Due to a perfect storm of gin & tonics, cabin-visitation, and general slovenliness, I read roughly eleventy million pulp steampunk books this summer. Before they disappear into an undifferentiated stew of plucky scientist's daughters and clockwork corsets, I mean to write up just a little about each one. Mostly so I don't accidentally check out the same books simply because I can't tell them apart. Which will happen if I don't, mark my words.
Heart of Brass by Kate Cross falls into middling territory. Seven years before, new bride Arden lost her spy husband Luke to spy business in France. As a coping mechanism, she's more or less assumed his position in the MI5ish organization that he worked for. Then her husband returns one day, stripped of his memories and bent on her assassination. Will their love transcend his amnesia? It's a good bet.
Unimaginative. The political system makes close to zero sense -- there are two spy agencies, The Company, and whomever Arden works for -- and I have no idea at all what they are trying to accomplish. It seems to me there could be a way of steampunking the Napoleonic Wars, but here, alas, that did not happen.
General clunkiness. A large sub-plot has to do with the husband's brother trying to declare Luke dead so he can become the earl, and this ends up being fairly boring. There's also a murder mystery subplot that has nothing to do with the emotional spine of the book, and while some of the tech was nifty, it wrapped up too neatly.
Remarriage plot. While the situation is patently ridiculous (amnesia!!!), the ways Arden and Luke attempt to come to terms with his memory loss and absence is fairly handled. Yes, it's all lovely that his body remembers her, etc, but they have been apart longer than they were together. She is not a blushing bride anymore, and he has no idea who he is. So many of these pulp steampunk books deal with plucky virgin girls, and that Cross took on a couple with history and grief was notable.
The ladies. There are more than a few women (other than the heroine) in positions of power, and other than one notable exception -- which is pretty complicated, actually -- they are not treated as a threat to the heroine or viperous bitches. Again, a lot of steampulp almost reflexively accepts the diseased gender norms of the Victorians, layered over with modern slut-shaming, and that Heart of Brass was just like, yo, a woman is the Victorian CSI, no probs, was pretty great.
Verdict: A fine outing for a Summer of Steampunk, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone not chasing the long tail.