Author: Meljean Brook
Genre: Romance/ Steampunk
Publication date: August 2010
Paperback: about 120 pages
Stand alone or series: First entry in the author’s upcoming Steampunk Romance series.
Meljean Brook launches a bold new steampunk series as a desperate woman strikes a provocative — and terrifying — bargain to gain overseas passage.
Two years ago, blacksmith Ivy, desperate to flee London, purchased her overseas passage by agreeing to spend the voyage in the bed of the pirate captain, Mad Machen. Saved at the last minute by his rival, Ivy scraped out a new life in Fool’s Cove…until Mad Machen finds her, forces her to accept a job that will create a monster, and reminds her that she still owes him the price of a journey
How did I get the book: Meljean Brook was kind enough to let me read it.
Why did I read the book: I will read ANYTHING Meljean Brook writes but I read this now for the Steampunk week.
First an introduction: Here There Be Monsters is one of four stories that will be part of the anthology Burning Up which is to be published in August. This is not a Steampunk anthology per, it is a Romance anthology (as the title and cover clearly suggest) but Meljean Brook’s story in it is a Steampunk story. It is in fact, her introduction to her upcoming Steampunk Romance series The Iron Seas.
I usually don’t review stories or books this far in advance but I broke my rule for two reasons. One, I wanted to review a Steampunk Romance in our Steampunk Week. I think the sub-sub-genre is likely to grow in the next few years and I am really looking forward to it. Two, I wanted my review of a Steampunk Romance to be of a good, no, of an excellent story and here we are.
In my opinion Meljean Brook is a fabulous yet for some mysterious reason, underappreciated, writer – I hardly ever see her books reviewed. The woman can write both full length novels and novellas so, so well (and I have read every single one of them) and this one is no different. Actually, scratch that : Here There Be Monsters is her best novella to date.
And it is with the utmost JOY that I say that this is both great Steampunk and great Romance. DING DING DING, WE HAVE A WINNER.
The story is self-contained but part of the larger alternate-Victorian setting in which you have The Horde, responsible for contaminating everybody in London with nanoagents and using them to control people. Seven years before our story begins the pirate captain Rhys Trahaearn destroyed the tower that the Horde used to control these nanoagents and thus becoming the famous Iron Duke.
But it seems that The Horde is making a comeback. When the story opens the blacksmith Ivy, one of the many children groomed in a Horde’s crèche is on the run. She believes they are coming back for her and she doesn’t want to relinquish the freedom she has earned. She will do anything to get away from London. Mad Machen is a pirate, an ally of captain Rhys Trahaearn and his ship is about to sail. Ivy knows his fierce, bloody reputation but she also knows a bit about the man from the times he visited the smithy she worked at. His ship is not a passenger ship though and before he can say no, she offers her body and to stay in his bed for the entire journey. He is more than keen on the deal but before they sail away, Lady Corsair a flying captain offers Ivy a room in her own ship and Ivy flees away. Two years later, Mad Machen finds her – and she will have not only to fulfil her bargain but also help him build a monster – a mechanical Kraken (the title of the story is very fitting).
I acknowledge the fact that the summary above sounds trifle but that is my fault and mine alone because I prefer not spoil but the story is not trifle at all. On one hand you have wonderful, rich, RELEVANT Steampunk elements: in the alternate reality, at some point in history, technology advanced so much nanotechnology and mechanical flesh (Ivy’s arms, for example) are a reality in the 19th century. That advancement has played a huge role in the power shifting of this world with the people who control technology being able to control the ones who don’t. What Ivy went through when she was a chimney sweeper under the Horde Control is not kid’s games.
