Saturday 8 November 2014

#CBR6 Book 113: "Kiss of Steel" by Bec McMaster

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 4 stars

In an alternate history Victorian London with Steampunk gadgets, werewolves, a ruling nobility known as the Echelon, where the men are all enhanced with vampire blood, Miss Honoria Todd (who certainly doesn't in any way dress or appear anything like the burlesque streetwalker on the cover of the book) has been forced to move to the Rookeries of Whitechapel after the death of her father. She is working as an elocution coach under an assumed name to support her younger sister (who also takes in mending) and ailing brother, and they are all hiding from the rich, powerful and very dangerous former protector of her father's, who wants Honoria for a number of nefarious purposes. They are barely making ends meet, and when Honoria's brother takes a turn for the worse and Honoria loses her job, she has no choice but to turn to Blade, the master of the Rookeries, for help.

Normally only the members of the Echelon and their chosen servants are allowed the blue blood that gives enhanced abilities, speed, strength and an extended lifespan, but Blade survived the experiments of a nobleman and escaped into the Rookeries, where he and his men rule with an iron fist, challenging the authority of the ruling lords. He desperately wants revenge on the corrupt duke ruined his life and when he discovers that Honoria and her siblings are hiding from the same man, he extends his protection to the little Todd family. Doesn't hurt that he's instantly drawn to the prim, yet fiery Honoria, determined to make her his.

It shouldn't surprise me that books with absolutely prepostrous covers in the paranormal fantasy/romance genre can contain entertaining and well-written stories. I've seen Bec McMaster's book mentioned on a number of "If you like books by X, you'll probably enjoy..." lists, but always avoided it because of the horrible cover. In October, it was the alt book in Vaginal Fantasy Hangout and I decided to finally give it a chance. I'm glad that I did. The world building is clever and I like both the alternate history Steampunk twist and the variation on vampires and werewolves here. Apparently all the men of Echelon, the ruling families of England, are given the blood of vampires when they turn sixteen, to give them enhanced abilities and skills. They have thralls - servants, retainers, even highly cherished mistresses that they drink blood from (and who frequently get a sexual thrill from donating the blood) and are carefully monitored at all times to make sure they don't turn all the way into out of control crazed vampires.

Honoria's father was a doctor and a scientist, apparently working on a cure for the vampirism, but died before he had a chance to perfect it. The duke who was his patron wasn't above medical experiments, which early on resulted in Blade getting turned and in his initial blood craze killing his own sister. So he's pretty motivated for revenge. Honoria and her siblings were also given the "vaccine", but her brother seems to have reacted badly to it, and is slowly turning into a vampire, something Honoria is trying desperately to prevent. She is terrified of Blade, but even more scared of the duke hunting them and realises that she had to get help somewhere, even if it means surrendering as a blood thrall to the master of the Rookeries.

The characters are all interesting, and it's quite clear that McMaster is setting up a number of story lines for later books. I liked both Honoria and Blade and their romance builds gradually, even though they're attracted to one another from the start. I also liked Blade's werewolf lieutenant (who is the hero of the second book) and some of the more sympathetic Echelon lords portrayed in the book. I was especially taken with the one ruling lady who was turned by her father in general violation of the wishes of polite society, and some poking about online reveals that she's the heroine of the fifth and final book in the series. Having now tried the books, I will most likely read the full set and I really must try to remember that a dreadful paranormal romance cover doesn't always reflect the quality of the contents inside.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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