Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook

Heart of Steel by Meljean BrookHeart of Steel by Meljean Brook
Narrator: Faye Adele
Series: Iron Seas #2
Published by Penguin Audio on 11/1/11
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Steampunk

Book: B+
Narration: B

I’ve spent entirely too long trying to write a review of this book and I’m finding it oddly difficult so I’m going to try a more general / flow of consciousness / conversational review style. The best I can give you in terms of a standard review (if there is such a thing) is to tell you that this is a fun audiobook set in an incredibly detailed and fascinating world and I liked it. It’s the story of Yasmeen and Archimedes and how he pursues her while trying not to give her a reason to kill him before he can convince her to fall in love with him. Along with the romantic pursuit there are zombies, treasure, rebellion, airships, assassination attempts, bar fights, fabulous mechanical constructs, and a lot of flirting. The narration was good with lots of accent work and characters were clearly differentiated from each other.

Intellectually, I’d like to take this book home and make babies with it. Emotionally, I wasn’t really able to connect with it. Usually I can identify why but I’m at a loss with this one and that connection is a part of what I take into consideration when rating a book. Oh, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, just that I finished it with the feeling that something was missing from my listening experience. I’ve read all of Meljean Brook’s novels and while I can’t claim any one of them is in my list of favorite books, I can say that she writes my favorite female protagonists. I rarely find an author who can create such unique characters who differ so much (with the exception of each heroine having or finding an inner strength) book-to-book and have realistic reactions and emotions. Yasmeen is no exception. In point of fact, there’s a bit of a role reversal in this book. Archimedes is a confident, smart, adrenaline-seeking treasure hunter so he’s clearly a good candidate for a Steampunk Romance hero. He’s got more than a bit of an Indiana Jones aspect to him and when we last saw him (in book one of the Iron Seas series, The Iron Duke) he was thrown overboard from Yasmeen’s airship Lady Corsair and tossed into a canal in zombie infested Venice because he tried to commandeer her vessel at gunpoint. Yasmeen, though, is one tough-as-nails heroine. She’s extremely practical and is more than willing to do whatever it takes to maintain control of her airship crew, from hanging people overboard naked if they pose a threat to that control to killing them outright. She drinks, smokes, brawls, and is faster and stronger than Archimedes. This poses a bit of a problem for him because although the adrenaline rush he gets from the danger she presents to him is addictive, he also has to figure out how to prove to her that he doesn’t want to take over, he just wants a chance to let his fascination with her turn into love (so he can see what that emotion feels like) and watch her back while he’s at it. Yasmeen is perfectly content to let him break his heart against hers. In essence, we’ve got a beta hero and an alpha heroine but I almost hate to use those categorizations because it doesn’t necessarily reflect the complexity of the characters.

So, obviously Archimedes survived being tossed overboard but the Leonardo da Vinci sketch of a flying machine that he discovered took off with Yasmeen and Lady Corsair. That sketch was intended to allow him to pay off a costly debt so he tracks down Yasmeen, drugs her, and retrieves the sketch but soon after he leaves her airship with it, disaster strikes and Yasmeen is left without a ship to captain while Archimedes has the sketch stolen. The two of them join forces to get the sketch back and when a rebel from Archimedes’ past offers an opportunity for them to gain access to the city where the sketch has been taken, they agree to help with a treasure hunt intended to fund the rebellion.

One of the things I really love about this book is that these are adult characters who act like it. They are very self-aware and interact with each other in a realistic manner, acknowledging how their past has shaped them, not agonizing over it, and compensating for that as they learn how to work together. Archimedes likes Yasmeen just the way she is and Yasmeen is perfectly fine with being a strong woman with a blood-thirsty streak. Watching Archimedes lay siege to Yasmeen’s distrust by a slow campaign of openly admitting his intentions while refusing to consummate their attraction was very enjoyable. The internal angst is all about Yasmeen deciding whether a man even exists who won’t make her appear weak in front of an airship crew, let alone whether Archimedes is that man. There is plenty of external conflict between our protagonists and zombies, between Yasmeen and the captain of the Ceres (the airship they are taking on the treasure hunt), and as Yasmeen and Archimedes follow the trail of those responsible for their troubles. The world building in this book (and definitely combined with that in The Iron Duke) is nothing short of phenomenal. There’s a nice leavening of humor as well and between that, the romance, and the action, this book pretty much has it all.

Faye Adele delivered a strong performance in this audiobook. If you’ve ever listened to a book narrated by Emily Shaffer/Suzanna Duff and enjoyed the performance then I think Faye Adele’s narration will be right up your alley as they have a very similar sound in both tone and male character voice style. It took me about an hour and a half to become accustomed to the brief pauses in some sentences but I stopped noticing them and settled in to the story. I did find it odd, however possible in real-life it is, to have a male protagonist with a higher-pitched voice than the female. I loved Yasmeen’s voice but I kept hearing more Russian than Turkish in her accent (she was raised in Constantinople, albeit an alternate history version of it) but since I had to dig up some Turkish accent samples on the Internet to even justify making that comment, my ear may just need tuning. Ms. Adele’s other accents seemed perfect to me and I was impressed by her ability to smoothly navigate the multitude of them. Her delivery of much the narrative portion was done in almost a confidential tone, as if she was in the chair next to you and leaned over to make a quiet comment, which wasn’t ideal for me but still kept my interest. Overall she is a narrator I would listen to again.

A good story and narration make this a worthwhile listen.