Driven to win. Drawn to love.
Fresh from university, Eliza Hardison is determined to crusade for worker’s rights until her cousin Dexter, the Makesmith Baron, prevails on her to represent Hardison House in the American Dominion Sky and Steam Rally.
The competition is fierce, but only one opponent really matters to Eliza. Dexter’s protégé, Matthew Pence, was always like a big brother to her. But now she’s grown up, and Matthew has made a break from Hardison House with his own business venture—and his own entry in the rally.
Matthew intends to win while keeping Eliza safe on the perilous route from New York to San Francisco. But as the threats escalate through treacherous skies and uncharted American wilds, Eliza and Matthew must work together, discovering a bond deeper than either could have imagined… but is winning the rally more important than winning at love?
This blurb came from the author’s website.
E: I read and reviewed Dryden’t first steampunk Gossamer Wing last year and found it very enjoyable. So when I received Scarlet Devices for review I was excited. When I found myself making notes of quotes I enjoyed early in the story I knew I was in for a treat. I liked how this was set in the same world but took place in a different geographic area with threats outside of the spy game.
Marlene: I had heard so many good things about Gossamer Wing, that I actually bought it from Amazon, so when the the second book in the series came up for review, I decided it was high time I read the first one. Gossamer Wing was absolutely delicious. (Review at Reading Reality) The alternate history is a treat, and the author makes the “fake relationship” really zing! Scarlet Devices was just as much fun, but uses a different setting and new characters to explore a vast new part of her world.
E: Dryden combined the temperance movement, women’s rights, universal suffrage, and the steampunk equivalent of The Amazing Race as Matthew and Eliza learn who they are and what is really important. Eliza was interested in engine and tinkering with them but she focused her activities towards equal rights and protection for the common worker. Her efforts were rather futile and after a discussion with her cousin and his wife, Charlotte, she decided to take Dexter up on his offer and pilot his new vehicle in the American Dominion Sky and Steam Rally. She also agreed because winning would have the added benefit of annoying her cousin’s former apprentice, Matthew. Matthew thought he was rather enlightened and forward thinking but the last thing he wanted was Eliza participating in anything as potentially dangerous as the rally. Since he was unable to stop her, he decided he would watch out for her as best as he could but he wasn’t expecting the extent of danger along the race course. Watching them strike sparks off of each other as they worked together was very entertaining.
Marlene: The Sky and Steam Rally created a ton of opportunities for dangerous adventure and suspense, and the progression of Matthew’s and Eliza’s relationship fit incredibly well within the framework of miles raced, checkpoints and obstructions. As they traveled across the U.S., their own personal journeys, both towards each other and towards a decision about what they each really wanted out of life, proceed in tandem. Their relationship uses the trope about former childhood frenemies discovering they aren’t children any longer, while the race gave them each a chance to see what they themselves, and the other, were really made of. The dangerous conditions of the race, and the bonding between all the participants, also reminded me a lot of the Iditarod, the sled dog race between Anchorage and Nome. It is extremely dangerous, incredibly real, and even the losers get a prize because of just how difficult the race is.
E: I like those points you made regarding progression of the race and their personal journey. Now that you have brought it up, I can see the resemblance to the Iditarod. Like that race the updates tend to contain how many racers are left. As I was reading Scarlet Devices, I kept trying to count and figure out exactly how many competitors were left at each race pit stop. I thought the variety of different reasons people left the competition said a lot about the inherent danger of a rally along with some very effective sabotage. The mystery behind the sabotage was also fascinating on a couple of layers. It seemed as if the competitors while they were willing to form alliances were also on the look out for interference but were not expecting any outside concerns besides the unpredictable environment. Having a third player so to speak involved really increased the stakes for not just Matthew and Eliza but the other racers.
Marlene: The shifting alliances between the racers made it difficult to figure out what the big threat was, which ramped up the tension and sense of danger within the story. It made sense that they formed very loose teams, it seemed like a less formal version of the Tour de France teams. It added to the verisimilitude because it seemed logical. The deeper the logic layers, the easier to suspend disbelief on the parts that were less grounded in reality. The real mystery behind the interference with the race and with Eliza personally turned out to be a bit “out there”. I guessed who it was, and eventually why, but the evil dude himself was a bit past the crazysauce stage. Including the classic supervillain “I’m going to tell you my entire plot before I kill you spectacularly” speech. BWAHAHAHA
E: The overall villain was more of a parody of a villain especially in his final scenes. He certainly had extremely elaborate plans but I could see his underlying motivation was relatively solid. I did find myself very fascinated by the potential glimpse of one of his henchmen and what it could mean for the future in this series. As entertaining as I found the villain, I thought Eliza and Matthew’s mental and emotional journey was extremely touching. I loved seeing Matthew go from thinking, “Charlotte would make an excellent role model for Eliza: beautiful, unassuming, ladylike and comfortable in the role of administering a large, if unconventional, estate.” To realizing, “he wanted to keep her safe so he could have her all to himself and do wicked things to her.” And finally knowing Eliza was a trusted partner who didn’t need to cossetting. In the same vein Eliza moved from wanting to beat Matthew in the race because it would irritate him to realizing how much he meant when she thought he was dead. I also have to say that I loved how Dryden handled their sex scenes. They were full of humor, intensity, exploration, and shameless wonder.
Marlene: I did laugh out loud while Matthew was thinking what a great role model Charlotte would be for Eliza; from Gossamer Wing we know that Charlotte is considerably more than appears on the surface. In a lot of ways, Eliza IS following in Charlotte’s footsteps, she just isn’t aware of how much! But I agree with you that the emotional journey Eliza and Matthew make towards each other is the heart of the story. The rigors and danger of the trek make them see each other as adults, and not the children they used to be. Matthew goes through the stage of continuing to want to protect Eliza to realizing that she is a partner as capable, albeit in different ways, as he is. Eliza also has to come towards Matthew, she starts out fearing that any emotional attachment will make her “less than” the man she married, and law and custom still support that view. It takes the danger of the race, and the changes that Matthew goes through, for Eliza to trust that marriage does not have to mean subservience–with the right partner.
And oh my goodness are Eliza and Matthew sweet and sexy when they finally give in. (fanning self)
E: Yes, *pauses in memory* such wonderful scenes. The promise Dryden showed in Gossamer Wing did not let me down in Scarlet Devices. I thought the change in setting and main characters really expanded her world and kept me captivated. The mixture of challenges, threats, and personal growth had me rooting for Matthew and Eliza from their first scene together. I will admit I wish I knew how the events affected the rally organizers and the future of this race. Even though I thought the villain was overdone I enjoyed the overall story. With this second installment, Dryden has moved to the very short list of authors whose Steampunk is on my to-buy list.
I give Scarlet Devices a B+
Marlene: Scarlet Devices certainly lives up to the promise of the series title: Steam and Seduction, because it definitely has heaping helpings of both! The world-building in this series continues to shine as we explore the vast North American continent and discover the differences from the world we know. The whole concept of seeing the Great Plains and Rockies from an airship while they are still unspoiled is enough to take your breath away. Or my breath, at least. But it’s the way that the relationships are developed that keeps you turning pages. The romance between Matthew and Eliza was beautiful because it took their personal growth into account; they needed to discover who they really were before they could be ready for each other. I love it when the romantic HEA is the icing on the cake for the heroine, and not the whole cake, and they both needed to grow up for that to be possible.
The villain was overdone, but in the best melodramatic tradition, which made for scenery chewing fun to bring the adventure part of the story to a fitting conclusion. I can’t wait to see what happens next in Dryden’s next steampunk story: Gilded Lily.
I give Scarlet Devices a B+