A few months ago, Avon’s digital-first imprint was doing a hashtag thing on Twitter and the editors participating in it expressed a desire to see more multicultural submissions. I was snarking a bit about editors always saying they want subs and it ringing hollow when their lineups are invariably white, when Rebekah pointed out that they had at least published this book. The cover immediately caught my eye, not only because of the black hero with a steampunk arm, but because it was an m/f romance written by a man (He’s Zoe Archer’s husband, I believe.) Steampunk is a little overplayed right now, but I still like it, and I wanted to see what, if any, differences I might see in a male authored romance with a hero and heroine.
The book opens with the heroine, a bounty hunter named Anna Blue, holding two fugitives at gunpoint prior to apprehending them. Just as she’s threatening to shoot one of them if he thinks of trying to make this difficult for her, fellow hunter Jack Hawkins comes out of the trees and claims the second fugitive for himself. Although the two have been aware of each other for years, even maintaining a rivalry of sorts, they’d never actually met before. When both receive a mysterious telegram promising a large bounty, they’re thrown together to work as a team in a race against time to defeat a rogue Man O’ War who’s taken a scientist hostage and find out they match up well in more ways than one.
Nights of Steel is book four in The Ether Chronicles series that Archer and Rosso write alternating books in. I’ve read only this one book and it stands alone for the most part. I didn’t know what “ether” was in this world, or why tanks of it allowed their bikes to fly, but I don’t think that’s too important. It was easy enough to float along with his descriptions of a setting that was a sort of Wild West with airships and machine-augmented humans called Men O’ War. It’s a world in which the European Hapsburgs are at war with a post-“War of Southern Secession” America where a Chinese-engineered superfuel powers the advanced tech that coexists with horses and revolvers.
This and the action forms the strongest part of the novel. The hero and heroine are searching for a brilliant Chinese-American scientist on a high-adrenaline chase down the coast of Monterrey Bay and through the streets of San Francisco. Rosso does a great job of choreographing fight scenes with an element of danger and unpredictability to them then keeping the suspense going while Anna and Jack follow the trail of clues. I loved how Anna and Jack worked as a team. She could do things he couldn’t – like shoot with accuracy from long range – and he could do things she couldn’t – like move silently and fight in close quarters. Neither ordered the other around nor did anything beyond their ability that would get them into a situation they had to be rescued from. Jack admires Anna for her competence and vice versa.
The downside to this being done so well is that the sex scenes annoyed me. They showed up suddenly, in the middle of tense scenes of suspense, and the sudden change in mood was extremely jarring. At one point they’re exploring a damp room cut into a hillside that a waiter had directed them to all hush-hush. Their guns are out, they’re looking for someone who may or may not be an enemy, and … then they get naked and hang out in the lodge’s hot spring bath. That’s record-scratch level mood change. I was not only wondering why they felt safe enough in this strange place to get naked, but I wanted them to get on with the suspense arc. I needed a build-up of sexual tension to be the lead up to the sex scenes, not anxious, unresolved suspense.
Additionally, the sex writing wasn’t great.
He drew her clit into his mouth, flicked against the sensitive flesh with the tip of his tongue. Tremors ran through her limbs. But she still held him strong against her. With her wet heat on his lips, his chin, he plunged his tongue along her slit and inside her. She tasted of exotic spices and the essence of woman.
She moaned louder, quieting the wind. He held her stronger, keeping her supported as she gave in to the sensations. Moving his tongue along her folds, he discovered her. What she needed, what she wanted. The flat of his tongue against her clit. The tip just at her entrance.
His erection raged, wanting what his tongue knew.
I’m sure we’ve all read worse, but if you’re pausing a high-octane chase sequence for sex in an abandoned hotel, I need something more urgent than questionable metaphor-soaked sex.
Final Assessment: An entertaining steampunk adventure with a well-matched couple, but doesn’t do a good job of weaving the suspense and the romance. Bonus points for a baby-free epilogue where the heroine’s still wearing pants and hunting bounties with her man. C+