Touch of Steel

Kate Cross
December 2012, Steampunk
Signet, $7.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451238826
Part of a series

Grade: C
Sensuality: Warm

I have never read a steampunk book before this one. As a lover of paranormals, I thought it was about time I gave it a try, and my first foray was with Ms. Cross’s Touch of Steel.

Claire Brooks in an American spy that works for the Company. Or at least she did until she felt they betrayed her. They let her brother’s killer go free and in doing that, she felt her allegiance to the Company was severed. She sets off on a quest of her own to avenge her brother. The fastest way to do that is to go to the enemy of the Company, the Wardens, and turn double agent. There is one man in the Wardens of the Realm that she can trust and that is her former lover, Luke Grey.

Alastair Payne is an agent with the Wardens and he is glad that his best friend Luke is “back from the dead”. Luke had been abducted by the Company and brainwashed to forget his allegiance to the Wardens and to his wife. When Luke’s former mistress shows up looking for help from Luke, Alastair figures his friends have enough on their plate dealing with what Claire once was to Luke and offers to be the agent in charge of Claire and the operation to capture the men responsible for the death of Claire’s brother and for brainwashing Luke. Claire and Alastair set off on a chase for the two men, not trusting each other too much, but along the way, they learn what true allegiance is and how to place their trust in the right people.

First off, I need to give props where they are due. Cross does a wonderful job building this world. The gadgets and gizmos - such as the Velocycles, the dicombobulators, the aether guns - they all lead the reader into this fantastic world. And Alastair is essentially the steampunk version of the bionic man. His hearing is heightened, his strength uncommon, his bones are metal – he has it all. But at his heart, he is really a Victorian British Lord and he has all the genteel manners befitting that station. Everything from the clothes the characters wear and the bathrooms that they use are similar to what we would expect from the time period, just altered slightly to create that steampunk world. That was kind of neat to see the creativity that Cross used to turn the expected into the steam powered version.

But there are some flaws. To me, Alastair and Claire went from hate to lust to love without any middle step of learning to respect one another. Yes, they began to see the person behind the necessary disguises of their profession as spies, but there was never that feeling that if things were different, they would have fallen in love normally. Yes, they would have fallen into lust with each other and they both admitted that very early on. But both these characters had scars from their pasts that they needed to overcome in order to go from lust to love and I just didn’t see that progression. Though the characters interactions were enjoyable and engaging, I didn’t see the love story between them as being enjoyable. It seemed too forced.

I also found a flaw in the greater story arc. I consider this separate from the world building that Cross created in that it is the plot that exists within the world. I never really understood who the Company or the Wardens of the Realm were. I never understood why these two groups were fighting one another. Why was the Company the bad guys? Because the heroes and heroines were the other side? Was there another reason? I never really felt I knew the answer. These two groups were enemies but since I never really knew the causes of the “war” between them, I never really connected to the greater reason for the fight in the first place. Maybe this was because I was reading the second in the series without having read the first. But it kept taking me out of the story. Every time another event happened, I would think about the motives of the two sides and not be able to come up with an answer and so it would gnaw at me and keep me disengaged.

Overall, the world building that Cross created wasn’t enough to make up for the other flaws of the book. Though the character interactions and dialogue was enjoyable, their relationship overall lacked believability.

-- Louise VanderVliet

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