Berkley Sensation, $17.00, ISBN 978-0-425-25605-3
Historical Fantasy Romance, 2014 (Reissue)
The Kraken King was originally released in parts as an exclusively digital serial, and this is the print compilation of all those smaller installments. Unlike some similar compilations I’ve read in the past, this one goes from start to finish seamlessly. Usually there are noticeable moments where a particular installment stops before the next part takes over, but here, everything flows nicely. It is also set in the same world as Meljean Brook’s steampunk version of Earth, but don’t worry if you are new. It’s been a while since I visited this setting, and I dived into this one without any re-reading, but I can still keep up just fine. I think others would be able to catch up just as easily.
Anyway, this story belongs to Zenobia Fox. The author of a popular adventure series featuring her brother in the starring role, she has mostly been an observer all her life. Now, however, she decides to experience some adventure herself. Surely, it can’t be too dangerous – she’d be in the company of a couple of hired mercenaries, and she’s only following her friend as this friend, Helen, travels to meet her husband in Australia. Then again, nobody warned her that she is headed straight into a territory contested by both the Golden Empire and the Nipponese. Someone is currently attacking all airships in the neighborhood, and guess who is on board the latest airship targeted by these marauders.
Zenobia and her friends are rescued by the governor of Krakentown, the man known as Ariq. Ariq has ties with both factions, and right now, all he wants is to exist with his people in peace. However, both factions will not leave him and Krakentown be, as he has something they both want, and Zenobia is soon caught in the whole drama.
If you remember the very old TV series Tales of the Golden Monkey, you will have an idea of what to expect here. The setting is a charming melting pot of vaguely Japanese and European cultural elements, all stirred in with a dose of camp. There are also krakens, automatons, and creepy dragon Asian lady types with metallic body parts. It’s all pretty cool. And holy sweet banana cakes, this story is very readable. The pacing never lets up, the action gets the adrenaline rushing, and the setting is well drawn. I enjoy the more adventure-driven action steampunk aspects of the story, and it’s even better that the main characters are definitely up for the task of being the hero and the heroine of the season. This book is fun, fun, fun.
I just wish the romance is as strong as the rest of the story. Ariq is more than capable as an action hero, although I do sigh when he turns out to be another overpowered dude who never seems to be in any situation where he’s genuinely threatened. As a romance hero, however, he’s a bit on the dull side because he lacks any flaw. He’s an overpowered action man, and I have the same reaction to him as I have to comic book superheroes like Superman back in the 1960s – nice bum, yes, but body aside, there’s not much else to remember. Zenobia is a better drawn character – she’s capable, but she also shows moments of vulnerabilities to make her seem human rather than an overpowered action heroine. Unfortunately, a romance needs two to tango, and her boyfriend’s dullness is still evident no matter how interesting she is as a character in her own right. The romance is fine – I mean, they are in love, good for them – but it is the non-romance aspects of the story that have me at the edge of my seat and cheering for everyone.
So, The Kraken King is a fun ride of a story, and I had a blast reading it. If you are looking for a high adventure with strong romance elements, this one may fit the bill perfectly. The romance isn’t the most exciting thing around, however, so you may want to approach this one with caution if you prefer a story that is more heavy in the romance side of things.