In a kickback to Book Smuggler days of old, this week we cover some familiar ground – paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Today, Ana covers two books by her favourite PNR authors, Meljean Brook and Nalini Singh.
This double feature is brought to you by the awesomeness of Nalini Singh and Meljean Brook’s books. I am a huge fan of both writers and their books; to me, they represent the best in Paranormal Romance:
(I hate The Iron Duke‘s cover with a passion. I avoid looking at it. The headless-man-titty is quite possibly the type of cover I loathe the most. PLEASE DON’T LET THESE COVERS PUT YOU OFF.)
Play of Passion (Berkley, Nov 2010, Paperback, 352 pages) by Nalini Singh is the ninth instalment in her excellent Psy-Changeling series and it follows the relationship between two members of the SnowDancer wolf pack. Indigo is a lieutenant in a difficult position: she only dates (and would ever consider mating with) someone as dominant as she is but who would never try to smother her. Enter Drew, a very dominant wolf, with an important function (he is responsible for tracking rogue members of the pack) but whose place in the pack’s rank is not very clear. That confuses Indigo and is that confusion that provides most of the conflict for their relationship. Their courtship is set against the backdrop of the increasing tension within the Psy leadership, with the Council divided between those who wish to maintain Silence and a purity of their race and those who think it is time that the Psy embraced their humanity. It was great to see Nalini Singh returning to a changeling pairing and I think Play of Passion is her best book for a while.
The Iron Duke (Berkley, Oct 2010, Paperback, 384 pages) by Meljean Brook is the first book in her new Steampunk series, The Iron Seas. As a HUGE fan of this author’s writing and her Guardian series, I have been anxiously waiting for this book, especially after reading the novella Here There Be Monsters. It’s been nine years since Rhys Trahaearn, A.K.A the Iron Duke liberated England from Horde control (more on that later) and he is for all intents and purposes the most famous and powerful man in England. When a body is dumped on his property, Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth is called upon to investigate, initiating what can only be described as a superb Adventure slash Mystery. Plus, of course the romance between Rhys and Mina. I loved the Iron Duke and I think it is a great beginning to this new series.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The reason why I coupled these two books here today is that they share three similarities that I wish to address: the incredible world-building; the asshole heroes (at least to start with); and the AWESOME heroines.
Starting with the world-building. In my opinion, this is quite possibly the most important thing when identifying and reviewing a romance as Paranormal Romance and where the majority of the Paranormal Romance novels that I have tried to read failed miserably. World-building is one thing that I pay a lot of attention to and it needs to be conceived and developed carefully. I think that both there authors have achieved that with great skill. Play of Passion is the ninth book in an ongoing series set in the future and the world-building is always evolving and expanding but without breaking any of its inner rules. The main storyline against which all pairings so far have been set keeps me on the edge of my seat and I do not know where the author is taking the story: will the Psy collapse? Will they really leave Silence behind? How will the other races react or act when the time comes for a decision?
As for Meljean Brook’s book, it is exactly what I expect Steampunk to be: technological advancement that deeply interacts with all aspects of society: from economical factors to political and social elements. In the alternate history of this world, the Mongol Empire AKA the Horde, led by Genghis Khan’s grandson succeeds in maintaining power all over in Europe with the help of their advanced machines and nanotechnology. They have enslaved people in England by controlling their nano-infested cells and now that the Iron Duke has liberated the land, the repercussions are still being felt. Aristocrats who fled and have now returned to England are prejudiced against those who had not alternative but to remain. People still grapple with the outcome of Frenzy (when the Horde sent signals that caused sexual frenzy and people have sex with whomever is available – the babies that were born 9 months later were sent to crèches to be raised by the Horde) including the female protagonist whose Mongolian features are a constant reminder of the Horde to those who look at her. The specific plotline in The Iron Duke follows the idea that the Horde is still out there and that the social divide within England is far from being stable. It is a fascinating, inventive, full-of-possibilities world that Meljean Brook has created and I can’t wait to read more books set in it.
Moving on to the second point that I would like to address: the heroes. Both Drew and Rhys start out as complete jerks who wish to “possess” their respective heroines. In Ana’s Ranking of Least Favourite Type of Hero, this is number one. I absolutely abhor (and this feeling has only increased with time) the hero that sets out with intent to OWN and control the heroine. This is a very dangerous trope too, because it walks a very fine line and historically, within the Romance Novel context, has led to many forced seduction/rape scenes. I avoid this like the plague and I will only pick up books with this kind of hero if I trust the writer in the sense that there will be a point, that the metatext or subtext would not portray those as positive traits. Plus that there will be explanation of motivation or intent, that there will be realisation of the wrongness and that there will be reparation/regret if necessary. Having read basically these authors’ entire backlists, I do trust them and I was not disappointed.
Drew makes a mistake really early in his relationship with Indigo by trying to possess her and is immediately confronted by Indigo. He feels regret and tries to – as much as he can given he is a dominant wolf (and context within a novel is also important) – control himself and adapt. I believed in their relationship in the end.
Rhys on the other hand, remains for the greatest part of The Iron Duke someone who believes in taking care of what he possesses and that includes people. This is part of who he is and part of his character arc not only when dealing with his heroine but also with everybody in his life. His arc plays out as he realises the difference between taking possession and caring for not only those he is responsible for but also those who are outside his immediate relationships as he is such a public figure; but it takes time and it takes several mistakes in order for this realisation to take hold. There’s been some talk online and on Twitter about how the first and the last sex scenes in this book could be seen as rape scenes. There is a great discussion on Jessica’s post about the book at Read React Review and I agree wholeheartedly with her when she says:
“My own experience reading the book is that the first sexual encounter is nonconsensual in a way that shocks both of them, i.e. unintentionally nonconsensual, and the last one is consensual. I had no problem with either one.”
Although in the end, I believed less in Rhys’ adaptation to the need to behave in a more controlled way, I do believe that the seeds are there. And they are only there because of Mina.
Which brings me to my final point. The heroines in these books kick so much ass is not even funny.
Both of them are in a position of authority, Indigo as a respected, independent lieutenant and Mina as a police inspector. They both have a life, with friends and family. They both do what they have to do to ensure a job well done even if it means doing things like FACING A KRAKEN. And above all, considering my latest point, these are heroines who will not put up with stupid behaviour from their heroes, who will stand up for themselves and tell them off and hold them accountable when necessary.
For example right in the beginning of Play of Passion when Drew tries to kiss Indigo forcibly:
“Wrenching away using the skill and strength that made her one of SnowDancer’s most senior lieutenants she swept off the bed, fury pulsing in every inch of her. The kiss she would have forgiven. Even the pushiness – she understood what he was, wouldn’t have penalised him for it. But the hand around her neck, the way he’d tried to use his body to pin hers to the wall, and most of all the arrogance with which he’d taken it as a given that her touch-hunger made her his for the taking? No.
“I”, she said in a tone so calm it took all of her control to maintain it, “haven’t given you the right to touch me as you please.”. There was play…and then there were lines you didn’t cross. “Next time you try to touch me like that” – in possession, in ownership – “be prepared to get that pretty face shredded.”
Or when Mina confronts Rhys when is having of his ridiculous “you shall come to my bed” moments, when he traps her in a lift and then smells her:
“You will accept me. And now I will know you, even if you come to me in the dark.”
Know her? Arrogant, insufferable knacker. He knew nothing about her. And she didn’t need her weapons to get him away from her. Not when he was so stupid as to come this close.
Her hand shot to the front of his breeches, making claws of her fingers and trapping his genitals in a tight grip. He froze. As if testing, she hefted the firm weight she found. Heavy, but so very delicate.
She bared her teeth. “And even in the dark, now I’ll know that I’m ripping off the right cods.”
All things considered, I loved both books. But they are not perfect. I found Play of Passion to be slightly repetitive and thought that the author once again relied on a tried and used denouement for the couple’s main conflict (the One-of-them-is-going-to-die-omg-i-do-love-this-person trope). I loved the world-building and the mystery and adventure of The Iron Duke but was not completely sold on the romance.
They are though, great examples of what Paranormal Romance can accomplish when you have conscientious writers behind them who think deeply about their world-building and characters.
And also, the sex scenes. Oh boy can Meljean Brook and Nalini Singh write torrid, awesome scenes. Wowza.
Rating: 7 – Very Good – leaning towards 8
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