Guy on the covers looks a whole lot hotter than the book's description of Fletcher. Fletcher, the hero, has been hanging out on a deserted island for a few months and apparently resembles the Wild Man of Borneo. (To me, anything outside of a five o'clock shadow is ICK, so I pictured him like this anyway.)Skies of Gold
is set in an alt-history, steampunk world where powerful nations wage war in the sky with airships captained and powered by the cyborg-ish, enhanced humans called Man O'Wars. Until recently, these battles have stayed in the sky, between the great ships, but in a sign of possible darker times to come, the Germans and Russians send of a fleet of ships to destroy the city of Liverpool, raining hell on military targets and civilians alike.
Kali MacNeil, an engineer and resident of Liverpool, survived the attack, but lost a leg and relies on a prosthetic leg of her own making. Needing to escape the memories of the destruction of her home, she goes into hiding on a desolate island in the Outer Herbrides. Always the capable, self-sufficient type, she arrives on her new temporary home carrying all sorts of gadgets to make her family's abandoned cottage as homey as possible. The island, once home to her ancestors, is supposed to be deserted, but at night she hears a strange humming and realizes someone else is there.
Captain Fletcher Adams is a Man O'War, and a veteran of the battle to save Liverpool. Although he and his crew saved many lives that day by taking out enemy ships, their vessel was badly damaged. He managed to get his crew off the ship safely before navigating it out to the Hebrides where the airship could fall out of the sky without squishing anyone below. Already feeling somewhat isolated from humanity by his enhancements, he now sees himself and all other Man O'Wars, as the reason war wages on. Without weapons of war, there'd be no reason to make war.
So basically, he's hiding, sulking, playing at being dead and being all emo.
The bulk of the story, like 60%, is devoted to Kali and Fletcher's relationship, which, with other romances, might have had me yawning wide enough to dislocate my jaw. But instead of taking the usual tack -- insta-lust followed by sexy thoughts on repeat -- the narrative follows a slower course, initially with a wary awkwardness, followed by a slow dawning awareness of the other person, both as a sexual being and a full-fledged human being. I.e., they build a genuine friendship.
Kali is probably one of the best heroines I've read in Romance, in that she is genuinely strong and capable; that descriptor not just something that the hero "decides" to apply to her. As her name would suggest, she isn't lily white, but rather the result of an English soldier's marriage to a woman he met in India. Though Kali grew up in India, she moves to England where the barriers to employment for a female engineer aren't as significant. There's nothing preachy about the story, but in her conversations with Fletcher, Kali addresses issue of gender inequality in ways that even "modern" women could appreciate. Consequently, Kali isn't the kind of woman who will agree to stay home and wait for her man to return to battle. At the same time, she isn't Too-Stupid-to-Live, and when she's over her head, she lets Fletcher take the lead.
Fletcher is an alpha male, but -- surprise, surprise -- I like him. For fans of the breed, he's all-man, with muscles that beget more muscles, and a growly, taciturn personality. He's also very progressive in his views of women. Once he gets attached to Kali, his need to protect her is obvious, but he doesn't let his balls dictate what Kali can and can't do. He worries about her, but ultimately, when she says that she will stand at his side when he faces the antagonist, he accepts her choice. In another cool move, he takes her hiking all over the island, including up terrain that is difficult for her since she is adjusting to her prosthetic leg. He keeps an eye on her, but never forces any help on her, pushing her to push herself.
The antagonist is the shakiest part of the plot, as he sort of arrives out of the blue, and it's screamingly clear that he's up to no good. So much so, that Fletcher must temporarily drop some IQ points in order to trust the guy. But the villain serves his purpose and gets the two off the island, and off to make war and things go boom.
Oh, and the sexy times are sexy, but after the first big scene, more sensual than graphic. And, thank the dear and fuzzy-wuzzy lord, these two don't decided to go fuck-happy at an inopportune time, like the middle of a battle.
A truly empowered heroine who doesn't sacrifice her autonomy because she's in lurve, and an alpha male who respects his mate and doesn't act like a grunting, rutting animal.
Will be looking for more titles by this author!