OMG OMG THIS IS AWESOME. GO BUY IT.
What, that isn’t enough for you? Fine.
I have to come clean ad admit I have not read “The Iron Duke.” I respect the opinions of those who have loved it every which way enough to recommend it to people who I know will love it (and they have). I know that it is likely something I will enjoy when I do read it. But my brain is overloaded at present and has been for awhile, and I know it is exactly the wrong time to introduce said brain, which can be picky, to deep, nuanced, complex and thought-provoking world building.
Which MelJean Brook is really good at, damn her again.
So I haven’t read it. Yes, I suck. But this short story takes place in that same world, and within a handful of chapters and some incredibly deft and elegant writing, I was given a working understanding of a complex universe, treated to a truly emotional story, and gifted with an evening’s read that rocked my goddam world.
Newberry and his wife, Temperance, who is desperately sick, are in London. They’re both uninfected by the bugs which everyone else has floating around in their bloodstreams (ew ew ew that made my skin start itch crawling). The story opens from his wife’s point of view, as she’s alone, miserable, betrayed by her husband and thinking that her life at present is pretty dim. A neighbor has been hired to sit with her while her husband is out performing his job as a constable, and the neighbor is a fascinating and horrifying person with – and ok, look, I have to stop now. I’m going to give too much away. Just buy the book and read this story.
Then read the story by Jill Myles, too. It’s not steampunk, but it is holy crap hot were. It’s like a taste of all the best things about paranormal romance that I like, a sampler, if you will. A really good sampler where pretty much every piece you select is above average if not down right ecstasy.
Myles’ story, “Vixen,” is about a were-fox who lives in the boonies so as to resist her instincts, which, because she’s a female were-fox, are to get down and funky dirty with as many men as possible. She has, to put it mildly, hella big sexual appetites, so her method of controlling them is to shut them off and to shut herself off from everyone. Her mother interferes, because that’s what mothers do, by sending two were-cats to watch over her because some neighbor got a bug up his ass (not the Brooks kind of bug) to go hunting. For foxes. Assmunch.
Miko is torn between her attraction for the two men, her desire to not yield to any sexual temptation, and her compulsion to get down and funky dirty with both of them already – especially when they demonstrate that they’re willing and able and, hello, RIGHT HERE.
I loved several things about this story: I loved Miko’s perspective on her were-ness, I loved the differences in the physical and mental characteristics of the two heroes, I loved Miko’s frank analysis of her sexuality and her sexual proclivities, and the fact that she didn’t castigate herself as a big ol hobag for being exactly as she is. She doesn’t reject her sexuality because she believes it makes her depraved. I had a lot of respect for her, and for Myles, for that.
And It Was HOT, y’all. For real hot. Myles does a banging job of building the tension in realistic and frustrating ways.
Finally, “Kitten-tiger and the Monk,” by Carolyn Crane. I confess, I didn’t like this story as much as I liked the other two because Crane starts both of her characters, particularly the heroine, in a place of great negativity. The heroine, Sophia, has done some dastardly, devious and shitful things. She can remove a person’s memories going back up to 24 hours and replace those memories with whatever she wants, and she does it on a regular basis, both to serve her own needs, and those of her (not exactly noble) employers. Sophia is connected to organized crime and some really shady business, and the one bright spot in her life was Robert, who has the ability to interact with, control and shape the molecules that make up any building or structure.
Several years back, Sophia betrayed Robert and left him, and now she’s back in his presence because she’s learned he can tell her where the Monk is, a dangerous man who has the power to basically “reboot” people so they can start over with no memory of what they’d been or done before. Criminals have been rehabilitated by the Monk. Sophia wants him to obliterate her mind altogether because she’s being crushed with the guilt of what she’s done, not just to Robert, but to him most of all.
I don’t know if I can put this in stronger language. GO BUY THIS ANTHOLOGY RIGHT NOW. It’s marvelous. It’s wunderbar. If you like paranormal, shifters or emotionally tense stories, this will rock. If you like steampunk, or you’ve been curious about it, this will rock. And if you like carefully built and exceptionally crafted novellas, this will rock.
Got it? Ok. Now go read.