Since I tried my first steampunk romance and enjoyed it, I have made efforts to try various authors in the genre to establish my tastes and find new authors to love. This was my first by Ms. Dryden. While it wasn’t a knock out of the park for a few reasons, it did leave me willing to give her stuff another go.
Scarlet Devices was the second book in a series and while I made it through without reading the first book, I wouldn’t say that I did it easily. So that being said, I would recommend reading these in order. There wasn’t an issue of spoilers so much as I felt that I missed the introduction to the author’s steampunk world which gave me a few wobbly moments before I got my reading legs under me.
Eliza Hardison, cousin to the Makepiece Baron, Dexter Hardison, has recently graduated from Vassar with idealistic plans to improve conditions for the working class, maintain her independence, and work as an inventor for her cousin. The reappearance of Matthew Pence, who was once her cousin’s apprentice and now getting set to start out on his own, brings back memories of all the annoying times he tried to stop her from participating in the inventions and projects because they were no place for a lady due to danger and propriety. She will rub Matthew’s nose in it when she wins the cross-country Air and Steam Rally race.
Matthew is struck by how grown up Eliza is from that precocious freckled-faced girl who poked into things at the factory causing him no end of fear that she would get hurt in an industrial accident that he would be blamed for. On the cusp of starting his own company with Dexter’s blessing and request to keep an eye on Eliza during the race, he realizes that she has come into her own. She is still precocious, but she is also capable. She must still remain hands off to him if he really wants to make his own way. He fears that she doesn’t understand how competitive and dangerous a cross country race through some of the roughest and untamed parts of the American Dominion can be. Someone doesn’t want the racers to succeed. Clues lead to a wicked conspiracy.
The general plot of this story had me anticipating it even before I started reading. I loved the idea of the cross country race and the dangerous shadowy conspirator who ruthlessly made the race even more dangerous than just the rugged countryside. I am always intrigued by steampunk gadgetry and the parallel universe world building that goes on and there was no exception with this book.
That all being said, I struggled at times with the story that brought me up close to the action, but then drawing away into passive voice that just gave me a few lines telling me something occurred. I couldn’t stay engaged for long periods of time because of it.
My second issue was the character of Eliza. For half the book, she came across as a spoilt child. She had her naive ideals and blindly surged ahead with no thought to anything outside her needs or desires. Everyone’s words, behavior and actions were tainted by her prejudice. I’m all for a heroine with a backbone and standing up for her beliefs, but she just came across as rude and childish. Her first attempts to seduce Matthew only lacked an offering of money to come across as treating him as her whore. He called her on it too when he gently held her off and I respected him all the more for it. It was hard for him to resist the woman he loved, but he didn’t want something he saw as special to have the first time get treated like a science experiment- which she did. He didn’t want to compromise her because she had no intentions of getting married and he didn’t want to lay with someone who hated him, but wanted to use his body to teach herself about men. See? Not pretty.
Does she stay this way? No, which is why I didn’t end up hating the romance. She was still in denial until nearly the end, but she grew up a lot and became a worthy heroine. Eliza was very stubborn so it took a few near death situations for her to admit her feelings to Matthew. I was just so happy she left behind most of her undesirable traits that I let this stuff go.
Matthew and Eliza together, once she opened her eyes and stopped acting like a petulant idiot, was a nice part of the story. They are both innocent in the way of relationships. It was refreshing that the author made their few encounters have that awkward first time feel. I know this is a romance and people expect sexy times to be titillating and I do too, but once in a while its good when an author writes the ‘for real’. Virgins and near virgins aren’t experts on sex. Where they really shined was the build of respect for the other’s skills and the knowledge that they were equals and partners. To survive, they had to work together and they finally did. They rescued each other and comforted each other. Strongest part of the story as far as I was concerned.
The villain and his part of the plot added the danger element and I was truly disgusted by his brand of vice and evil, but the character himself didn’t move me to strong feelings. In many ways, I was struck by the fact that he was more lucky than smart when he got away with so much under the nose of the rest of the world.
Now I want to go back and get Dexter and Charlotte’s story as well as move on to the next adventure.
I can definitely recommend this one to those who enjoy a solid steampunk world and two near innocent, but steamy lovers on a cross country adventure together.
My thanks to Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review thoughts.