The Iron Duke (Iron Seas Series #1) - Meljean Brook Well, this book wasn't what I expected. First, not only does the cover picture have bared chest, it’s bared chest only, with the rest cut out. It would imply it’s not just “punk” that’s “steamy” here. But it wasn't as erotica-heavy as I expected. Anyway, the reason I bought it was that it constantly gets listed as “steampunk”. I wanted to see if it was really “steampunk” or simply romance with a few cogs tossed in.It is steampunk. Steampunk is great. Unfortunately, steampunk is the only good part of this book. Worldbuilding is solid too, but infodumps it is achieved through are clumsy. In this alt-history, Mongol Horde took over Europe via “bugs”, parasites that can be controlled through radio waves. Via them, they can manipulate the hosts’ emotions. But Horde was defeated, British nobility that ran to America returned, there is conflict between those who left and those who stayed. Mainland Europe is mostly overrun by zombies - another consequence of “bugs”. People replace parts of themselves with mechanical devices. I will admit that I might be harsher than usual on this book because of good setting. I felt it could have been better if author wrote an adventure rather than romance. Then again, maybe not. I don’t think the pacing was good. I felt no tension, even though there was a constant chase. In comparison with another book with pursuit I read lately, it was downright boring. Not even “revelations” were particularly shocking. It goes like this: Oh there is this person both duke and his BFF think terrible and have bad personal past with, which must mean they are really terrible because duke and BFF are pirates except not really evil pirates but still, then it turns out that person was blackmailed by this even worse person both duke and his BFF think terrible, rinse and repeat. It wasn’t that bad of a plot - though I think author dropped some hints too early and too obviously. It just didn’t feel riveting, for some reason. I really think it’s the pacing problem.Main characters were bland. Okay, bland-heroine-so-we-can-paste-ourselves-in-her-place is usual. But dammit, she’s a female inspector and leading expert on autopsy in police force, so good she is hired despite bad public image, so irreplaceable she gets picked up from a ball to go to the scene. But somehow, she just doesn’t shine. She says smart things, it’s not just an informed ability, she actually takes part in action, doesn’t need to be saved a lot but...somehow, it fails to leave an impact. Maybe it’s the lack of personality. But love interest is the one who is supposed to draw us in, right? Nope. Out of any male romantic lead I ever ran into, Duke is the one I felt the least interested in. Again, why? He has the standard “possession” issue, but somehow it seems even more unnatural than usual. Other than that...nothing. He is kinda brooding, but not particularly. He is a pirate, but a moral one and almost every person he harmed was at fault somehow. Even their “speshul snowflakeness” can’t make them interesting. Mina is conceived by a Horde member while her mother was not in her sane mind. She suffers prejudice because of this. Still, her family loves her. And conflict feels more like ploy for sympathy than genuine criticism of racism. Rhys’ “bugs” do not work like other people’s. Plus he somehow has iron skeleton. I guess he was some kind of experiment, only it’s never explained.)I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m longing for proper slap-slap-kiss. ‘Proper’ meaning not 'one side giving a token struggle to raise stakes while the other keeps pushing’. Nor ‘they realise they are attracted to each other, but keep bickering because something needs to happen because they are on opposite sides/protecting themselves from emotional pain’. Dear authors, your readers are not idiots. Though I understand why you might think that considering what we let you get away with. If you say it’s “romance”, we’ll know what to expect from the book. If the book is focusing of two characters of compatible sexual orientation and their relationship, we can guess they’ll end up together eventually. No need to drop that anvil within first three chapters.Duke and Inspector have opposing personalities and genuine reasons to dislike each other from the start. Instead, we’re treated to insta-lust love, despite the heroine resembling hero’s former enemies. No, that’s not hero being better than other people. That’s plot contrivance. It would be much more meaningful and it would endear the character much more to us if this book had him learning to overcome prejudice instead of trying to force “sexual healing” on her. Stakes could have been raised through them learning to appreciate each other instead through yet another abuse of sexual abuse. For both of them, at that. Except that he kind of fixed himself, and it’s conveniently mentioned only so they would have something in common. And then there comes the real problem of this book.I’ve seen romanticised/sexualised dubcon. I’ve seen romanticised/sexualised noncon. But this is the first time I saw noncon masquerading as dubcon, actually getting judged and then swept under the rug. Somehow, it’s worse than [b:A Hunger Like No Other|14384|A Hunger Like No Other (Immortals After Dark, #2)|Kresley Cole||16422]. And it happens at least twice - though there are more forcible episodes in-between. First time is excused through alcohol. Second is...not excusable by anything. No, lack of outright refusal is not consent.WARNING: TRIGGER, NSFW(Bolded for emphasis by me)”He slammed the door behind them, pushed Mina up against it. Holding her wrists over her head with one hand, he found and tossed her weapons. His fingers ripped at the buttons to her trousers.“Rhys-”“Tell me no, Mina.”She should. She couldn’t. Heart pounding, she said “Let my hands go.”“No.” His denial was hoarse. “I can’t let any of you go. Not now that I’ve seen you. Not now that I live again.”He shoved trousers and pants to her knees, until they were stopped by the tops of of her boots. His hand worked at the front of his breeches. He rose up, pushing her thighs as wide as her trousers allowed, and Mina cried out as he was suddenly inside her, filling her. Deeper, lifting her against the door, driving his thick length home. He levered his torso back. Pinned against the door by his cock, held motionless by his hand circling her wrists, Mina called his name on a ragged breath. Relentless, he unbuckled her jacked, ripped aside her shirt, unfastened her armor.”Now, I actually have shameful level of tolerance for dubcon. But the execution and imagery here are going way beyond my comfort zone. It isn’t even clear if she is enjoying it or not. On one hand, that would make it realistic, on the other, I think we’re supposed to take it as good and sexy.The fact that he is one of few men able to afford publicly associating with her, to say nothing of actually wanting her, makes the consent angle here even more skewed. Now add that he won’t take “no” for an answer and is capable of ruining both her and her family. Side characters, on the other hand, are good. So, in short: Steampunk good. World okay. Plot could be better. MCs bland, side characters okay. “Romance”...makes [b:Fifty Shades of Grey|10818853|Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)|E.L. James||15732562] look good.I heard this series gets better later on...maybe I'll look into it when I have time.My edition also included a short story “Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City.” Which sounds more awesome than it actually is. ”Invisible city” simply means people ignore things happening around them, thinking only of their own comfort. That’s all. Basically, it’s ten months after, there is another case, heavy infodump for people who haven’t read [b:The Iron Duke|7864587|The Iron Duke (Iron Seas, #1)|Meljean Brook||11022865]. Mystery felt a bit better done, though. Maybe because there was no need to stretch it to the novel-length. Three stars.