Heart of Iron
by Bec McMaster
(Sourcebooks, $7.99, R) ISBN 978-1-4022-7030-7
****
It's steampunk, it's a bodice-ripping quasi-Regency, and it's a little bit of -My Fair Lady. To quote our hero, Will (aka the Beast), it's bloody brilliant.Bec McMaster's second London Steampunk novel, Heart of Iron, leaps into the action, takes a number of shortcuts through posh London ballrooms, and comes out victorious. Mostly.

Evidently taking a great number of cues from the first book in the series, Kiss of Steel, without much explanation, Heart of Iron picks up the continuing trouble between the Blue Bloods - vampires taking on the leading roles of the ton and the verwulfen, who are werewolves that have been dehumanized in British society to the point where enslaving them is entirely legal.

Lena, sister to Honoria, the heroine of the first novel, is more wrapped up in the back-room politics than even she knows. She has been an elicit courier for encrypted messages for some time, but when her brother-in-law Blade is stabbed by a man carrying just such a message and Blade's friend and bodyguard, Will, realizes the connection, it quickly becomes clear that being discovered is the least of Lena's problems.

After pulling herself up from the slums and into the Echelon, where she attends balls and parties under the guise of looking for a Blue Blood protector and in reality spies for the underworld network looking for a revolution, Lena has been spending a great deal of time recently just avoiding being tarnished and not in the way of your traditional Regency romance. In London Steampunk, a girl's blood purity is worth even more than her virginal state.

Will's being pulled into the political arena also, being the only verwulfen in London with whom anyone is familiar due to his friendship with Blade, a Blue Blood, and because of his terrifying reputation. This overlaps nicely with the goings-on in Lena's world, and he arranges to be her bodyguard as she shows him the societal ropes.

Naturally, Lena doesn't just drop her revolutionary ways and Will doesn't automatically blend right in with high society; thus, their relationship, which was rocky to start with, is an on-going roller coaster driven by two extremely stubborn people, neither of whom has a single worry for themselves and usually lands them directly into the middle of something sinister.

Heart of Iron is complicated; there's no good way to give it a short synopsis. There are many different threads woven throughout the story, showing up in unexpected places, and eventually weaving a hypnotic tapestry. Though this takes the tones of a romance novel at times (and in a cliched way too), it is heavily steampunk, though not entirely either. This gives a lengthy and somewhat dark novel a character and an atmosphere that are missing from many books from both of those genres. Readers who enjoy some magic in their romance or who want more romance in their paranormal suspense will love this series but start with the first book; it took me a good thirty pages to figure out what was going on and with whom.

--Sarrah Knight


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