Joint Review – Skies of Steel by Zoe Archer

Skies of Steel cover image

Publisher: Avon
Publish Date: Out now
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss

In the world of The Ether Chronicles, the Mechanical War rages on, and appearances are almost always deceiving . . .

The prim professor
Daphne Carlisle may be a scholar, but she’s far more comfortable out in the field than lost in a stack of books. Still, when her parents are kidnapped by a notorious warlord, she knows she’ll need more than quick thinking if she is to reach them in time. Daphne’s only hope for getting across enemy territory is an airship powered and navigated by Mikhail Denisov, a rogue Man O’ War who is as seductive as he is untrustworthy.

The jaded mercenary
Mikhail will do anything for the right price, and he’s certain he has this mission—and Daphne—figured out: a simple job and a beautiful but sheltered Englishwoman. But as they traverse the skies above the Mediterranean and Arabia, Mikhail learns the fight ahead is anything but simple, and his lovely passenger is not entirely what she seems. The only thing Mikhail is certain of is their shared desire—both unexpected and dangerous.

This blurb came from the author’s website here.

E: I would like to welcome MiscJoy, one of our guest reviewers back as we talk about our impressions of Archer’s latest book. Thanks for joining me MiscJoy.

Skies of Steel is the third in the Ether Chronicles series written by Zoe Archer and Nico Rosso. They have taken the approach of writing alternate books set in different parts of the same world. Rosso’s are set more in what would be the American West while Archer’s are set in Europe/Asia. The really neat part about their approach is that the world-building and rules are the same but if you are just starting this series the only previous story you really need to read first is Archer’s Skies of Fire because that will give you familiarity with the world, the primary equipment, and how a Man O’ War is very different then any other ship’s Captain. I really enjoyed the first two installments so when we were offered a chance to review Skies of Steel I leaped on the chance. I was expecting voyages, steampunk, intrigue, a feisty heroine, and a larger than life hero. I certainly got that and much more.

MiscJoy: I hadn’t read the prior books but decided to take a chance that I wouldn’t get too lost by starting with Skies of Steel. I think the author did a great job of providing enough detail on the world-building aspects (Man O’ Wars, ether, tetrol and the like) including references to the political unrest over control of resources and the resulting over-arching Mechanized War that embroiled much of the globe. Skies of Steel didn’t focus so much on the Mechanized War per se as it mainly provided a backdrop for the story developing between Daphne and Mikhail. I appreciated the characterization of Daphne as a woman who didn’t let fear stop her from making the decisions that had to be made, even if she had to be ruthless about it. Definitely not a Mary Sue. I was fascinated by the Man O’ War concept and enjoyed reading about the air ship’s design and Mikhail’s connection to it. The story was non-stop action to be sure. But at times, I felt disconnected from it. I suppose that could have been a result of not having read Skies of Fire first. Although, I’m still not sure as to the why of it.

E: I think reading the first book would have given you more of the technology and a bit more about the war. Like you I loved how Daphne was characterized. I think the blurb when it talks about Mikhail’s perception of her initially really set both Mikhail and the reader up for a lot of fun. Seeing the different aspects of her personality unfold and her sheer inability to give up on achieving her goal was delightful. I also liked how Archer portrayed Daphne’s mental struggle between the ends justifying the means and her growing relationship with Mikhail. On the flip side I think that Mikhail’s years as a rogue Man O’ War gave him enough mental flexibility to accept that business and pleasure are separate even though the timing could appear to be slightly suspicious to the casual observer. I think the part that won me over by Mikhail is how he didn’t dismiss Daphne’s intelligence and worked with her ideas to overcome some pretty impressive odds.

MiscJoy: Mikhail was a nice compliment to Daphne. Of course, he had his own baggage to deal with, but I so agree – he never really dismissed Daphne or the choices she had to make even as he struggled to come to terms with his own history. Despite being defined by his rogue status, he continued to operate within a code of honor. He was Alpha without being an AlphaHole and I appreciated the respect and consideration he gave to Daphne. I like that Archer placed Daphne in a position of having to make difficult decisions that comprised her usual sense of ethics as it brought to light some gender biases that exist in society: is it ok for a man to make questionable choices when the ends justify the means, but not so much for a woman to do the same? This scenario forced Mikhail to decide what betrayal really means and is it a betrayal when someone is operating under exigent circumstances?

