Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tarnished Knight (London Steampunk #1.5) by Bec McMaster

It's been six months since the events of Kiss of Steel.  Rip is struggling to gain control now that he has the virus coursing through his veins causing him to want blood.  He has spent most of his time close to the Warren afraid to venture to far.  Finally, wresting some control Rip seeks to become useful again and begins investigating a series of murders of women, causing him to flashbacks to the death of his mother. It is only when the one he loves most is threatened that Rip is finally able to give justice to the victims and finally feel whole again.

Tarnished Knight is very much a romance novel with a bit of kidnapping and murder wrapped around it for the sake of a thin plot.  Unfortunately, the budding relationship between Esme and Rip is a typical bodice ripper with few surprises.  It's the typical boy/girl love each other but are afraid to tell each other story -- followed by the requisite misunderstanding that drives them apart -- culminating in consummation and declarations of HEA.  I had really hoped for more from this story, given  the fascinating world building of Kiss of Steel . I suppose since this is a short story that McMaster didn't want to add anything that would cause confusion in later books for people who routinely skip short stories. Still, it was a tad disappointing.

I very much like Esme; she's a survivor.  Esme has had to make her way through the world and always managed to pull herself above the odds and retain her dignity.  When she is kidnapped (as all heroines somehow need to be) Esme leaves a trail for Rip and fights for her life every step of the way.  Even though Rip is more than capable of taking care of himself, when the big fight begins, Esme is not content to sit on the sidelines and let Rip handle it all.  Esme dives in with an axe and cuts off her kidnappers arm.

I also like that there is no shame when it comes to sex for Esme.  She is not afraid to initiate sex and take what she wants. In a reversal of gender roles, it's Rip who is reticent to take the big step and it's nice that Esme respects his boundaries, never pushing him harder than he can handle.  Consent is always a sticky thing in these kinds of stories and in this case, it was handled far better than in Kiss of Steel.

I must admit to some confusion when it comes to sexuality in this series.  In Kiss of Steel there was some indication that Will was at the very least bisexual though the reasons behind his identity were extremely problematic.  A Scottish verwulfen, Will's temper is a terrible thing.  Will finds himself being pursued by Lena and though he seems interested, he runs. We are reminded again that because of being abused and sold by his mother that Will is not fan of women.  Oh dear, Mommy issues.  Esme believes that Will should pursue Lena and cracks up Will's attraction to Blade as simple confusion.
"Have you ever been with a woman?” she asked softly, knowing the answer. Though Blade had only spoken of it once, she knew there’d been that moment between them, when Will turned eighteen and first became Blade’s thrall. She could only imagine how confusing it must have been for Will, for the feeding affected him at least as much as it did her.

Somehow Blade had sorted the misunderstanding but Will was still wary enough of most women that he rarely tolerated them. The only one he’d ever shown any hint of attraction to was in the next room and blithely unaware of the confusion she was wreaking.
If Will is indeed a bisexual character having it be because of his distrust/hatred of women and woo reasons for being attracted to Blade is beyond problematic.  At this point however, it looks very much as though in following books, McMaster intends to pair Will off with Lena, ending this part of his story completely.  It would have been nice to have an unambiguous character in this series given the outright erasure.

Tarnished Knight did have touches of steampunk but I really wanted to see more. Part of the issue was the heavy focus on romance, rather than world building.   Tarnished Knight is a really quick read, though I really don't recommend it as an introduction to the series because  the world building in this short story is extremely thin.  Given the complexity of the world introduced in Kiss of Steel, a reader would have no idea what was happening between Will and Esme without reading it first.  Tarnished Knight did however whet my appetite to read more books in this series.  I hope that what follows will not be completely romance based as this novella was but instead concentrate on enlarging the world and building up the characters.