Detective Inspector Mina Wenthworth is the daughter of the Earl of Rockingham, but she lives in a version of England that not long ago was enslaved by the Mongol Horde, and had been for centuries. The Horde infected the populace with nanoagents, and were able to control them with electronic frequencies, taking away their free will, and could even, during something known as the Frenzy, force them to become overcome with lust, mating with anyone close by. Mina is the result of such a Frenzy, when her mother was raped by members of the Horde. When she saw her child for the first time, the Countess of Rockingham gouged her eyes out.
England was saved from the Horde when the pirate captain of Marco's Terror, Rhys Trahaearn, sailed up the Thames and blew up the huge tower which controlled the infected Englishmen, popularly known as buggers. In the ensuing revolution, the Horde's control was lifted, and now the nanoagents no longer enslave people, but make them faster and stronger. Rhys was embraced as a popular hero and given the title Duke of Anglesey. He is popularly known as the Iron Duke
But Mina still looks like the Horde overlords that sired her, and this causes people to whisper behind her back if they are kind, and physically attack her if they are less so. She works hard as a Detective Inspector to help support her family, who while they are noble, are very poor. When she is called away from a ball in the Iron Duke's honour, to investigate the murder of a man literally dropped on the Duke's doorstep, her life changes forever.
Rhys has not had an easy life, and is not comfortable with the adulation of the people or the hero status he feels he is undeserving of. He is first annoyed that one of his staff called the police, as he would have preferred to sort out the murder himself, it is clearly meant as some sort of signal to him - but he is impressed with the Detective's zeal and determination, and the more intrigued he is by her, the more determined he is to add her to his possessions.
Mina, who has had to work three times as hard as anyone else because of her half-Horde heritage, and who constantly faces scorn and derision, is not about to become even more of a talking point and scandal by becoming the Iron Duke's plaything. But when it turns out that the Duke's former ship, Marco's Terror, where her younger brother Andrew is serving as midshipman, has been captured by enemies of England, she is forced to work together with him to try to save her brother. As they set out on a dangerous journey, it becomes obvious that not just the ship is in danger, but possibly all of England as well.
Mina is a really strong and unusual heroine. She has loving parents, but can never escape the knowledge that she is a result of rape, and her features cause her to be hated and feared almost wherever she turns. She is a dedicated professional, and has clearly earned the respect of her superiors and co-workers, but knows that she is unlikely to ever find a man who can accept her shameful origins, and any child of hers may inherit her Mongol features and face the same difficulties that she has had. She finds the Iron Duke intriguing and very attractive, but cannot let herself be tempted by him, as her reputation is all she has, and she cannot give any ammunition to the writers of the scandal sheets. She was also old enough to experience on Frenzy before the Iron Duke rid England of the control of the Horde, and fears losing control like that ever again.
Rhys is very strong and very dominant, and literally has bones made of iron. He escaped his birthplace in Wales early, and it is a mystery to most why the frequency of the signal tower failed to affect him. He did not want to be hailed as a hero and a saviour, but has reluctantly embraced his title and is trying to do the best he can for his people. He is fiercely loyal and protective of what he considers his, and does not hesitate to go after his ship when it's been captured. He pursues Mina with determination and aggression, but has to change tactics when he realizes that she cannot be bought or blackmailed into working for him, or sleeping with him. The more time he spends with her, the more fascinated he is, and he is determined to win her - whatever the cost.
The Iron Duke is the first book I've read by Meljean Brook, and I was very excited to read it, having read rave reviews in several places, and having gotten a taste for Steampunk in Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. This is the first of new series, The Iron Seas, according to Ms Brook's website, and I am very excited. She has created a fascinating world, with mechanically enhanced humans, steam driven carriages, air ships, krakens and megalodons and some very well drawn characters. I will eagerly await new installments in the series, and probably go back and read some of her Guardian series as well.