200 years ago the majority of England was infected with nanoagents by the Horde. Only the wealthy aristocracy were able to escape infection by leaving the country and moving to the New World. After the population was contaminated the Horde activated the nanoagents and were able to take full control of every person. For 200 years the population lived in fear and poverty, stripped of their emotions and forced into having mechanical upgrades by the Horde. Everything changed when The Iron Duke destroyed the control towers, the Horde was overrun and driven out of England. Now the aristocracy (known as Bounders) have returned to claim the land they believe is rightfully theirs, those who remained behind and were infected (known as Buggers) are resentful of their return and struggling to deal with the return of their emotions. Mina is a Detective Inspector but because of the circumstances of her birth and the fact she is obviously of Horde heritage she doesn't receive the respect she deserves. She crosses paths with Rhys (The Iron Duke) when a body is thrown out of an airship onto his property and she is sent to investigate. But whose body have they found and why was it delivered to Rhys? Is it part of a conspiracy against the whole of England and will Mina be able to stop it in time?
I've had The Iron Duke on my wish list for quite some time now, I've heard nothing but good things about this book and the author so was really looking forward to reading it. I have to admit I'm still fairly new to steampunk but it's a genre I've really enjoyed discovering. Meljean Brook has done some amazing world building and I can't wait to continue reading the series. Things can be a little confusing in the first few chapters as you try to get to grips with the setting and the history of the Horde but I was completely hooked from the moment Rhys stepped onto the page.
Mina is intelligent and works hard at her job as a Detective. She constantly has to fight prejudice, not just from being a female in a job that is traditionally viewed as a man's work by her peers but also because of her Horde background. She faces insults and threats on a daily basis but she is brave enough to keep going and she just wants to do her job to the best of her ability. She is also fiercely loyal to those that she loves and will do whatever it takes to protect them. She is immediately attracted to Rhys but she is worried about what would happen to her family if it is publicly known that she is dating England's hero.
Rhys was a pirate before he destroyed the tower and is now one of the most well known faces in the country. His sins have been forgiven in the face of his help destroying the Horde tower and he has even been given the title of Duke of Anglesey as a reward. At heart Rhys is still a pirate though, he is arrogant and expects to be obeyed. If there is something he wants he goes for it and isn't willing to take no for an answer and what he wants more than anything is Mina, no doubt about it he plans to make her his. Although he could come across as overbearing (especially at first) there is something sweet and deliciously sexy about him - who doesn't find a ruffian pirate at least a little hard to resist? - and the more you get to know about his back story the harder you will fall for him. I loved the way he changed as he gets to know Mina and sees how fearful she is of someone having power over her, she was controlled by the Horde and refuses to let anyone have that kind of hold over her again. As Rhys learns more about her past his attitude towards her changes and this is where the relationship really started to take off for me.
Along with the main characters we have some great side characters, I particularly loved Scarsdale who was always able to put Rhys in his place and provided a lot of light relief throughout the story. I really hope we get to see his story in a future book. I was excited to discover that Yasmeen will be the heroine of the next book, she is an airship captain and quite a tough cookie and I'm really curious to find out what her secret is. At the moment I'm not too sure about the hero of the next book though, I'm not his biggest fan going on what we've seen of him so far but it'll be interesting to see if Meljean Brook can change my mind. The plot is strong and fast paced, full of conspiracies, intrigue, prejudice and discrimination it is a real page turner that you won't want to put down. If you love a story with a strong romance, likable characters and interesting world building then The Iron Duke is one I would highly recommend. Even if you're new to the steampunk genre I think this would be a great place to start.