Badlands by Seleste deLaney
After a brutal Civil War, America is a land divided. As commander of her nation’s border guards, Ever is a warrior sworn to protect her country and her queen. When an airship attacks and kills the monarch, Ever must infiltrate enemy territory to bring home the heir to the throne, and the dirigible Dark Hawk is her fastest way to the Union.
Captain Spencer Pierce just wants to pay off the debt he owes on the Dark Hawk and make a life for himself trading across the border. When the queen’s assassination puts the shipping routes at risk, he finds himself Ever’s reluctant ally.
As they fly into danger, Ever and Spencer must battle not only the enemy but also their growing attraction. She refuses to place her heart before duty, and he has always put the needs of his ship and crew above his own desires. Once the princess is rescued, perhaps they can find love in the Badlands-if death doesn’t find them first…
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Badlands is short but packed with awesome. Set in an alternative future in which the Civil War resulted in a very different North America, Seleste deLaney drops the reader right into the action. The novel has elements from many different genres — romance, steampunk, western, fantasy — and they’re all incorporated in a seamless blend that makes Badlands a compelling read. Seleste deLaney has done a great job of world building, particularly when constructing the culture of Ever’s country, which is matriarchal and almost tribal in some ways. (The United States is very Western in its sensibilities, which I really enjoyed.)
Ever and Spencer are well-developed protagonists who come together in a very believable way. Ever, in particular, is well defined and real and I loved her focus and determination to complete her mission. Her attitude about sex is also refreshing since she views it as just a part of life, not something to agonize over. In contrast, Spencer didn’t resonate immediately for me but I enjoyed watching Ever overcome her preconceived notions about it. I also loved the way Seleste deLaney writes the action sequences in the story. They’re so clear and compelling and I loved the pacing.
I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next! Her website says that she has some other stuff already published but it’s erotica so I don’t think I’ll be reading it any time soon. (No judgment here — just personal preference.) Hopefully Seleste deLaney will have another awesome story coming out in the near future.