E: Ooh I like the gender bias thought. Speaking of that I really liked how Daphne and Mikhail joined forces with Khalida and secured her parents’ freedom. They certainly proved that when one side doesn’t play by the rules the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Before that however, I enjoyed the dichotomy between Daphne’s intelligence and her dig experience with her innocence regarding how much danger information intended for scholars could be in the wrong hands. She was so into information for information’s sake and believing in the sanctity of that information that I think she really needed someone who was a bit jaded around the edges to keep her out of trouble. Mikhail certainly met the description of jaded and than some. I also found Archer’s vivid description of the spare landscape combined with the lushness of the different dwellings; the control required to pilot a Man ‘O War combined with the sheer elemental hatred between Mikhail and Olevski painted a fascinating picture.

MiscJoy: Oh, I hadn’t thought about the disparity between the natural setting and the human dwellings. Great observation! And yes, Daphne’s naiveté really did show in that scene regarding her instinctive need to gather information. Information is power. I think the whole experience woke Daphne up. She’d been living a life as an academic, even if that involved trips in the field, but still always from the fringe of the observer’s perspective. With the abduction of her parents, she found herself now in the thick of it having to get involved and make decisions that directly impacted those around her. It forced her to see firsthand the affects of war on the people. In the end, I think she found a sense of purpose and realized that going back to the relative quiet life of academia would no longer satisfy her.

Can we just talk about Mikhail’s physique for a minute? He was described as being so massive one could hold motorized bicycle races on his shoulders. Another passage indicated that he had to turn sideways to walk down an alleyway. For some reason, I kept picturing the Hulk without all the green and way more sexy;-) Mmm. Fascinating.

So, I am left wondering why I felt so disconnected at times and caught myself daydreaming and having to go back and re-read passages.

E: *daydreams* Right Mikhail’s physique *clears throat* anyways. I’m sorry you found yourself disconnected at times. I have to admit that as much as I enjoyed the majority of Skies of Steel I did have a few niggles. While I liked knowing that Daphne and Mikhail were together at the end of the book it seemed more of a HFN (Happy for Now), since I didn’t quite buy his decision. As you mentioned above I could see why Daphne made the choice that she did because she now had a way to use all of the information she had accumulated over the years as well as direct proof that she could make a difference. I didn’t see that same sort of reasoning for Mikhail. His choice seemed more spur of the moment based on his attraction to Daphne without any thought of the future. That hurt my romance loving heart and I found myself wondering what Mikhail was going to do to stay occupied, pay his crewmen and women, and handle the daily routine of surviving as a rogue Man ‘O War. I do continue to enjoy this world and I look forward to what Archer is going to come up with next.
I give Skies of Steel a B.

MiscJoy: Yes, I could totally see this as being an HFN vs. an HEA. As much as I enjoyed the individual characters, I felt the actual development of relationships between those characters was at times lacking. When we first meet Mikhail, we are presented with an eight paragraph description of him yet no actual character interaction took place. As yummy as it may be to imagine Mikhail, I’m still more interested in how the characters interact with each other. The basis for the romantic relationship between Daphne and Mikhail begins with the insta-attraction trope whereby we are treated to many internal dialogues from each character’s point of view about said insta-attraction…which again, isn’t really actual character interaction. Some internal angsting is understandable, but it was a bit too frequent for me. Even though I do believe a real relationship developed between them, I didn’t enjoy the foundation from which it sprang. I think that if the relationship had developed organically without the insta-attraction element, it would have helped to ground me in the story a bit more.

There were elements to the world-building that also left me a bit flat. Sometimes I felt that the reference to mechanized camels, donkeys, automatons and fountains were added to scenery descriptions just to render a scene more steampunk-y. As if just using the word “mechanized” was enough to provide rich detail that didn’t require any further description. I also found some logistical problems with some key plot elements. But overall, it was a fun, quick read.
I give Skies of Steel a C

Links to Purchase:
Kindle | Amazon (Not available until Nov 6th) | Nook | BN (Not available until Nov 6th)

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