Reynold Michaels might not be the smartest man in the city, but he knows a beautiful woman when he sees one. The lovely creature he watches disembark from the steam tram every morning simply cannot be a prostitute…or an automaton. Yet at the high-priced bordello where she works he discovers she’s not only a hybrid mechanical, she’s funny, vulnerable, and quite possibly the missing piece of his heart.
Lily Landry understands that as an automaton she isn’t entitled to make her own choices. She must do as instructed or face the ultimate horror of being shut down. But when she forms a bond with Reynold, she quickly learns what it means to desire a life of her own.
In a city conflicted over automaton rights, can they hope for a future together?
She smiled at him. “How would you like to begin?”
“I don’t rightly know.”
She reached for the buttons on the front of her dress, which had been sewn of pearl-colored silk. “Most my clients like to see what they have paid for. Would you like me to strip?”
He swallowed convulsively. A dull flush rose to his cheeks.
“Have you ever visited with one of Landry’s Ladies before?” Maybe he did not know what to expect, thought she would not look or feel like a human woman. Unless he touched her in certain places, he should not be able to tell the difference.
“No. No, I haven’t.”
She wondered how to put him at ease. She abandoned the buttons and reached for her hairpins instead. “Would you like me to take my hair down?”
“I would. I’d like that very much.”
A scratch came at the door which opened to admit the little mechanical maid with a tray holding whiskey and one glass.
The client leaped away from it. As soon as the maid left, he filled the glass with whiskey and gulped half of it down.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” He extended the glass to Lily. “Will you take some?”
“I cannot drink.”
She shook her head. Her loosened hair fell down around her shoulders in separate tendrils, and he took a step closer.
“My God, you’re beautiful.”
The phrase ‘automaton rights’ piqued my curiosity and in the fourth chapter I decided I, too, would be a champion for automaton rights… Steel Kisses is a cute story that swept me up in no time at all. There was enough description that I understood the setting, the society and the characters, but not so much that I felt bogged down in detail. I received an ARC of this book so I won’t speak of any issues I expect to be addressed during the editing process, and will focus on the plot, instead.
The main character, Reynold, is a gentle man. He’s not very smart, which is repeated more often than strictly necessary—but he’s a good man with a big heart, and his heart is set on Lily. Lily is a robotic sex worker. I could have done without the specifics of what they are made from, but luckily the author doesn’t dwell too much on that aspect. The robotic sex workers are terribly, terribly abused, both because they are sex workers and because they are robots. Their clients are frequently quite vicious and I wish I could say that the things Lily and the others went through were overblown, but having worked with women forced into such situations, I know horror stories are all too common. Considering some of the themes in this book, I believe the author knows that too.
Set in Steampunk-Victorian Buffalo/Niagara, Lily and her ‘sisters’ were created to take the load off human prostitutes. Unfortunately, their creator saw an opportunity to make a lot of money, and also played God a bit, creating an Artificial Intelligence that adapted. Lily can learn, and what she and her sisters learn about the world quickly spawns regrets about what they do as well as the desire to change their lives—especially in the face of abuse.
The focus is primarily on Reynold throughout the story. He does what he has to in order to save Lily, and even when he breaks laws, he’s entirely relatable. In fact, him breaking the laws he did for the reasons he did added depth to his character. His understanding of the world is certainly broadened over the course of the book and he stands firm in what he believes.
This is a story about overcoming differences, pushing society into the reforms that will make life better for all and not judging before you know someone. I enjoyed Steel Kisses.
Born in Buffalo and raised on the Niagara Frontier, Laura Strickland has been an avid reader and writer since childhood. She believes the spunky, tenacious, undefeatable ethnic mix that is Buffalo spells the perfect setting for a little Steampunk, so she created her own Victorian world there. She knows the people of Buffalo are stronger, tougher and smarter than those who haven’t survived the muggy summers and blizzard blasts found on the shores of the mighty Niagara. Tough enough to survive a squad of automatons? Well, just maybe.