So, first off, this is drunk book review, so swearing and general incoherence is going to be an issue. If you want a more cogent review you should check out others, like Elizabeth's or Lightread's or Kat's. It's possible I'll make those into links, but not likely. We'll see.
The alternate history in this book is pretty amazing. So amazing that I I spent a lot of time ignoring the weird rape fantasy stuff that was going on in the foreground. I totally didn't intent to start talking about the rape stuff this early, but I think it's probably so integral to the plot that it's hard to ignore. Two hundred years earlier to the actions of this book, an imperialist power, the Mongol Horde, took over England using nanoagnents, which made the population of England into docile slaves. Periodically, the Horde would make everyone all sex crazy, in order to increase the population, called the Frenzies. Two hundred years of this, and you would thing the population would be pretty mixed race. Apparently not. Our protagonist, a woman named Mina, is the result of a Frenzy. Her mother is petty nobility and her father Horde. She puts up with a lot of crap for this, because she has Asian features. Lots of people with Asian features were murdered in the Revolution that happened when the Horde control was ended, but I'm still back at thinking that so many people would be part-Asian that it would be a non-issue. Still, whatever. I didn't write this book.
Anyway, Mina is now an inspector in the police force. Some of this book is a bloody wonderful exploration of race and gender and socio-political fucking whatnot, and then part of it is completely insane. The main man, the Iron Duke, vacillates between being some sort of evil raping fuck-stick and a sensitive New Age guy, heretofore to be referred to as a SNAG, and it's in the vacillation that I have a problem.
Okay. Let me try to break it down. Mina meets the Iron Duke when someone has tossed a dead body from a dirigible into his estate. I am all fucking in here; this is fun, and then it gets super fun and starts running around a really hard London, with real political motivations for what people are doing. But. But still the “love story” keeps intruding. At mid-book, when our principles had bolted down on a dirigible and started in with the sex, I was fucking irritated as shit. Godamn it, lovers, get out of the way of the plot! You are ruining a perfectly reasonable alt history with your throbbings and groins!
I got over the sex stuff a bit when I realized it was about coming to terms with rape, in some ways. Both Mina and the Iron Duke have problems with histories of sexual violence. Mina was overtaken during a Frenzy. making her consent a non-issue. But she's still really shaky with her sexual feelings, and that seems fair and real. She was with a female friend at the time, which is treated slightly pruriently, but not entirely so. The Duke was sold into sexual slavery, and my only problem with the characterization is that the customers were female. No. Not to be an asshole here, but generally people who want to fuck 14 year old boys are men. But for some reason buggery would make him less of and alpha male, so we are not to speak of this. Fine.
UM SPOILERS MAYBE
Anyway, they sort of work out the domination/consent thing, and then, at the very end, it goes totally rape-y. Totally rape-y. Like, literally no means yes. I don't even like using the word literally, but that's what happened here. She said no, and then he stuck his Iron Cock inside her and she was all LOLbabiesmarriage. Um, whut? This whole book is so tricky because of the romance part, because I'm weirded out by the marriage thing that Mina's mother has going on. And weirded out by the ownership and rape angle in the central couple. WTF?
Um, okay, back to the marriage thing. Mina's mother blinded herself when she found out she had a Horde-baby, which kills me a little. But two decades later, the family seems to work, mostly. Mina's mother is crusader for marriage, which has mostly dropped off as an institution under Horde control. She's trying to make marriage an option again, in a way that makes me itch all over my body. Mina brings up some salient criticisms, like that her parents are pretty exceptional in that they love each other and accepted a baby onto their lives born of rape, but that that is not always the case. But, um, what?
Still, whatever, there's something totally readable here. The world-building is totally awesome, and it kills me that I can't love this more that I can. I'm still freaked out. I hope in the next book there is less rape-y weirdness and I will be all in. Fuck yeah.