Review: Badlands

by Seleste deLaney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Badlands / 9781426891250

I was excited to pick up "Badlands" on NetGalley based on the fun and original premise: an exciting American Civil War steampunk novel served with a light romance genre sauce! In the end, though, I was a little disappointed that the romance storyline ended up overpowering the rest of the plot, and the neat steampunk elements that served as the backdrop for the story were never really given a chance to shine through.

After the Civil War, America has been fractured into the northern Union, the southern territories, and the western "Badlands". The badlands are ruled by a race of warrior women who serve as guards and executioners for the prisoners that the Union sends out west as "too dangerous" to serve time in their own prisons. When the Badlands queen is murdered, warrior-woman Ever must seek fast passage to Philadelphia to secure the Princess Laurette and bring her back to restore order to the Badlands.

The premise is exciting, but after the excitement of the first few pages, too much of the premise is immediately dropped to focus on the romance elements. From the first chapter, Ever is literally running around topless (and much emphasis is put on her "tight, high" assets) and a huge part of the "conflict" in the first half of the book is the question of where will Ever get more clothes? Will she wear Henri's clothes? Or will she wear Mahala's clothes? Or will she get new clothes from Brigid? And then there is the "tension" of when Ever - who is, of course, utterly set against marriage - immediately falls in love at first site with Captain Spencer Pierce and they're both tormented by the memory of their first meeting when the ship banked and they fell on top of each other, almost kissing. Something like 65% of the novel is Ever and Spencer yearning after each other but never really acting on it, and for me personally it gets boring very quickly.

Fundamentally, I find the character of Ever to be frustrating. She's set up to be a strong, reliable warrior and a relatively competent commander, but she acts like a hot-headed grunt and picks fights wherever she goes. This wouldn't be so bad, except that she almost inevitably ends up getting seriously injured in her fights so that her love interest can literally carry her back to the infirmary. The romance conflict here centers completely around her being totally opposed to love and yet totally aware that her attraction to the Captain is TRUE LOVE and won't wear off after sating herself with him over a few days/weeks/months/years/what-have-you, so she keeps alternating between throwing herself at him and then immediately running away because she doesn't want to be trapped by the TRUE LOVE.

Overall, I enjoyed "Badlands" for what it is, I guess. The price for the eBook version is extremely reasonable, and the ~100 page length kept the story moving and kept me from getting too frustrated at all the belabored romance. I was extremely disappointed that more wasn't done with the original premise and the steampunk setting, but several people do get mauled by clockwork monsters (usually at the point when I couldn't take another page of yearning), so that definitely held my interest. If you love romances and like steampunk, you wouldn't go wrong with checking this out, but do be aware that you're getting way more "romance" for your buck than "steampunk".

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.

~ Ana Mardoll

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Marie Brennan said...

Dang.  That sounds like an awesome premise, but then the story you describe would make me throw the book across the room.   I had a bad encounter like that fairly recently, where a novel had a cool setting (in this case, Tang-dynasty China) and then ignored it in favor of the protagonists panting after each other's bodies.  I like a good romantic story, but the hornypants model just doesn't do it for me.

Ana Mardoll said...

Marie Brennan   Yeah, it was a Wall Banger for me, too. I really hate to hate on Romance books just because it's not my personal favorite genre, but for the love of pete why would you come up with an AWESOME STEAM PUNK PREMISE and commission an AWESOME STEAM PUNK COVER and then make it just the same generic heaving bosoms as every other romance novel I've read? ARHG.

I *did* like that when the heroine slept with people, there was no slut-shaming either from the other character nor from the author. That was a bonus.

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