Jen’s review of The Kraken King (Iron Seas #4) by Meljean Brook
A former smuggler and thief, Ariq—better known as the Kraken King—doesn’t know what to make of the clever, mysterious woman he rescues from an airship besieged by marauders. Unsure if she’s a spy or a pawn in someone else’s game, Ariq isn’t about to let her out of his sight until he finds out…
After escaping her fourth kidnapping attempt in a year, Zenobia Fox has learned to vigilantly guard her identity. While her brother Archimedes is notorious for his exploits, Zenobia has had no adventures to call her own—besides the stories she writes.
But when she jumps at the chance to escape to the wilds of Australia and acquire research for her next story, Zenobia quickly discovers that the voyage will be far more adventurous than any fiction she could put to paper…
Reading time has been painfully scarce for me the last few months. I don’t know about you, but when I have limited time to read, I really, really want to read something worthwhile. I was trying to decide what book would be a slam dunk for me when Rowena reviewed Here There Be Monsters, a novella in Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series. This reminded me I still hadn’t read The Kraken King (book 4 in the series), and I immediately knew where I’d find my slam dunk. Brook hasn’t failed me yet, and The Kraken King was no exception.
Zenobia Fox is the sister of Archimedes Fox, who we met previously in the series. Zenobia writes adventure stories inspired by her brother’s exploits. Unlike her brother, Zenobia lives a decidedly non-adventurous life. The only excitement comes when she is repeatedly kidnapped and held for ransom by people trying to extract money from the wealthy Archimedes. The rest of the time, she lives in virtual isolation with body guards. When a childhood friend asks Zenobia to accompany her to Australia to rejoin her husband, Zenobia jumps at the chance. She gets more than she bargained for when their airship is attacked by marauders, and they end up stranded in an Australian village, Krakentown, run by Ariq, the Kraken King. Ariq is suspicious of Zenobia and wonders whether she was the marauders’ real target. He’s attracted to her, though, and sees no reason why he can’t share his bed with her while he works to protect her and his town. When his quest to stop the marauders and Zenobia’s efforts to help her friend coincide, they end up traveling together and both getting embroiled in political machinations they never expected.
I love so much about this book. The plot is exciting, and it provides more insight into the Iron Seas world. I don’t think you need to have read all the many books to enjoy this story. Brook provides enough explanation to bring newer readers up to date, though you’ll certainly get the most out of it if you have at least some background knowledge. One thing I really enjoy about this series is the way it exists in the same universe but explores many different perspectives, geographies, nationalities, objectives, etc. I love seeing the unique viewpoints and voices each book brings.
While the plot kept me interested, my favorite part of the book is the romance. Zenobia and Ariq are wonderfully matched and equally fascinating. I love that Zenobia is very, very clever, and while she hasn’t had much life experience she adapts easily and can take care of herself. Her life has not been easy, and there have been very few people worthy of her trust. It’s meant she needed high walls around herself just to survive, and it’s meant she’s spent much of her lifetime hiding her true self from everyone. Ariq recognizes this and is patient and understanding about why Zenobia wouldn’t trust him. He takes time to make her comfortable and make her feel safe. Ariq is an almost mythical hero; he’s physically huge and almost unnaturally strong. He is an exceptionally kind and conscientious leader, too. His primary goal is to protect those he loves, and he believes it is a leader’s duty to watch out for innocents.
Together, these two are magical. Ariq provides Zenobia the security and unconditional love she’s been craving so desperately. Zenobia helps Ariq learn to compromise and share burdens. Neither is accustomed to collaborating with anyone, but for each other they want to try. They negotiate disagreements, each presenting their side and each weighing the others’ opinion fairly. But that equality never felt forced or didactic–it felt natural and an outcome of their personalities, their strengths, and their love. Fairly early on Ariq realizes he wants Zenobia for more than just her body. I adore when the big, strong warrior falls first! Zenobia is much more realistic. She has trust issues, but more than that she’s immensely practical and I thought it was completely right for her character to want more time to get to know Ariq before committing. Once she does, though, she is all in, and that’s when the two are really unstoppable.
The characters and setting swept me up and carried me away on a tide of good sighs and squeals of joy, and as soon as I finished I was ready to assign a 5 and call it a day. Once I took a breath and looked back more critically, though, I had to acknowledge a few flaws. First, the misunderstandings and suspicions between Ariq and Zenobia felt like they were drawn out just a smidge too long. Not egregiously so, but given that Ariq and Zenobia are both practical people, I felt like they should have had a good heart to heart earlier on and cleared up the misunderstandings. There were also too many parts of the book that dragged. Honestly, I think much of this is due to the serial format. I wish my favorite authors would stop writing serials! I can’t stand reading installments, but once the series is finally published as a novel things often feel too far stretched. I also wanted to see a little more of Zenobia coming into her own. She can’t fight like Ariq, and she has no political standing so she can’t be involved in the negotiations and political process. She does have one moment where she sets about rescuing herself, but then Ariq shows up and finishes the job. I’m glad she wasn’t just sitting back waiting, but I was a little sorry we didn’t get to see her actually save herself. I wanted more of her participation in the plot. I am also sort of conflicted about Zenobia’s relationship with her friend, Helene. Helene seems to be kind of vapid and shallow at first. I appreciated that she does show more complexity than that, but I didn’t really like the way Zenobia treated her, and I didn’t enjoy the way things ended between the friends. I wanted the two to acknowledge each other’s shortcomings but still offer unconditional support. I felt like Zenobia needed another support outside of the men (her brother and later Ariq) in her life.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved this book. It is a fantastic story, with a lovely romance at it’s heart. Any Iron Seas fans should absolutely read it, and I think if you’re like me and don’t mind missing some back story you might even be able to jump into this book as a newbie. I don’t think it’s the pinnacle of the series, but it’s a fantastic universe in which to lose yourself for a while.
Grade: 4.5 out of 5
This book is available from Berkley. You can purchase it here or here in e-format. This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.