My rating: Beach vacation (3/5)
Steel and Song is the start of a steampunk romance series. I enjoyed this first installment, but I’m not sure that I love it enough to commit to future installments of a series. The world building is cool and innovative; it was the romance that fell flat for me.
Tova Vanaskaya is an airwitch who has recently been drafted into the army. An airwitch is “born a gytrash, able to draw upon nature to wield magic. But riding the line between life and death meant that, inevitably, a gytrash would get too close to the death side” (p. 8). Airship captain, Piers Dashkov, has no choice to take on Tova as his airwitch; there are no other options. For someone like Piers, a disgraced Cossack, but a warrior-noble nonetheless, Tova is expendable and replaceable. He doesn’t care about Tova, he cares about his mission to restore his honour. If that means Tova is killed in the process, so be it. The set up is intriguing but the gaping difference in social status between Piers and Tova do not make for an auspicious start to a romance.
Steel and Song was an exciting and action packed read. I quite liked the world building and I was intrigued by the complex, class-driven society the author created. I liked how this class-consciousness was used to add another layer of conflict in Steel and Song. The fact that Tova and those like her were used as weapons in a long war was horrible, but also recognizable when compared to actual history. Tova’s time in her prisoner camp was realistic and put me in mind of Nazi concentration camps. Add in the fact that Tova and the other gytrash are persecuted because of their abilities (ie. genetic heritage) and you can immediately see the comparison. Since I like history, this alternative storyline appealed to me.
However, what was lacking for me was the romance. Quite simply, I didn’t consider the relationship between Tova and Piers to actually be a romance. For the majority of this short novel, Piers and Tova are rather ambivalent towards each other, especially in the attraction department. Piers’ initial reaction to Tova is one of revulsion: “Damn. The Sami airwitch gave him the creeps” (p. 26). Tova is so obviously “other” to Piers, he doesn’t consider her as a potential lover, at least not yet. Tova is a little more aware, but for most of the novel, I couldn’t really see the romance between these two.
That said, I do think the author did a good job of not rushing the relationship between Tova and Piers. Piers especially needed to come to terms with his past before he could consider a relationship. By the end of novel, Piers and Tova aren’t really “in” a relationship, but they have the potential to form one. And therein lies my discontent with Steel and Song. I was reading this one for the romance, and I don’t feel like there was any real development of a romance outside of lust between Piers and Tova. While I can see why this instant lust fits the wartime atmosphere, I couldn’t help but look for something a little softer and romantic. Ultimately, this is my personal preference in a romance, so take my comments about Steel and Song with a grain of salt when it comes to the romance department, I am fully aware that I am picky about my romance reading.
If you’re looking for some great world building of an alternative history, Steel and Song is for you. If you’re looking for a cut and dry romance, you might want to stay clear until there are further installments to the series. I’m not sure how the relationship between Piers and Tova will develop, but I do find myself curious. There’s some great potential here, only future reading will tell me.
*Review copy via NetGalley.
As soon as I started reading Steel and Song, I was immediately reminded of Karen Kincy’s Shadows of Asphodel. The dynamic between Ardis and Wendel is very similar as is the war torn world.
If you like the airship element of Steel and Song check out Zoe Archer’s series The Ether Chronicles. Like Steel and Song, Archer’s novellas are set in a war torn alternative history. Try book one, Skies of Fire if you’d like an action packed romance filled with tension between your romantic leads.
Lastly, I’ll recommend Margaret Foxe’s Prince of Hearts. It’s a longer read but if you liked the Russian elements of Steel and Song, this one will be a good choice. It also helps that the hero and heroine of Prince of Hearts are filled with anamosity with one another; I wish Tova had stood up to Piers a little bit more as Aline did in Prince of Hearts.