This Week, I Read… (2017 #7)

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#20 – The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook

This has, hands down, some of the best worldbuilding I’ve seen in a fantasy work. Anyone with even the most basic grasp of the steampunk ethos will understand the details of this particular world without trouble, as the fantastical elements are introduced smoothly as part of the story, at a pace that won’t overwhelm.

There’s very little in the way of exposition-dumping, either for the worldbuilding or for the political elements of the story. Granted, on the latter count that means I didn’t jump to the same conclusions about motivations as the characters did, but the maneuvering will undoubtedly be easier to follow on a second read.

The romance was nicely balanced with the mystery/thriller/action plot (and boy, is some of the action slick) and I found I liked Rhys more than I usually do a typical Alpha Male Badass. That stereotype generally doesn’t have much in the way of flaws, or they have the One Serious Flaw that the love of the heroine will “cure.” Rhys, on the other hand, has quite a few issues, and Mina’s love doesn’t solve or erase any of them–just gives him the will to do better on his own terms. Which is awesome. I mean, an AMB who can both admit he’s wrong and ask for forgiveness? Not something I’m used to seeing.

Speaking of Mina, hey, look, a heroine who’s great at her job and WE GET TO SEE IT IN ACTION. She is not composed of informed traits handed to the reader by other characters. She is a complex knot comprised of family, ethical, and sociopolitical tensions, with a wicked sense of humor and an uncompromising view of her duties and responsibilities. I think I might be a little in love with her myself…

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#21 – Seduced, by Cari Quinn and Taryn Elliot

I’m all for romances with alternate structures or surprising turns, and this might have qualified, with the two male POV characters from the same rock band who each carry on their own “romance.”

On the other hand, calling this work a romance at all is really stretching the genre. There’s no Happily Ever After/Happy For Now ending for either lead. Both of them are rampant mysogynists who treat pretty much every woman in their sphere like shit, and no, neither of them show any signs of growing out of that by the end of the book.

What the book really is, is setup for the rest of the series, and it shows. I have the next two books, as I purchased them all on sale way back in 2015 (hence them being part of the BtB challenge, I’m trying to clean up even my digital TBR pile) and I know from the blurbs that the next book features what appears to be an actual romance plot with a third member of the band, so that’s something, at least.

But this is just marking time on the romance end of things so that the band’s rise to fame can be told from the beginning, which strikes me as sloppy and unsatisfying. I wanted and expected romance, and I got so-so smut featuring two men who don’t even seem to like women, let alone love them.

If I didn’t already have the next two books and plan to read them as part of the challenge, I would not be continuing this series.

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#22 – Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City, by Meljean Brook

A quick, enjoyable novella that caps off Rhys and Mina’s love story with a short new mystery and some welcome insight into how their marriage turns out. While I have a beef with novels that end in cliffhangers to be resolved with novellas (grrrrrrr) that isn’t the case here: The Iron Duke had a true ending to both its main plot and its romance. This is just a bonus, giving us a peek into how they go on with each other, like an extended epilogue.

I docked it a star because it actually seemed a little rushed–the new mystery couldn’t be nearly as complex, given the space constraints, and I think it would have benefited from being longer and a bit better-developed.

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#24 – Finding Destiny, by Christa Simpson

Firstly, setting this book around Valentine’s Day turned out to be nothing more than a pretext to introduce the female lead as being tired of men and uninterested in dating. Yawn. Nothing else about the story has the slightest thing to do with the holiday, to my disappointment.

Secondly, despite this introduction, she falls into bed with the first cute guy she meets after less than twenty-four hours of knowing him. So much for being tired of men, am I right? Because he’s just that hot, I guess.

Thirdly, there’s zero character development. Personality traits are shallow and unchanging. Dialogue is stilted and semi-ridiculous. The female lead doesn’t seem to give two shits about her friends, despite one of them being injured, and in her internal monologue she calls her other friend a “slut” for jumping into bed with the male lead’s brother right away.

Well, honey, she only beat you doing the same thing by about twelve hours, so what does that make you?

This story is basically a bare-bones Snowed In trope, where pretty people have sex with each other because they’re stuck together and might as well do something.

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#24 – The Lost Duke of Wyndham, by Julia Quinn

My previous dislike of historical romances, years past, has mostly stemmed from a distaste for either the fussy formality of them, or the blandness that type of society seems to press upon the characters.

Here, Jack Audley, former highwayman and then presumed Duke, is an absolute charmer with genuine warmth and a sly sense of humor that informs the tone of the entire narrative. I fell for him just as fast as the heroine Grace did.

That being said, their relationship only dips its toes past the shoreline of the InstaLove trope that so many romances fall prey to. It does make sense, given the urgency of determining Jack’s legitimacy of succession, that the main plot would feel hurried, but the romance suffers for it, stirring everyone (not just the couple) into fevered heights of emotion that throw the family into turmoil.

But Jack is determined to make his own Happily Ever After, and he does. Which is satisfying in one sense, of course–we romance readers do love HEAs after all–but given how quickly it comes about, it seems to easy.

Bonus points to Quinn, though, for abandoning the typical pain-and-blood narrative associating with a woman losing her virginity. Actually, in hindsight, I’m not even sure the word “virginity” was ever used, which is nice to see.

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