But she wasn’t on another ship—and instead of a bird shitting in his eye at the port gates, an answer to an old prayer had landed in his lap in the form of a vibrant woman. Such mad luck.
Iceland! Monocles! Vulcanologists!
Riveted, the third installment in Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series, has a lot of appeal on the surface, but its real richness is the layered, complex exploration of identity against the backdrop of a skillfully-developed steampunk world.
I wasn’t a fan of the first book in this series, The Iron Duke. (Laura’s review echoes my sentiments.) However, I was extremely impressed by the world-building, which led me to try the first steampunk novel I’ve truly enjoyed, Heart of Steel (which has one of the worst covers in the history of bad covers). Heart of Steel was just pure fun, a wholly entertaining classic adventure tale.
In Riveted, Brook takes readers to another part of the Iron Seas world: Iceland. A volcanic eruption caused Icelanders to evacuate the island a century prior, but legends about witches and trolls still inhabiting the island abound.
A century before, in the years following an eight-month fissure eruption, the Mist Terrors decimated livestock and crops. Ash fell in thick layers over the land, and toxic volcanic gases poisoned half the island’s inhabitants. The remaining population had been forced to flee or face starvation. Except for a few ports and fishing villages, Iceland had been abandoned for a hundred years.
However, the mythical creatures of abandoned Iceland are actually the work of Icelanders who secretly remained—a colony of women who will do anything to keep their village hidden from outsiders.
Annika grew up in that village of women (who primarily, but not exclusively, are lesbians or bisexual—there’s a very fluid sort of sexuality in this community) and left in search of her beloved sister Kalla, who was exiled for endangering the community. She facilitates her search for Kalla by working in the engine room of an airship, looking for her at their ports of call.
Annika encounters David at one of those ports, where he is preparing to board her airship en route to an expedition. He’s a vulcanologist (that’s the study of volcanoes, y’all—what a badass job), but he’s also hell-bent on finding his mother’s home (in Iceland) so he can bury her runes, which he carried with him for 20 years. David has two prosthetic legs, a prosthesis for a hand and a monocle-type lens embedded in one eye.
Disabled during a terrible accident, David eventually had the metal prostheses grafted onto his body, meaning that he’s also infected with the nanoagents introduced to the Old World by the Horde to control the populations (much of the story behind the nanoagents is addressed in The Iron Duke, but it’s also discussed on the author’s website); the nanoagent infection means that he is also unwelcome in many parts of the New World. He is part-indigenous and has a number of facial scars, in addition to being significantly differently-bodied (for lack of a better term), so despite David’s skills as a naturalist, people generally avoid him.
David’s interest in Annika is piqued because, despite that she claims that she’s Norwegian, her recognizes her accent as the same as his late mother’s—and he thinks Annika will be able to give him information about where to bury his mother’s runes.
These two characters are fascinating because David and Annika have both defined themselves by how they are perceived by others.