I actually purchased the very first copy ever sold of J.L. Gribble‘s Steel Blood (Urban Fantasy 188 pages) back in June at the In Your Write Mind workshop back in June, as it was part of the initial pre-book launch, but I didn’t get a chance to read it until this weekend.
“As her children begin lives of their own, Victory struggles with the loneliness of an empty nest. Just when the city of Limani could not seem smaller, an old friend requests that she come out of retirement for one final mercenary contract – to bodyguard his granddaughter, a princess of the Qin Empire. For the first time in a century, the Qin and British Empires are reopening diplomatic relations. Alongside the British delegation, Victory and her daywalker Mikelos arrive in the Qin colony city of Jiang Yi Yue. As the Qin weredragons and British werewolves take careful steps toward a lasting peace between their people, a connection between the Qin princess and a British nobleman throw everyone’s plans in disarray. Meanwhile, a third faction stalks the city under the cover of darkness. This is not a typical romance. It’s a good thing Victory is not a typical vampire.”
Steel Blood is the third book in the Steel Empires series and I enjoyed both of the first books so much that I basically devoured them both in the same day, back-to-back. (Here are some links if you want to check up on my previous reviews of Steel Victory and Steel Magic).
As with the previous two books, the world-building here is fantastic. This book focuses more on the Qin Empire, which draws many of its cultural roots from Chinese culture. One of my absolute favorite parts of this series is how the cultural aspects feel much deeper than the surface paintbrush you tend to get with many “diverse” books these days. There are so many aspects of the Qin Empire which feel like part of the culture and it’s all the little details that really support that, things like not toasting by clanking glasses together, to the respect and ancestor worship, to the boat used to transport the characters up to the Qin Empire. The clothes and fashion are different, the tastes in food are different, the views on trade and the outside world are different, and the basic mannerisms are all different. This is one of those very few series where the diversity in the books isn’t a paintbrush but rather a solid representation of different views and different cultures. Even the names are accurate reflections of the source culture.
But because this series is sort of like an alternate history urban fantasy, each of the Empires has distinct ties to their respective source material, but have changed and evolved differently in this timeline than in the world we’re familiar with. I think that was a really interesting way of being able to also show the evolution of culture while still respecting the source material.
The characters in this book continue to be people with a variety of depth and interests. Victory is the main focus for this novel and she’s definitely filled with snarkiness and sarcasm, which made it so I was laughing through most of this book. The writing style is such that I found a good deal of humor with the situations and the characters themselves. I empathize with Victory a lot because she’s in a situation where she’s trying to fulfill her contractual obligations but also take care of the very young and passionate, who do not often think about how their actions could have reactions bigger than they understand. I believe the catch phrase is “Victory is tired of your shit.” Which also amused me greatly.
There is also a scene near the beginning involving oceans and sunlight and it was a very moving scene. I’m not going to say much more about it because it’s one of those things you really need the context of the story and characters to really appreciate.
Overall, this book was well-written with solid, truly diverse characters, fantastic world-building, and a tone that made me laugh. I would probably rate this as a low four on my rating scale. I’m quite pleased that I own this book and I will happily continue to buy each subsequent book in the series as they become available.
Gribble, J.L. Steel Blood. Maryland: Dog Star Books, 2017.