full of twists and turns that are merely hinted at by the synopsis in the back cover of the book. Since it boasts a likable couple, this story is an entertaining read. However, this story is also full of background details that will make readers new to the series feel dizzy after a while. This is where I really wish that the author had included a page or two containing chronological details of important events leading up to the events in The Iron Duke. All that history makes my head spin, and I have read the previous book. I can only imagine how a reader new to the series will react. I hope those readers have to foresight to visit the author’s website and stumble upon that FAQ page that contains the background information on the setting, or else, this one can get tad too “heavy” for them. The characters’ past are tied intimately to some prominent events that took place before this story, so your appreciation of this story can be affected by your understanding and appreciation of the setting.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Meljean Brook is a far better author of romantic fantasy than fantasy romance. Heart of Steel is a very entertaining romp, but the romance can be quite superficial. Archimedes is already in love with Yasmeen, so the whole romantic conflict thing hinges on Yasmeen finally allowing herself to love Archimedes. There isn’t much angst or chest-thumping gravitas to the romance. Not that this is a bad thing at all, as all that brooding melancholy will be out of place in this story, given that it is a most entertaining swashbuckling romance. I’m just pointing this out so that readers who are expecting a greater focus on romance can adjust their expectations accordingly. There is romance here, but I find the action-driven things far more entertaining at the end of the day.
Heart of Steel is a fun romp with the additional bonus of a far more entertaining and less clichéd couple in the spotlight, but I’d suggest that readers new to the series start first at the author’s website and then read The Iron Duke before tackling this one. Really, start with the author’s website – that’s the most important step in getting a good idea of what the setting is like before immersing yourself into the world of the Iron Seas.