A guest review by Jenre
Lots of great world building and hot, hot sex but the romance aspect didn’t work so well for me.
Henry Toben needs the sky like his ancestors needed the sea. He works as a certified master boilerman aboard a luxury airship, taking wealthy folks from Kansas City to San Francisco, until the day his ship crosses the path of Captain Meriwether Volentine and he is taken aboard as the Captain’s personal prisoner.
Henry discovers that he needs his new lover as much as he needs the sky, but a maelstrom of plots and alliances threaten to separate them forever.
Set in a fantasy USA around what seems to be the Victorian age, this steampunk novella had a lot going for it in terms of setting and the initial premise to the story. I have to admit, I have a fondness for captor/captured pairings, so I was looking forward to seeing how the author would develop the romance whilst also keeping the setting fresh.
Henry is a boilerman on one of the dirigible ships which carry the wealthy from one side of the USA to the other. Whilst flying over the Deseret Lands, the ship is attacked by pirates. Henry is captured and brought to Captain Volentine who takes Henry aboard his ship to be his slave. At first Henry is horrified at the undignified way he is treated, but eventually he finds comfort and security with his pirate master.
The part of this story which worked best for me was in the imaginative setting. The world building is complex enough that I was comfortable in the setting, and had enough incidental details to give me a good idea of the society and ideology of the world, but not so heavy handed that I felt overwhelmed with detail. It helped, I think, that the setting wasn’t too far off a Victorian historical, with just a few tweaks to render it a steampunk. The world is seen through the eyes of third person narrator Henry, who is a very sympathetic character. I liked his pride, both of his ancestry and his love of his job as a boilerman. His exhilaration at being able to fly with the dirigibles was affecting, and added much to his character, especially when we see his feelings about being locked up and ‘grounded’.
Another part which worked well was in the D/s relationship between Henry and Volentine. Henry’s surprise at how well he takes to being restrained, his baffling comfort when he is forced to wear the bit and his instinctive responses to Volentine’s demands made him the perfect submissive. Volentine treats Henry well and I liked that he was both strong and demanding, and yet gentle with Henry.
The part that worked least was in the developing romance between in the heroes. On one hand, I thought the author did a good job of showing Henry’s conflicted emotions about his attraction to the bloodthirsty pirate, but when he finally settles on love I felt a certain anti-climax about it and wasn’t wholly convinced. I think this is because much of their liaisons are based on sex, admittedly extremely hot, well written sex, and again the author did a good job of showing Volentine’s tender side during the sex scenes. However, the focus on sex meant that the ‘getting to know’ parts were glossed over rather. Thus we are told that they spend their evenings together, playing cards and taking through their lives and their plans for the future, but we don’t get to see very much of this, don’t get to participate in those discussions, and don’t get to hear Henry’s thoughts as he listens to Volentine and weighs up his horror and disgust of his piratical acts against the gentler man he is in private. Maybe other readers would disagree, but I found that although I understood intellectually that Henry had fallen in love, I didn’t feel it emotionally. It also didn’t help that some of Henry’s acts later in the book – whilst supposedly done for Volentine’s benefit – made a mockery of the closeness between Henry and Volentine, but I can’t say too much about that because it will be spoilerish.
One final note: The story is rather bloodthirsty at times, with some graphic descriptions of fights and murders. Those of a delicate disposition may wish to skim those bits. This isn’t a criticism because those parts didn’t both me, just a warning in case that isn’t your cup of tea.
Overall, this was a well written steampunk story, with sympathetic characters which fell a little short for me in the romance. If you like steampunk then I would still recommend Sky Rat because it is worth reading the book for that aspect alone.