I have said before, all over these intrawebs, that I am a fan of Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas stories.
First, there’s the top-notch world-building: steampunk, alternative history that involves actual political and economic forces behind the different players’ actions, and internal consistency. Then, there are the wonderfully realized characters. What’s not to like?
Well, there’s one teenie teensie tiny snag: how few of these stories there are, and the likelihood that no more are forthcoming. :sigh:
Ah, well, fans of the series can always re-read the published stories–which is what I’ve been doing lately.
Behold, a review!
“Wrecked” by Meljean Brook¹
While this story is set in the Iron Seas universe, and was published after the first three length novels, it is not connected to any of those characters or stories, so I believe it can be read on its own. Keep in mind that that is hard to judge, though, because I read the stories in order, and I cannot un-know what I already know about the world Ms Brook has created.
Here’s a blurb:
Elizabeth has spent the past five years running from her father; her father’s huntsman, Caius, has spent the past five years pursuing her. But when he finally catches up to her on an airship flying above Europe’s zombie-infested cities, Elizabeth discovers that Caius isn’t the only danger she has to fear—and now that he’s found her, Caius doesn’t intend to let her go…
The kindle app in my phone tells me that this story is just over a hundred pages long, which means is not that short. The thing is, the story seems shorter to me because every time I start it, I gulp it down in one sitting.
Still, setting out all the intricate detail of the Iron Seas universe–from the societal to the religious to the technological–in just over a hundred pages ain’t what I would call ‘easy.’ And yet, Ms Brook does a really good job of it. There is a lot of the alternative history that is condensed into a couple of sentences, and the story relies on two things: the reader being willing to go with the flow as things are explained and revealed, and the reader having at least passing knowledge of geography and history (e.g., knowing than if flying from Brighton in England to the Ivory Coast in Africa, one would cross Europe somewhere over France, and then a chunk of the northwest of Africa; or knowing that at one point the Mongol empire spread from China to Easter Europe).
Awesome Spanish blogger Bona, when reviewing/analyzing short stories, has often mentioned that part of the success or failure of romantic narrative in shorter fiction, resides in convincing the reader that, as the stories end, the protagonists actually know each other well enough that a happy future is not only possible but likely. There are a number of ways through which the author can accomplish that, but one of the most frequently seen is to show that the main characters have known each other for a good long while–childhood friends, youthful sweethearts reunited after a separation, etc.
In “Wrecked,” Elizabeth and Caius had known each other, with frequent if superficial interactions, for about a decade, when Elizabeth ran away at age twenty. A few years later, and still prior to the current story, Caius hunted Elizabeth down, and they spent about two very intense weeks constantly in each other’s company–and most of that time talking to each other, with few if any barriers between them.
The story proper starts a bit over two years after that, with Elizabeth still running from her father and his hunters, who have found her latest hiding place. Caius has also found her; however, he is no longer working for Willem Jennsen; he is now free to protect and help Elizabeth–if he can convince her to let him do so. Their last encounter didn’t leave her with the best of impressions, after all.
The romance is sweet in the midst of high intensity adventure and danger, and the whole made me believe that these two people would make a happy life together in the long run.
The weakest part of the story, from my point of view, is the epilogue–but then, I usually despise epilogues, while many other readers go gooey over them. To each her own, right?
All in all, while this is not a very remarkable entry in the Iron Seas series, it’s still better than a helluva lot of other stuff I’ve read. “Wrecked” gets a 7.00 out of 10.
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¹ Full disclosure: I hold grudges, for long periods of time. I’m very much aware of Meljean Brook’s friendship with Jane Litte/Jen Frederick (MB made the covers for almost a dozen of JF’s books). Like Sarah Wendell, Angela James, and others, Meljean Brook was put in a very difficult position: keep a secret for a friend, deceive a large number of people. As far as I know, Ms Brook has never commented on the issue since JL ‘came out’ as JF. It’s probably because of this discretion that I don’t feel too uncomfortable or conflicted in continuing to read this series, or Ms Brook’s other work. Still, I think it’s worth mentioning. YMMV and all that.