This has all the typical paranormal romance/urban fantasy tropes set in a Victorian technology, high-fantasy world. It has sexy werewolves and mages, hot air balloons and cannons and muskets. At times it felt like a regency romance, with the status-mad mother of the female heroine and the description of the opera and all the fashionable people.
In this world, magic ability, whether mage marks or shapeshifting ability, determines rank in society. As a result, the werewolves (“Hunt Pack”) are the most eligible bachelors, but they are only interested in young ladies with a university education, that is, young ladies who have enough mage ability (Mage Pack”) to specialize in one of the disciplines (air, water, earth, fire, healing, metal). Marks on their eyes display what their discipline is, and the relative level of their ability.
When six pregnant Mage Pack ladies get kidnapped by the order of the mad emperor in the empire next door, Marian happens to be one of the few people who knows where they are and why they’ve been taken, and how. It turns out the emperor has ancient technology that can subdue mages. He has a keen interest in scientific inquiry, which will remind students of history uncomfortably of some of our darker points of history.
Marian teams up with Tomas, the younger brother of the pack leader, to rescue the kidnapped women. The story interchanges between Marian and Tomas’ struggles to catch up to the kidnapped women, and the plight of the kidnapped women in the custody of the cruel and mad emperor.
Almost all my favorite parts of this book were also my least favorite parts of the book. Adorable budding romance between charming but not-favored smart and sensible heroine and handsome young prince. Check. Girl with “no talent” ending up to be basically the last airbender. Check. Sexy werewolves and girls who “smell good.” Check. Victorian-era sensibilites. Check. These are all tried-and-true tools. They make for a great story, and I really enjoyed the story. It was well-done.
But, it wasn’t new. Nothing about this story felt new or different. Most people won’t have a problem with that, and since I gave it four stars, you know that this book fulfilled what I wanted out of it: pure entertainment. I just wish that the story weren’t so utterly predictable. It felt more like a well-done formulaic product than a work of art.