But as much as the Steampunk elements are awesome and interesting and cool, and indeed such an intrinsic part of the world they live in, they are never too overwhelming to the point of obfuscating the romantic arc. And what a romance: from the moment I first read Eben’s (Mad Machen’s name) point of view I was a goner for the man. He has been in love with Ivy for like, forever and his frustration with his inability to talk to her without scaring her is palpable. I would go as far as to say that Eben is a beta hero masquerading as an Alpha and he reminds me a lot of Linnea Sinclair’s heroes. The point of his character is this: he NEEDS his reputation to carry out his mission (which I can’t disclose it for fear of spoiling the story) but he NEEDS Ivy to love and care for him. The problem is if anyone sees how much of a softheaded, lovesick fool he is, everything he worked for will be lost. Hence the main conflict of the story – to find a way they can be together in a way he can be both a mad pirate and a pirate madly in love.
And the great thing is that Ivy is the one to find out how: and the last scene of the novella is one of the best romantic scenes I have ever read and it cements how Meljean is capable of creating such great, strong wiled heroines. And as much as I loved Even, I fully admired Ivy whose lot in life was not the best. She is never a victim for it, and the eventual fulfilment of her dreams – simple as they might be (clean air, a view of the stars and work) are hers to pursue and win and hers alone.
There are a few things left unanswered which I know for a fact will be addressed throughout the series. For example, it was hinted in the novella that the Horde has been around for centuries and that Leonardo da Vinci was instrumental to keep them away from Europe a few centuries ago.
In any case, the world building is incredible and I can’t wait to see more of this alternate Steampunk-ish world as much as I can’t wait to read the awesome romantic stories Meljean Brook is sure to write. The next book is the Duke’s and I hope the one after that is Lady Corsair’s, who is one of hell of a cool secondary character.
Good Grief, I am SUCH a fan girl.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Chapter one’s excerpt:
By the time Ivy found Ratcatcher Row, yellow fog smothered the docklands. She inched along the unfamiliar street, holding her right hand out to her side and using the buildings facing the narrow wooden walk as a guide. Though only an arm’s length away, the thick mist dissolved Ivy’s gloved fingers into ghostly outlines. On her left, the clicking, segmented shadow of a spider-rickshaw scurried by on the cobblestones, and the hydraulic hiss of the driver’s thrusting feet seemed to whisper a single refrain.
Hurry, hurry, hurry.
Oh, she wanted to. Her heart pounded as if she’d sprinted through these streets instead of picking her way through the fog, stopping at each building to search for an identifying sign.
But at least she was moving. As long as she could move, she couldn’t be taken.
Seven years ago, after two centuries under brutal Horde rule, the pirate captain Rhys Trahaearn had destroyed the tower that the Horde used to control the nanoagents infecting every person in London. For seven years, Ivy had been free to move as she wished, to feel as she wished—until earlier that night. Only hours ago, she’d been frozen in her bed with her eyes closed, unable to move, listening to strangers search from room to room through her boarding house. From blacksmiths to beggars, no one in that cheap tenement owned anything of value. But when someone had come through her door, stripped away her blankets and prodded at her thighs and breasts as if evaluating her thin body, when the strangers had left and she’d seen the empty beds in rooms that had been earlier filled, Ivy had realized each sleeping person had been valuable—as workers, as slaves…which were the only uses the Horde ever had for them.
And if the Horde was returning to London with their controlling towers and paralyzing devices, nothing would stop Ivy from leaving.
A steamcoach waited in front of the next building, rattling and puttering, its gas lanterns penetrating the fog in faint glowing spheres. By the feeble light, Ivy found the establishment’s sign, and almost moved on before her mind registered the painting on the wood: a compass.
The Star Rose Inn. She’d been looking for a flower. And she’d come so close to missing it, but she was here. Finally here.
For more of the Excerpt, go here.
Additional thoughts: For more information about The Iron Seas series go here.
Also on Saturday, we will have a whole day dedicated to Steampunk Romance. Meljean Brook will be here talking about the upcoming series plus a guest post by Galaxy Express’ Heather talking about the genre.
Verdict: This is Meljean Brook’s best novella to date with a great insight into what seems to an incredible new Steampunk series and a great, awesome romance to boot.
Rating: 8- Excellent
Reading next: The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia