I think my deep-seated admiration for Meljean Brook as the premier steampunk author to whom I compare all newcomers to the genre is quite clear, and the latest addition to the Iron Seas series, Riveted, guarantees her street rep is totally intact.
Whereas the first two books in the series, The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel, are definitely interconnected to one another, a reader could read Riveted with merely an introduction to Brook’s world, best understood by her background essay on the alternate history she employs.
In Riveted, we meet Annika Fridasdotter (Icelandic translation literally “Frida’s daughter”), an engineer on Captain Vashon’s airship (another female airship captain with an excellent reputation – previous books have referred to her prowess). Dressed in outlandishly bright silks, Annika is making her way through a teeming port city back to her ship when she is accosted by an overzealous guard bent on proving she has fraudulent papers. She does, but it’s not because she’s an enemy, but rather carries Norwegian papers to hide her Icelandic origins. Not speaking Castilian, Annika is almost carted away, but for the intervention of David Kentewess.
While the guard is intimated by David’s monocle eye and visible steel hand and arm and backs off, Annika, ever curious, is fascinated by David, and her attraction only increases when she discovers he is a vulcanologist. She would love to know why someone would study something as dangerous as volcanos but sadly realizes that she must get back to her ship. Annika can’t shake the feeling that David has an agenda in helping her and that the intensity of his questioning indicates more than the typical interest between a man and a woman.
Her gut instinct is dead accurate. David’s attention was captured not just by Annika’s clothing and good looks, but also by the fact that when trying to communicate with the bureaucratic port official, she ran through a gamut of languages, including the very rare Norsk. David hadn’t heard that language since his mother, a mysterious woman who never revealed where she was from to her beloved husband and son, died in the same violent volcanic explosion that took David’s eye, arm and both his legs.
Charged twenty years ago with taking his mother’s rune-carved necklace back to her homeland for burial, he has attempted to discover the location of her birthplace, and at last he has a clue, in Annika, who speaks with the same accent and phrases David remembers from his childhood. Thankfully his latest expedition is using Vashon’s airship for transportation to Iceland, so David and Annika are thrown together and the mutual attraction amplifies.
But Annika’s secret is an important one. She is out in the world away from the isolated Icelandic village she grew up in for a reason. Her sister, Kalla, was exiled for a mistake Annika made and Annika vowed to her village elders (after confessing it was her error) that she would find her sister before returning home.
Her village must be hidden from the larger world, as it is comprised solely of women, women who, generations ago, decided to honor what they felt was a sign from God that they were meant to live and love each other. They continue their numbers by choosing to either go abroad and adopt orphan girls or to lie with men who will take the infant if it’s a boy, but hopefully gain a daughter and return back to the village. David’s mother was one of the women who fell in love and chose to stay with her husband and son.
The previous heroes and heroines in this series have been what I would term “edgy,” often having experienced extreme personal adversity and with at least one person in the pair being sexually experienced. Riveted takes a new angle with its H/h both being relatively innocent from and love and sex standpoint. David has dealt with revulsion from women regarding his artificial enhancements and actually paid for sex twice in his life, although he couldn’t bring himself to fruition in the face of his partner’s disinterest or outright revulsion. Annika is a true romantic, virgin and waiting for the right person, woman or man, with whom to lose her virginity. In fear of her rejection, David initially leads Annika to believe he has no romantic or sexual interest in her, but when the going gets tough, finally caves and lets her know his true feelings. The building romance between them is breathtaking and magical.
Meljean Brook’s writing is, as it always is, beautiful and evocative. Every sentence has been crafted with care and her plotlines are watertight, letting the reader feel the delicious sense of anticipation and the wonder of true closure at the story’s conclusion. But where she excels is in the crafting of her characters. My mother and I spoke about this one to one another and mom said, that while she enjoyed the book tremendously, the beginning of the book felt slower to her than the other books in the Iron Seas series. I think she’s right, but it’s an excellent, calculated move by a talented writer.
Brook knows she must set up a side of her world that readers have never seen before. We are not in the world of England and the post-tower destruction, but are instead more immersed in the part of the world which did not live under Horde rule. As always she makes me fall for her world along with her characters. Annika and David are adventurous, well-matched, and with fascinating personal backgrounds which intersect with their worlds in ways that had me eagerly turning the page. Riveted is aptly named, because it easily described my demeanor while reading it.