I'd been doing a little too much "eat your vegetables" reading, which means I hadn't been eager to read because it felt like more homework, which means I just wasn't reading for pleasure. So I sought out some escapist literature, and I can't fault this book for trying to give me that. But I was still left wanting more.
This is one of those books that has a some solid core elements (interesting world, interesting character backstories [at least alluded to]) that never seem to come together into a compelling narrative. The characters soon became defined by their bland relationship to each other rather than their unique histories, and the plot seemed to be driven by the actions of peripheral characters who barely (or never) entered into the story, so it became difficult to keep track of what was happening and why (because so much of it was happening someplace else). The writing was competent, but rarely compelling, and I always felt like I was skimming the surface of the story; it just never sucked me in.
Nonetheless, and contrary to most of the covers, the Iron Duke is a burly man with chest hair (think Ray Stevenson), which is a refreshing change from the full-body-wax, prepubescent look so popular in leading men today, the heroine had decent critical thinking skills, and the world was interesting enough. The truth is, I only read this because it was supposed to be valuable "world-building" for a later book that sounded more interesting to me, and I'm still keen to read that one. I think Meljean Brook has proven that she can interest me, even if true escapism is still a ways off.