Steampunk has recently become a popular offshoot of science fiction, even though it isn’t new – think Jules Verne, or The Wild, Wild West. Steampunk is essentially historically-based science fiction with anachronistic technology. The Victorian era is a popular setting for steampunk novels, and the genre derives its name from the use of steam for power. But steampunk can be set just about anywhere and anytime with the right handling. Meljean Brook places her story in a cleverly constructed alternative history, where the Mongols develop advanced nanotechnology and proceed to take over much of the world.
Riveted is set in the same world as the first two books, The Iron Duke and Heart of Steel, but has no characters in common. Riveted is about Annika, a young lady from a remote, and secret, all-woman village in Iceland. At present, Annika is a crewmember on an airship traveling the New World while searching for her sister, Kalla. Kalla was exiled from the remote village five years earlier after taking the blame for something Annika did. Annika meets David, a volcanologist traveling to Iceland for research, when he boards the airship as a passenger. He is drawn to Annika in part because of her accent, which is exactly like his late mother’s. He’s searching for his mother’s birthplace in order to fulfill her final wishes.
The book is filled with people of many nations, so the character voices are particularly challenging. The Icelandic women sound very Nordic. The other accents included French, English, and Scottish. Alison Larkin not only had to distinguish the accents, but also keep the voices straight for a large cast of characters. She meets the challenge admirably. I was not sure about Annika’s voice at first, but I came to appreciate it, and now feel it reflects the character quite well. Larkin has a knack for the male voices as well, not too gruff or too feminine. Larkin’s voice is very pleasant and she paces her reading well—not too fast or slow.
There are many wonderfully clever gadgets and machines in Riveted, as in the other Iron Seas books. Brook uses the technology she’s created to great advantage here. We encounter flying machines, mechanical whales, and steam-powered trolls. But the wonderful setting doesn’t detract from the characters and relationships in the novel. There are many relationships explored here, between parent and child, siblings, friends, co-workers, and lovers. The somewhat slow-building relationship between Annika and David is very satisfying. Both characters have to grow and change to adapt to the relationship and the author presents the wants and needs of both as equally important.
Meljean Brook succeeds in writing a story that is very different than either of the first two books in the series. Annika is a strong heroine but nothing like either Mina or Yasmeen from the previous books who, though different from each other, were both in positions of power and authority. Annika is clever and capable but has different strengths and ambitions. Riveted brings up some modern day issues of women’s rights and homosexuality. The issues are discussed with a refreshing frankness, and without a pushy agenda. My only quibble is the cover art. Annika is described as “dark skinned” in several places and David is half Native American (or what we call Native American – there is no America in the books). But while the different cover designs do a great job with the costuming, they get the skin color and ethnicity wrong. Perhaps someday we’ll see more covers that actually reflect the characters within.
Riveted could be a good place to enter the series for those who aren’t into SF world-building. There is less of that in this book than the others. Since I’ve read all the books and short stories in the Iron Seas series, it’s difficult for me to know if Riveted would stand alone. However, I do know that Brooks is a great believer in giving her readers enough information to jump into her any of her series wherever they want. Her website is a wealth of information and background on the characters, events, and settings in her novels. For the Iron Seas series she even has a map! More authors should be this considerate of their readers. Even those of us who read the series start to finish enjoy refreshing our memories before a new book comes out.
Book Content: A
Steam Factor: For your burning ears only
Violence: Escalated fighting
Genre: Steampunk, Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Tantor Audio