Steel Victory (Urban Fantasy 213 pages) by J.L. Gribble is one of those books I started and finished in the same day. I enjoyed the first book of this series so much that I also read the second book in the same day, as well.
“One hundred years ago, the vampire Victory retired from a centuries-long mercenary career. She settled in Limani, the independent city-state acting as a neutral zone between the British and Roman colonies on the New Continent. Twenty years ago, Victory adopted a human baby girl, who soon showed signs of magical ability. Today, Victory is a city councilwoman, balancing the human and supernatural populations within Limani. Her daughter Toria is a warrior-mage, balancing life as an apprentice mercenary with college chemistry courses. Tomorrow, the Roman Empire invades.”
There are a lot of really great things about this book, and the first and most interesting for me are the characters. Steel Victory starts with the introduction of Victory and her daywalker, Mikelos, as they must mount a rescue for Victory’s sire, Asaron. What really stuck out with me immediately was the fact that Victory conducted the action portion of the rescue while Mikelos stayed with the boat, and this happened after she admonished a messenger for addressing her with his last name instead of using her own name. While it’s only the first several pages of the book, this sets up the tone for the entire series as one which absolutely does not conform to most of the established genre tropes and stereotypes, which makes me enjoy the series even more. Victory is a fighter and a mercenary while Mikelos is a musician, with each character being so unique and different that neither could even remotely be considered a paper cut-out. Mikelos stuck out with me for a variety of reasons, the primary one being how hard he works to avoid confrontation. He is a voice of reason and he works so hard throughout the story to convince others that violence is not a viable solution. That’s not to say that he won’t break some bones if he has to, but rather that the situation must clearly warrant violence as the final option before he will participate.
The next characters introduced are Toria and Kane, a bonded warrior-page pair who are both attending classes and the university. Toria studies chemistry while Kane favors literature, and while they share a living space, they are not a romantically or sexually paired couple. In fact, there is every indication that Toria is actually asexual. Throughout this entire book, Toria gives absolutely no thoughts towards sexual attraction to any of the other characters in the book. Even better? She’s a main character. She’s a kick-ass main character. She’s a kick-ass main character who obviously loves the people in her life, including Kane, her male partner who she lives with but has no romantic involvement and no sexual interest. If Toria truly is asexual, this is easily the most positive and accurate asexual representation I’ve ever seen in fiction. So naturally, I am hoping that this series continues with Toria not becoming sexually involved with anyone and she has also easily become my favorite character. Toria is also extremely loyal and dedicated to those close to her. She risks everything to save those she loves, but she also asks for help when she needs it, knowing that those in her life will be there when she needs them.
Kane is another really great character who breaks stereo-typical norms. While Toria’s mage talent is with storms, Kane’s is earth-based, which means his talent is in growth and healing. His introduction after his date with the hoity-toity British guy (yes, you read that right) is actually fairly entertaining because of the interaction with Toria. Toria and Kane are obviously as close as people can be and love each other dearly, and they are supportive and encouraging, but also snarky and amusing. The entire first scene with Toria and Kane made me smile for a variety of reasons. Partially because Toria is such a science nerd and partly because Kane is the responsible one who discourages blowing up the kitchen with a mixture of chemistry and magic but who also assists Toria with her silver-based experiments.
One of the other really interesting things about this book is the world-building, There are vampires, werewolves and werecats, elves, humans, Romans, British, mages, warriors, mercenaries, swords, guns, radios, televisions, cars, horses, people of every ethnicity, a variety of sexualities, and different politics for the differently-governed areas. It’s an incredibly rich world that has fun as well as providing realistic hazards, including the Wasteland which was created due to nuclear weapons in the Last War. The story could take place in the future or as an alternate version of the past and it mixes familiarity with the modern world with common elements of fantasy.
If you’ve read the book or if you’re reading it now, here’s a link to a deleted scene that takes place in the middle of Steel Victory showing some of the shenanigans between Toria and Syri.
Overall, I’d say this book is easily a high four on my rating scale. I’m a little bit leery about rating it higher, even though it’s ridiculously easy for me to get sucked back into the story and to reread it multiple times, because of how much hope I have for Toria to be asexual. I have read other series with characters listed as asexual are cold and selfish and not an accurate representation or they wind up involved with another character which then “cures” them of their asexuality. This book has fantastic characters, imaginative world-building, and a lot of amusing parts. It’s got strong bonds of friendship and loyalty and doesn’t pull punches about some of the unpleasant parts of a world of conflict.
I guess through tomorrow, Tuesday 05 July 2016, this book is also on sale for .99 cents on Amazon, so if you want a really great story with amazing and diverse characters for a ridiculously low price, you should absolutely pick up this book. I would pick up this book even if it wasn’t on sale.