The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
As I mentioned before, I ordered The Iron Duke (with Amazon giftcard balance) after reading this post on Bookshelves of Lesser Doom.
I started and finished it yesterday while Russell has happily learning how to play Wilderness War, one of the board games I got him for his birthday (yes, we have a board game collection).
The Iron Duke is the first in Brooks' Iron Seas series (Heart of Steel is scheduled for a November 2011 release).
I haven't read Brooks before, but The Iron Duke was more or less what I expected. Brooks does a wonderful job of world building (she continues to reveal aspects of the society to the reader throughout the novel subtly) and the setting she's imagined is complex and intriguing. The hero and heroine were both interesting characters with involved backstories. The romance, however, was boilerplate: beautiful, underprivileged girl must give herself to brutish, rich man to save family, he turns out not to be so much of a brute and she falls in love. There's a scene that may be upsetting to some readers. It didn't bother me, but I'd been warned of a possible rape scene so I was expecting something much worse than what I actually read.
I know that authors rarely if ever have control over the coverart for their novels, but after reading The Iron Duke I am bothered by how wildly inappropriate the cover's depiction of Rhys is. It's not just that the depiction is inaccurate, but I can't elaborate further without including backstory spoilers.