Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-221815-5
Fantasy Romance, 2012
Zoë Archer’s Skies of Steel part of the steampunk series she created with her hubby Nico Rosso, The Ether Chronicles, but this one can be read as a standalone. The stories so far in this series take place in a common setting, but each story is self-contained and this one has no characters from previous books showing up to wave the “Buy my book!” placard at my face. Oh, and while the previous two installments in this series had been novellas, this one is much longer, hence the higher cover price.
Daphne Carlisle is an anthropologist affiliated with the Accademia delle Arti e della Cultura of Florence. Doesn’t the name of that institution just ring “intellectualism”? However, she is currently way out of her depths, as she tries to enlist the services of Mikhail Denisov, a Russian Man O’War who has gone rogue, to take her to the Arabian Peninsula. Her parents have been kidnapped by the local overlord there, you see, and with the rare ore telumium recently discovered in the region, the government is too busy walking the political tightrope to secure a share of the pie. They are not willing to help her, so she decides to negotiate her parents’ release all by herself.
There will be plenty of adventures along the way, and these two also fall in love. However, the romance is not the main focus here, as the adventure bits are prominently featured front and center too. Think of this as an action adventure with romance instead of romance with some drama and intrigue.
Now, my thoughts on this book. You know, I’ve never found Zoë Archer’s works boring before, as she always does something out of the norm. Skies of Steel however is probably the closest the author has come so far to being… well, it’s not boring, but it’s very safe to the point that it’s actually predictable.
The main characters, for example, are stock action movie archetypes. Mikhail has gone rogue, and he’s gone rogue for the same reasons as that of countless heroes in the past, in books as well as in movies, who decided to stake out on their own after they felt that the system had betrayed them. The plot twists are actually action movie tropes, and ultimately, the whole story feels like something I’ve read many times before given a new coat of paint.
Daphne is almost a competent heroine. In many ways, she is as good as it gets for someone who is out of her depths, but the author has Daphne deliberately lying to Mikhail throughout most of their adventures together. Now, I don’t mind the lying, as she doesn’t know Mikhail well enough to trust him completely, after all. No, it’s the fact that she doesn’t have any good Plan B once her lies are busted that has me reconsidering her status as a competent heroine. Daphne plans and schemes to rescue her parents, which I approve, but ultimately, her plans all boil down to the “I hope Mikhail is a good guy who won’t screw me and kill me once he discovers that I have been lying to him all along!” type of wish and prayer, which I find disappointing. If Mikhail had really been a rogue mercenary with no scruples, Daphne is going to meet a bite the big one, and I can’t say I’d be sorry to see that happen. It’s really a good thing for her that Mikhail can’t stop being a gentleman where it counts.
Anyway, I have a pleasant time reading Skies of Steel, but due to a lack of that special something that will make me sit up and go “Wow!”, it remains a decent but somewhat forgettable read all the way to the end.