Everyone has a guilty pleasure. Gail Carriger’s “Parasol Protectorate” series falls in this category for me. Who doesn’t love an utterly ridiculous steampunk supernatural romance? Carriger’s five novels follow the zany exploits of emotionally staid soulless spinster Alexia Tarabotti as she navigates the mysteries of supernatural steampunk London on a quest of self-discovery and treacle tarts. With its fifth and final installment out since March of 2012, fans of Carriger’s style of book likely find themselves in want of a new series.
McMaster’s “London Steampunk” novels promise to be just such a saga. Kiss of Steel, the first book, was released in September 2012. Kiss of Steel revolves around the life of the not-so-soulless Honoria Todd. Once respectable Honoria finds herself saddled with the care and keeping of her younger brother and sister when her father, a famed researcher, meets an untimely death at the hands of the Echelon’s Lord Vickers. Now in hiding, Honoria lives in the disreputable Whitechapel district, barely making ends meet in an unstable position as a lady’s finishing tutor. Her situation worsens further still when she catches the eye of the ruler of the rookeries, Himself, Blade, a rogue blue blood who offers his protection in exchange for. . . favors.
Rather than sign up to be Blade’s blood thrall, the spunky Honoria offers her services as a veritable Henry Higgins to help Blade with his unmentionably horrid accent. But Blade has his own motives for accepting this rather unorthodox arrangement.
McMaster’s alternate history of nineteenth-century London establishes a supernaturally-enhanced class of aristocrats, the blue bloods of the Echelon, as the repressive leaders of a scientifically enhanced society. Infected with a blood virus at the age of fifteen, males of the ruling families have charmed lives of intrigue, wealth, and almost immortality, limited only by their need for blood and the Fade, or the decline into vampiric madness. The common man, trapped by blood taxes and bondage, rests on the edge of rebellion, simmering in the wake of the successful revolution against the blue blood aristocracy in France. Carefully balancing the underworld and the upperworld, McMaster creates a dark, adventurous what-if history readers cannot help but sink their teeth into.
Honoria–what a wonderful name for a heroine–and Blade have a suspenseful, endearing romance a la Taming of the Shrew, with the chase making the reward all the more sweet.
Kiss of Steel is an imaginative romance with a substantial plot and quality writing, which will appeal not only to romance readers but also lovers of the steampunk supernatural genre.
While McMaster does not strike the same tone of quirky frivolity which makes Carriger’s books so delightful, she nonetheless writes with a certain urbane sense of humor which fits well with her more seriously plotted story.
All in all, Kiss of Steel is a great deal of fun, and a work of the same caliber as Carriger’s popular “Parasol Protectorate” series.
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