After her father's death, Honoria has fallen on hard times. Struggling to survive and escape the bounty on their heads, the family moves to Whitechapel district. Gone are the extravagances and each day is a struggle to survive, as Honoria starves herself in order to ensure that her younger siblings have enough to eat and walks hours to and from work. Honoria uses her education to teach at a girls finishing school but when she loses her job and her hope, Honoria is forced to turn to the one person she never thought she would ask for help, Blade - the master of the rookeries. Unfortunately for Honoria the price of his aid is to become a thrall. Though no one in the rookeries will challenge Blade's authority that will not keep Honoria safe from the Blue Bloods who seek her death. Even Blade is finding himself having difficult keeping his control around Honeria.
Though this book is advertised as a steampunk, it is far more of a historical romance than a steampunk. There are small elements like metaljackets and little robots who served tea but beyond that, Kiss of Steelis devoid of steampunk elements. McMaster did however include an interesting origin story for vampires and the world also included a werewolf. Kiss of Steel essentially focused on the budding romance between Blade and Honoria, while squeezing in some political intrigue to claim a plot.
As protagonists go, Honoria is strong and never takes the opportunity to run away when those she cares about are facing danger. She is well educated and stubborn to a fault. Blade does use his physical strength and superior speed to bully Honoria; however, not to be outdone, Honoria does drug Blade and even pulls a gun on him. These should be moments to celebrate but they only lead to Blade once again getting the upper hand forcing Honoria to comply to situations that she is not comfortable with.
There were several other female side characters of note. The Duchess of Casavian was made a blue blood simply because there were no male heirs and her ascension dropped her family's rank. Clearly aware of this The Duchess has to be a strong character and seems to be playing the long game. Unfortunately, we don't really get to know a lot about her. Then we have the Queen who plays second to the Queen Consort. Throughout the novel we are told that she has been reduced to a figure head status. When she is finally introduced, her one act is to defy her husband publicly. It's clear however that the queen lives in fear of her consort. Then there is Esme, who is one of Blade's thralls. Blade clearly sees her as family and the feeling is returned. Esme runs the house and is not afraid to put Blade in his place, or advise him. Finally, we come to Lena who is just fourteen and yet somehow manages to advise Honoria on her love life. Lena is a realist and like her sister is quite bullheaded.
For all of the strong female characters we still had the problem of Blade's dead sister. She doesn't really have a role in the book except to give Blade something to angst about. It's yet another trope (thinkSupernatural). A dead woman to build the character of a male character as well of course as to establish the villainous nature of another.
Kiss of Steel is not a book a reader can enjoy unless there is a significant investment in the romance between Blade and Honoria. Unfortunately, the relationship has problems from the very start. Honoria lives in Blade's territory and she does not pay for protection or pay any sort of tribute and so Blade sends someone to demand her presence. He is of course immediately attracted to her and seeks to weasel his way into her life, forcing himself upon her.
His firm, callused hands found her breasts, cupping them through the scratchy wool. Her eyes nearly rolled back in her head.
“Stop,” she whispered. But his hand was sliding down over the flat of her stomach, lower, bunching through the folds of material at her waist and lower…She caught it, her nipples aching through the constricting wool. “We can’t do this. Please stop.”
“You want it. I want it—”
“I don’t want it,” she shot back, then gasped as his fingers brushed teasingly against the juncture of her thighs.
“Don’t you?” His other hand cupped the full weight of her breast. “There’s no one here to see,” he said in that dark, compelling voice. “I’d hear them coming.” His fingers bunched in the folds of her skirt. “Honor. My Honor.” It came out with his breath. “I want to taste you. I want to drink you all up.”
Honoria shot a helpless look toward the building. She had to find some way to placate the hunger ruling him (page 133)