All I want to know is, what kind of peyote was this woman smoking when she dreamt up this amazing world? ^__^ It is proving exceedingly difficult for me to adequately express what it is about this book that makes me love it so. In fact, I can almost guarantee I won't be pleased with this review. ^_^ But I'll make mention of a couple thoughts in broad strokes.
...beginning with the world. Brooks' world(building) was perhaps my favorite aspect. The story begins much as I'd expect some Austenian-like historical novel to do; at a ball and amongst the polite society of England. But almost immediately, Brook starts to "pan out the frame" so to speak, revealing bits of curious descriptions until we realize that while this world is familiar, it's altered most considerably.
To call it simply "steampunk" does not do enough to capture it all, either. At one point I thought to myself that the book had a somewhat post-apocalyptic feel to it. Also that there were serious machinations about race, culture, identity and human nature. Many steampunk books can be fun and fantastical, and though this book presents such a characteristic (in great style, mind you), there's something quite grim and horrifying, as well.
I love that Brook clearly put much deep thought into the history behind the Iron Seas world; it actually plays quite considerably into the motivations of individuals and group entities. Not many books of this subgenre do so: things simply are because they are (which is not inherently a bad thing, btw). I visited Brook's website and found a short writeup on what actual historical events were altered to arrive at the universe in this book. I appreciated the consideration, and am impressed by the relevance it has in so many aspects of the story.
Now, the cast of characters. They are perhaps what brought out much of that aforementioned "fun and fantastical" nature. Every last one of the main cast displayed a beautiful range of emotions and personality. Each one did or said something that at one point made me chuckle, and at another point made me sad. In short, the supporting cast was superbly compelling.
The main couple is fantastic. I can't really put into words the extent of my adoration for Rhys and Mina, both separated and when interacting. I felt that the progression of the romance was well-paced and complemented the main storyline very well. And that's all I'll say to that end. Trust me when I say that--if you've yet to read the book--you'll want to discover both characters for yourself, and learn about their complexities in context.
Okay, as predicted I'm already fed up with my review. So I'll sum up: I found this world to be so different, so exhilarating, so chilling. I would recommend this book to just about every PnR junkie I know...especially those who can appreciate 1) some complexity in their storyline and 2) extensive worldbuilding. And zombies. ^_^
P.S. - Apparently the second book of the series will follow one of the minor characters from The Iron Duke (starts with a Y- and ends with an -asmeen) ^_^). I already have it at the very top of my 2011 to-read list. ^__^