Mcvane's Reviews > Heart of Steel

Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook
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's review
May 06, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: iron-seas

Set in zombie-infested Europe, Captain Yasmeen and Archimedes Fox go on a hairy search for the legendary da Vinci's map that could lead them to the legendary Clockwork Army and lotsa money. Somewhere along the line, Captain Yasmeen eventually allows herself to believe and embrace Fox's declaration of love while Fox learns to take his own words seriously as well.

Heart of Steel is quite different from novella Here There Be Monsters and last year's novel The Iron Duke, but still set in the same universe. It's an action-packed ride that's lighter and faster than the previous Iron Seas stories. It doesn't allow you to breathe most time. Up in the sky, down in the sea, over mountainous forests, through ruined castles, around zombies and under a steam-fuelled machine or two.

Archimedes Fox may be a world-famous dashing adventurer with romanticism running through his veins, but he's gutsy enough to fall for someone like Captain Yasmeen whom he knows wouldn't hesitate breaking every bone in his lean body if he was foolish enough to make a misstep with her. Being with her is like playing with fire, and he knows it.

He's not as imperious as the Iron Duke; nor is he as emphatic as Mad Machen (who makes an appearance here along with Ivy Blacksmith, the heroine of Here There Be Monsters), but he owns his place as Hero. He's quick-witted, clever, loyal, compassionate and self-assured enough to live in his skin comfortably. (And libidinous. Can I say that? Yes, I'm thinking.)

I still can't quite articulate fully how I feel about Captain Yasmeen, who pretty much blew me away. (Yes, I'm that awestruck. If I were still a child, I think I'd say that I want to be her when I grow up.) Basically, I'm truly grateful to Brook for not removing her spine to justify her role as Heroine. Captain Yasmeen is still hard-headed and ruthless, like how she appeared in The Iron Duke, but she does change as we travel with her on her journey through zombie-infested Europe and other countries. We get a chance to learn her background and the whole story behind her lynx-like ears. Believe me, it was worth waiting for. We don't have that chance with Fox's background, though, but I didn't feel it was a weakness because there were enough details to fill in tiny gaps. Fox chose his current name for a reason and Brook made it feel right to respect his right to discard his past. Besides, it's more important to keep himself alive in Captain Yasmeen's presence, anyway.

The real star of this story is Meljean Brook's incredibly vivid world-building. Usually when I read, I read words (or rather, listening to an internal voice narrating the story). In this case though, I read it as if I was watching a film. That's how vivid the story was. I loved how diverse the cast was, too. And the bonus? The humour! Some lines were so funny that I actually chuckled. (For those who don't know me: I don't chuckle. I take reading Very Seriously and that I'm a sourpuss that likes to nitpick a poor story to death.)

Why four stars? Captain Yasmeen was great. So were Fox, the world-building and the steampunk aspect (the horse scene was amazing!). The story as a whole was fabulous. However, I felt a bit let down by the conclusion of Captain Yasmeen and Fox's relationship. It did develop nicely and their interactions were sublime and often funny as well as poignant, but the conclusion didn't give me that hit I expected. Basically, I felt it was slightly underdeveloped. Not so fleshed out.

I did wonder whether it would wreck the monumental scope of this story if Brook did flesh it out that much. Half of me thought it would, and the other half thought it would be an improvement. I think the story was too short for my taste, too. I don't know.

I'm thinking now that since the story was larger than life, as many characters including Captain Yasmeen and Fox were, it gave me an expectation that their relationship would be larger than life as well. That's probably why I felt the promise wasn't delivered in a way I had expected and that the story was shorter than I wanted.

In fact, I'm thinking that Heart of Steel deserves a 4.5 because the criticisms are more about what I wanted than the story itself. I also can't deny that I really did enjoy the hairy ride with Captain Yasmeen and Fox, and that deserves a round of applause from my end.

In a way, I feel sorry for Meljean Brook because she'll have to create a new Iron Seas that can live up to the standards set by Heart of Steel. I actually thought Here There Be Monsters set the bar. Nope, The Iron Duke raised it a notch higher. Did Heart of Steel meet that bar? Certainly, but it pushed the bar higher. The feck, Meljean Brook? Why do you do this to yourself? But yay! for the rest of us. I cannot wait for the next Iron Seas story. I truly love this Iron Seas universe.

For those who want a pure romance, you might find this a bit underwhelming, but you must read this if you want a romantic steampunk adventure with a streak of humour and moments of darkness, because it has all that and more.
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