Another book that A) makes it abundantly clear that despite my professed fondness for romance, I am not the audience for most Paranormal Romances, and B) leaves me feeling like I'm missing some crucial "girl" gene because, even though many women eat this kind of story up like a carton of ice cream, I find it utterly unmoving and un-romantic.
I confess, my bratty, inner adolescent wanted to give Kiss of Steel two stars just as a jab at the good reviews that nudged me to download this sucker. (Revised to change "made me" to "nudged" because, duh, I bought it of my own volition.) Fortunately, grownup brain, what little there is of it, prevailed, and hence my default three-star rating.
Kiss of Steel probably suffers from its comparison to Meljean Brooks's Iron Seas books, of which, I've read The Iron Duke and really enjoyed. Trouble is, where The Iron Duke (giggle, I keep typing "The Iron Duck") is backed up by comprehensive world building, Kiss of Steel is a Regency romance with a few generic speculative fiction elements -- vampires, werewolves, steam soldiers -- thrown in for flavor. It's sort of like shaking a bit of curry on your french fries and calling them Indian cuisine.
The basic story. Honoraria Todd is a down-on-her-luck young woman, who, following the murder of her father, is now responsible for the care and feeding of her remaining family -- younger siblings, Lena and Charlie. Survival is complicated by the fact that she's on the run from a powerful Echelon blue blood (aka, civilized vampire), and her brother has been infected with the blue blood virus. She and her siblings are hiding in London's "hood," the Rookery. The Rookery is domain of Blade (ugh, that name), a rogue blue blood with his own history with the elite Echelon. London, and all of the England, is run by vampires, I mean, "blue bloods."
Through a short series of unfortunate events, Honoraria loses her job and throws herself on Blade's mercy, becoming his thrall (e.g., blood bank), in exchange for money. Lust happens. Meanwhile, the Echelon still hunts Honoraria and someone has let a vampire (blue blood who's gone through the Fade and is now a hideous, blood-hungry, raving lunatic) loose in the Rockery.
My list 'o things that worked for me is short. Kiss of Steel does have several good action sequences: battles against the vampire, and the obligatory duel against the Big Bad. The underlying mystery, the vampire's identity, was interesting, although I figured it out before the big reveal. Honoraria, despite being the "innocent" as described in the novel's blurb, isn't a totally helpless ninny. She takes the initiative and though terribly outmatched, comes to Blade's aid several times. The text is about as prosaic as you can get, but it makes for an easy read.
I was sorely vexed by...
The World Building. As I insinuated above, this really isn't steampunk, but rather a paranormal Regency romance. As a romance, it follows the textbook definition to a "T," with the plot focusing on the Relationship. The world of Kiss of Steel is just a sketchy backdrop: vampires (sigh, blue bloods) run the country. Instead of (in addition to?) tax monies, they demand a blood tax. (I dunno how this economy works.) Like all upper crust, they are arrogant shits who live off the backs of the poor. Uh, as with any novel set in Regency time, the disparity between the rich and poor is vast. And...steam stuff, there's steam-driven stuff. Any reader looking for the sociopolitical depth, of say, China Mieville's Bas Lag series, best look elsewhere.
"But," says the peanut gallery, "It's a romance; it's about THE RELATIONSHIP."
Yeah, I could write a book on how sad that statement makes me. Let's just agree to disagree.
The Relationship. Know what? If you can get me to fall in love with the hero, I'll probably forgive all manner of plot issues and logical inconsistencies. IF.
Blade is the stereotypical paranormal romance alpha male. As in, big, brooding, with serious impulse control issues and (this is the important bit) abso-fucking-lutely no sense of humor. Me, I equate humor with intelligence; the absence thereof, meaning, well, stupidity. Tastes in men obviously vary, with mine going for a man who is something more than a shaved-down gorilla.
Blade is, quite frankly, a dud. And as I finished the book, I still don't understand his attraction to Honoraria (or vice versa). Minutes after he meets Honoraria, he's thinking how much he wants to suck her nipples, plow her like a field, blah-blah-blah, just add water, it's Insta-lust! (Every time he goes into dirty-thought mode, my brain started playing porno music -- boom, chicka-boom -- and I began to skim, looking for actual plot.)
Honoraria, being the uptight virginal type, isn't that into him at first. And this is where the romance gets icky fast. Blade, suave, virile beast that he is, immediately starts laying on the pheromones, touching her in a way that makes her heart race, panties wet, etc. Except, Honoraria really doesn't want or understand what is happening to her. The result isn't hot; it's not seduction; it's molestation. And ick!
Honoraria, who initially thinks Blade is a very bad man, decides after a while that he is a good man because he treats his family of criminals well. I emphasize "criminals." Yo, I loves me some bad boy. But frankly, Blade's badness is all tell and no show. We never see him doing anything particularly bad, we're never privy to the ugly side of being master of the Rookeries. And besides, of course he's good to his lackeys. It's the smart thing to do. (The only smart thing he does.)
In short, these two never really sit down and talk, never do anything to get to know each other, besides fuck and occasionally try to kill a vampire. There's no delicious build-up of sexual tension, no tentative touches, no growing awareness of the other person's attraction. Just -- Blam -- overpowering need to "hit it." I'm supposed to believe that Blade wants Honoraria because she's innocent (ugh) and somehow strong-willed, but the chemistry between the two is (ironically) tepid, like between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala.
Clearly, Kiss of Steel works for many readers. If Insta-lust, over-long love scenes, and simian alpha males are your cuppa, you'll love this book. Me, I'm still in search of a paranormal, non-alpha hero who uses his head for something besides the control that shunts blood from his body to his dick.