THE IRON DUKE (A Novel of the Iron Seas #1)
Nine years ago a pirate captain sailed his ship up the Thames and blew the headquarters of the Horde, the ruling power in London, to bits. With their destruction, London was freed of their ruthless control, one made effective through the surreptitious infection of all those living in London with nanoagents. These nanoagents, while harmless when dormant, could be activated through the use of a frequency known solely by the Horde. With it, those infected became mere puppets, either rendered immobile in their bodies or forced into an action dictated by those in power. But all that is over now thanks to the Iron Duke.
Mina remembers the time of Horde control all too well. As the biological result of one of their forced activities, she is a constant reminder to both her family and all of London of what they despise most. She looks Horde, therefore she must be ridiculed, abused, and punished for her resemblance. Such is her life, but she's risen above it and become Detective Inspector, her job now taking her to the doorstep of Rhys, the Iron Duke himself, as a body has been found on his property.
It quickly becomes clear her murder case is just one piece in a quickly expanding puzzle, and the Iron Duke begins to pose a threat to both her investigation and her heart as she finds herself unwittingly attracted to London's greatest hero. Everyone thinks the time of the Horde has passed, but Mina and the Duke come to learn that rebellious pockets still exist, and they represent as big of a threat as ever before.
The world of The Iron Duke is one so lush in detail and accomplished in its creativity the wheels in our minds are forced into overdrive in order to keep pace with the well-oiled gears of rapidly moving plot while our eyes attempt to adjust to the metallic brilliance of shiny new characters. The complexity of the gadgetry is astounding, with remarkable technological advances resulting in mechanical flesh and tiny nanoagents in the blood able to expedite the healing process being prevalent elements, ones responsible for ratcheting up our fascination and curiosity to a level previously thought to be unattainable. Entering this world is akin to being a child again, easily distracted by dazzling objects and utterly enthralled by how things work. We can't help but revel in the newness of it all, mouths hanging open in awe and a dreamy, faraway glaze in our eyes as we attempt to absorb every infinitesimal detail of the experience.
A striking world is thoroughly enhanced by strong characterization, heroine Mina being both compelling in her competence and intelligence while simultaneously captivating in her imperfections. She's emotionally damaged due to a savage history as an instrument of the Horde, but she refuses to let her past and present circumstances define or ruin her. Her backbone, though not made of iron like the Duke's, is forged of something equally and exceedingly strong, allowing her to walk down London's streets amidst jaw-clenching insults and well-aimed spit projectiles. Her budding relationship with Rhys doesn't weaken her fortitude or her dedication to her profession, his presence in her life instead creating a beautiful symbiosis between two characters that have never needed anything outside of protecting what's most important to them. Her reasons for being wary of a physical relationship with the Iron Duke are legitimate, and to watch as she struggles with feelings that have been brutally and forcibly suppressed by the Horde for years while weighing the full repercussions of her every action is emotionally draining but blissfully satisfying.
Rhys is arrogant, possessive, and presumptuous, expecting to be handed whatever he desires with exerting very little effort, but there's something about the way in which he's written that soothes the independent woman in us when she might take offense at his attitude, forcing her instead to stand down and smile begrudgingly at his brutish protectiveness as we secretly root for him to win Mina's affections. He's unabashedly himself, not hiding any aspect of his personality from Mina, and taking from her only what he's willing to return to her tenfold. Though he's intensely alpha male, he is never smothering, and fully backs off when he senses any fear or hesitation emanating from her. Though he is solid, he is also yielding, and despite his possessiveness, he does not simply wish to collect Mina for simple ownership purposes, seeking instead a partner to match him in intelligence and passion.
The only minor issue preventing this book from being utter perfection is every now and then the specifics of this new world are so intricately woven through the story they at times form a complicated web through which it can be difficult to navigate without getting tangled on an unfamiliar term or fragment of detailed history. This flaw is certainly not enough to significantly hinder the refreshing characters and beautifully distinct world though, and I highly recommend this story to anyone who loves a well-developed environment, and who enjoys characters of extraordinary individual power that become a frighteningly glorious romantic tempest when together.