The Kraken King Part One (Iron Seas #4) by Meljean Brook

The Kraken King, Part I: The Kraken King and the Scribbling Spinster (Iron Seas, #4.1) - Meljean Brook
Zenobia Fox, novelist, sister to the great adventurer, Archimedes Fox, is ready for an adventure of her own, rather than experiencing her brother’s second and. And preferably without it coming at the hands of yet another kidnapping attempt by her brother’s myriad enemies.
Which brings her to Australia, with her friend Helene, heading towards the Nipponese Empire – when a series of unfortunate events lead to her being somewhat stranded with Ariq. Horde Rebel, smuggler, general and the Kraken King with a truly fearsome reputation. He has his own worries with a threat that could tear apart everything he’s built – and he doesn’t know what to make of her. Spy? Agent? Courier? There’s definitely something she’s hiding.
I love this world. The whole concept of the Mongol Horde with super technology dominating Asia, capturing or decimating Europe and Africa and the European powers fleeing the continent is a fascinating alternate world. With extra zombies as well! Even better this book goes beyond what we’ve seen before, moving to Australia where the fleeing Empire of Japan (or Nippon) has moved to escape the Horde. The whole world has been shaped to make it a wonderful steampunk alternate of ours – not just a few countries, but the whole world has been extensively and carefully built with extra repercussions and possibilities considered (like the fleeing powers not having the power of our colonies and were unable drive out or control indigenous peoples).
I love it
I also love Zenobia. Zenobia is awesome. She’s snarky, has an amazingly excellent acid tongue, she’s witty, she’s clever, she’s highly intelligent, a problem solver, creative and thoroughly dedicated to living her life her way despite the sexist strictures of society. She’s scared, her life is extremely complicated by her brother’s adventures and the number of enemies he’s made who all look at her as a vulnerable link. She lives with her bodyguards under a false name – but despite this fear that drives her life she faces it with courage and resolve, never letting it spill out whether other’s can see. And in a crisis she responds with intelligence, skill and quick, capable action (and not with any kind of super fighting skills or super powers).

And did I mention she’s snarky?
I actually like the romance. Zenobia and Ariq are interested in each other. They’re attracted to each other. They’re impressed by each other. They’re not in love with each other. Oh, I’m sure love will develop – but neither of these characters spotted each other and decided the other was their true love forever. And they’re interested in each other for things that go beyond just lust with endless pages of excess description – their passion, intelligence, bravery and tenacity also motivates them.