Oh, please, like I wouldn't be reviewing a book called Kilts and Kraken. It was practically subtitled: “A Novel That CarrieS Will Adore”. There's these Victorian Era Highlanders, see, and they fight these Krakens, and the hero lives in a castle, because everything is better with castles. And it's all steampunky so everyone flies around in airships, but there's also magic so people cast spells and say things like, “Don't land your airship in the stone circle, please”.
I hate to describe the plot more coherently because it's fun to watch it unfold. This guy, Magus, is injured while fighting a kraken, and he washes up onto the shores of an island in the Hebrides, where he lies, all unconscious and fevered and helpless. Dr. Geneva MacKay comes from Edinburgh to treat him. The plot synopsis on the book's website goes into way more details, but really, I think it's just better to start with the whole “nursing a mysterious hero back to health” thing and see where the story takes you (clockwork dogs!).
The heroine is a doctor, and she has to battle sexism (and krakens – she shoots one in the eye, thus earning my eternal devotion). Also there is a clockwork dog. The only thing that could possibly improve this book would be if Antonio Banderas handed it to me personally.
The heroine is one of my all-time favorites. She's smart, she stands up for herself, she's brave, she's good with a gun, she's good at her profession, she's forthright, she's compassionate as well as practical, and she is not shy about initiating sex or about carrying around a few “French letters” (early condoms) just in case she meets the right man. Magus is a good hero, but Geneva is a heroine for the ages with just enough flaws to seem like a real person. Seriously, if my daughter grew up to be just like Geneva, I would be a very, very happy mom, which is the highest praise I have to bestow.
I really don't have much to say about this book. Either the description in my first paragraph makes you weak with joy or it doesn't. I did knock it down to a B+ over some nitpicky stuff. The writing could be smoother, the lead couple gets physically demonstrative really early on, which didn't ring true, and a couple of the villains are far too over the top, even for a book in which everything is pretty insane. Maniacal villains are fun, but these were just caricatures.
Another issue is that there's too much stuff going on to absorb – not just krakens and airships but tons of characters and back stories. If ever a book could have been expanded it would be this one (admittedly, it is part of a trilogy), but the short length also gave it a pace that was jubilantly fast. This fast pace was handy, because I suspect that the plot may have contained holes but I was so busy yelling, “CLOCKWORK DOG!” that I honestly didn't notice them. Maybe one of our calmer readers can look into this for us. Actually, a clockwork dog is sort of a dumb thing to make – why not just have a real dog? I'll tell you why: because anything clockwork is neat. OK? Can we just all agree on that? Also, if you are looking for historical accuracy, stop now. Some steampunk tries to stay historically accurate in every way except a few technological changes. This read more like the best live action roleplaying game ever than as anything remotely historical in nature. It is pure fantasy.
My last note is that Kilts and Kraken is the third book in a series. [The first is Steam & Sorcery ( A | BN | K | S | ARe ) and the second is Photographs & Phantoms ( A | BN | K | S | ARe )] I hadn't read the other books but that wasn't a problem. I recommend this as a stand-alone although of course I am also going to devour the other two books as soon as possible because this was AWESOME. Clockwork Dog!