Review originally published on http://www.TracingTheStars.com
This, ladies and gentlemen, was my very first steampunk novel. Though I'm still acclimating to the steampunk genre, this book was fantastic on so many wonderful levels that it could have probably been about shifters (a genre I absolutely loathe) and I still would have given it five stars. Though not perfect, and it did induce a few eye-roll moments, it hit my key factors for a five star rating: excellent characters, excellent romance, excellent world building and the OMG MOAR flag was even triggered. I am already standing in line, eagerly waiting for book #2, A Dark Heart, to be released in November.
So, lets talk about Steampunk. I have always watched from the sidelines, loving the amazing costumes, liking the overall concepts behind steampunk and am fans of steampunk media such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, Wild Wild West, and Steam Powered Giraffe. I've never read steampunk, though. When Prince of Hearts came my way via recommendation, I was a bit hesitant. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to separate my normal rating standards from the fact that I might just not understand or end up not liking steampunk as a literary genre.
It's true. I didn't end up liking steampunk as a literary genre. I ended up loving it.
Now, I have no idea if this book includes steampunk genre standards. It is a Victorian steampunk, and I understand there is a bit of slight variation between this and American / wild west style steampunk. I do have the sudden urge to go on a steampunk bender and read anything with gears on the covers, though, to find out.
One thing that did make me snort with a roll of the eyes, which may or may not be genre-typical, is the fact that some objects and concepts in Prince of Hearts seemed to be flippantly made into steampunk by sticking the word steam in front of them. Steam carriage. Steam torch. Steam wireless. Steam. Steam. Steam. I let this little annoyance slide, though, but I don't think it was necessary to call a torch / lighting device a 'steam torch' just to make it seem more steampunk.
The other thing that, again, I don't know if it is steampunk typical - was the reference to famous people of the time period, like Freud and Edison. The Edison reference really irked me, actually, because Edison was not an inventor. He was a shoddy businessman who stole technology from other, real scientists like Tesla. Also, the male protag's (Sasha) identity and ancestry also made me a bit annoyed, wondering why it was so necessary to make these people famous. I would much prefer if he had been a bit ordinary in his background with an extraordinary story. That aside, I do feel the author handled his story rather well, so I couldn't hold my own famous-people-in-fiction-angst against the book.
So, with all my ineptitude regarding steampunk revealed, lets get down to the story and characters. The story involves a prim and proper Aline Finch who has a hidden wild-streak and is secretary/personal assistant to the mysterious Professor Romanov. Romanov, or Sasha, is a 'crime investigator', though his true identity and past are far more interesting. He is much older than he appears, carrying within his chest a Da Vinci Heart that keeps him from aging. He is part of a council of Da Vinci Heart carrying Elders, though he is an outcast because of his origins (which I'm not going to reveal. Go read the book.)
When we enter into their story, we find an Aline Finch who has had quite enough of the Professor's eccentric ways. She's giving him her two weeks, whether he gets it or not, and has plans to marry an archaeologist. There is a serial killer about, however, who is targeting women that resemble Finch and seems to have plans of framing Sasha. When Sasha finds out that Finch has flown the coup, he chases after her for fear of her safety and because the heart he doesn't have isn't willing to let her go.
Finch. I adored her character, rounded spectacles and all. She may be proper on the outside, but inside is a fiery woman who doesn't give Sasha an inch, holds her own in their war of words and has no qualms about going after what she wants, as soon as she figures out exactly what that is. The possible calm, boring life of being married to her bo Charles, or the unending but heart-pounding drama of Sasha. The chemistry between Sasha and Finch sizzles through the pages, driving the story forward.
There were some things about this book that I wasn't expecting, and I'm not going to say what they were, because I hope they catch you off guard too. There were other parts that were obvious but didn't deter from my overall enjoyment of the book.There is 'debauchery' in this book, too, including a few ripped corsets, but I have zero issues with this. This is certainly recommended, however, for mature readers.
The world building in this book was superbly done, steam-labeling everything aside. You get a real good sense of the events, places and time periods without being suffocated by details. There is a good feeling of background and history, including the Crimean war and the Steam Age, and the history carries into the story with as much impact as the character development and murder-mystery plot. There is alchemy, science, automaton mechatronics and things leaning more towards the paranormal. I found it all rather neat and the book never hit a single dull spot.
I think this book has certainly wet my taste buds for steampunk!