It’s TBR Challenge time again, and I’m late (like, three months and change late, but who’s counting, right?). July’s theme is “Award Winner or Nominee,” but after last year’s Nazi ‘hero’ dêbacle, I just couldn’t look for a Rita book this year.
On top of which, I’m still struggling to read new stuff.
However, I had read “Tarnished Knight,” the novella that follows this story, sometime ago, and liked it quite a bit; and Steampunk hits all my “I wanna read it right NOW!” buttons.
So when I saw that I had this in the digital TBR of doom, bought sometime ago (probably during one of those 99¢ deals), of course I had to try it.
Kiss of Steel, by Bec McMaster
Let me begin by saying that I like how Ms McMaster introduces the reader to her world–I love it when authors credit readers with enough smarts to deduce things, instead of explaining everything at the first opportunity. Here, the author lets the characters show us her world, bit by bit, in a very organic way.
Our heroine, Honoria, is a gently reared lady whose circumstances have been drastically, and irrevocably, changed. Six months before the novel starts, her father was murdered, leaving her in charge of her younger sister, Lena, and her much younger brother, Charlie. He also entrusted a number of diaries, containing important information that must be both preserved and hidden, to her keeping. Hiding from the authorities, and other, more sinister interests, the small, nigh destitute family struggles to survive–and hide–in the rookeries of London.
Where Blade rules with an iron and merciless hand. For fifty years, he has kept the aristocracy at bay, biding his time to exact revenge on the creature who made him. And Honoria just may give him the means to do so.
Here, have a blurb:
Honoria Todd has no choice. Only in the dreaded Whitechapel district can she escape the long reach of the Duke of Vickers. But seeking refuge there will put her straight into the hands of Blade, legendary master of the rookeries. No one would dare cross him, but what price would he demand to keep her safe?
Ever since Vickers infected him with the craving, Blade has been quicker, stronger, almost immortal—and terrified of losing control of the monster within. Honoria could be his perfect revenge against the duke…or the salvation he never dared to dream of.
So here’s the thing. Even though I had read the novella that follows this story, it was long ago for me to have forgotten a lot of the world building, and that worked really, really well for me. I got caught up, wanting to know more, to the point where I was reading as I waited for the lights to turn green. This, getting so hooked into a story even sleep feels optional, has not happened to me for so very long, it felt strange. Good, definitely, but also strange–a new, unusual sensation.¹
My point here is that I don’t want to say much about the plot, including the basics of the world building, because I think this book deserves to be discovered as the author wrote it. Which means, this review will be more vague than is the norm for me.
Everyone here has secrets, and I enjoy that Ms McMaster does not drop endless hints. The characters make decisions based on what they know, and the reader learns their motivations as we go along. There’s tension in not knowing, and I kept reading because I wanted to know more about the world building.
For example, at one point, Honoria does something very risky, and I was all ready to scream at her, and then I realized that her reasons for doing it were valid. Mind you, there was a good dose of pride mixed in, but still, it was not TSTL. While Honoria’s actions are driven by desperation, there’s a powerful intelligence behind her every decision.
Blade is driven in equal part by a desire for revenge, and by the virus that will eventually destroy him. He is strong and engenders loyalty and fear among the people he controls. But he is also very smart, someone who misses little, and who, over the years, has become a very good judge of character. Then, out of the blue, there’s Honoria, with all her secrets, and her connections–and the attraction between them is stronger than either had ever felts.
I enjoyed very much the sexual tension between the two. For a good chunk of the story, they have good reason not to trust the other. It’s not only that they don’t know the other’s background or motivation, it’s that they have their own secrets to keep, and other people to protect. And so they go back and forth, pulled together first by circumstances, then by attraction, and pushed apart by responsibility and fear.
There are a number of secondary characters, which are drawn as individuals in their own rights, and the relationships between them, and with the two main characters, are as complex as each one of them is. Furthermore, they all live in a rich world, where history, and economic and social forces, shape them. In this parallel history, key historic events (the Battle of Culloden, the French Revolution, for example), have different causes and effects, and technology is far ahead of science.
Mystery, action, betrayal, action, well drawn characters, excellent sexual tension, good world building.
I foresee a re-read of “Tarnished Knight” soon, and I’m sure I’ll eventually grab the rest of this series.
In the meantime, Kiss of Steel gets an 7.75 out of 10.
~ * ~
¹ Please keep in mind that I was barely ten percent into the story when I received news of a family emergency involving my mother. For the past year, far less than that has kept me from reading. This time, as soon as I got more details and an encouraging update, I dived right back in. Make of that what you will.