|A Captain and a Corset is the second in a steampunk romance series that began with A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious. In Mary Wine’s alternative Victorian world, the Illuminists (cerebral and benevolent) are in conflict with the Helikeians (ruthless and bent on world domination). Travel has advanced to the level of airships, literally ships held aloft by huge balloons, and a skilled Navigator can guide the ships through “gates” in space that allow the ships to jump from one location to the next.
Sophie Stevenson accidentally came into contact with a Deep Earth Crystal Root Ball and now possesses the powers to see the time gates. She has been in training as a Navigator under the tutelage of Captain Bion Donkova, who resents that she possesses the powers he does not while simultaneously holding his attraction to her in check. When Sophie is kidnapped by the Helikeians and taken aboard one of their ships, Bion comes after her. The Helikeians don’t know that Sophie isn’t fully trained yet, and Bion is able to bluff until an accident occurs, leaving Sophie to care for him for a change.
When they escape, they find themselves thrown in with a band of Gypsies, and their attraction becomes full-blown. With the Helikeians after them, it’s now a race to get to an Illuminist Solitary Chamber where they will be safe.
I liked the story, though it was initially hard to follow the Illuminist theme. They aren’t well defined, and in the absence of much background about them, the plot fell into a “good guy, bad guy” rhythm. Sophie is a lot of fun as a gently bred young lady who has been yanked out of her comfortable existence, never to return. Bion does an initial turn as a taciturn grump who is alternately resentful and fascinated by Sophie. Frankly, I rather liked that she possessed the very powers he desired – sort of a rough justice there.
The story ran out of steam (I know, terrible pun) after their escape from the airship. From there, the story devolved into a road romance, with Sophie and Bion on the run as they fight, then succumb to, their attraction. It dragged on for a while, then wrapped up rather quickly.
All in all, A Captain and a Corset was a pretty enjoyable romance with an intriguing world as a backdrop. Steampunk fans might find a new favorite author in Mary Wine.