Review: Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts by Nancy Campbell Allen (2020)

Steampunk Proper Romance, Book 4

Heat Factor: Their first kiss was boring

Character Chemistry: Hate and love are two sides of the same coin

Plot: It’s marketed as Steampunk Cinderella but it’s more enemies-to-lovers / bodyguard / road trip

Overall: DNF at 50%. I was slogging and then just couldn’t take it any more when Gus-Gus the friendly pumpkin farmer appeared.

If I’m reading a Cinderella romance, here’s what I want:

  • A rags to riches story
  • The poor protagonist interacting with the rich protagonist under false pretences
  • The moment of recognition, when the rich protagonist sees the poor protagonist as the true love despite class differences, usually with the help of a token (a shoe, a ring, etc)

Any of these elements may be literal or metaphorical.

Traditionalists might also want other classic trappings like evil step-sisters, a magical helper, a pumpkin carriage, or a glass slipper, but I’m not so picky. “Billy Beg and his Bull” is definitely a version of Cinderella, even though Billy dresses up all fancy to fight a dragon, not go dancing.

I was therefore not super stoked when I started reading this “Cinderella retelling” and quickly discovered that there’s no rags to riches and no false pretenses during the interactions between the hero and heroine. There is a big event that we’re building up to that will happen at midnight, and some evil step-sisters, and the aforementioned Gus-Gus, but not the arc that builds to the moment of recognition. 

Despite this not actually being a Cinderella retelling, there was some decent potential here. Emme is a lead activist in the shifters’ rights movement. Oliver is a detective who frequently arrests her when the rallies she organizes get a little out of hand. Emme thinks Oliver is an authoritarian stooge; Oliver thinks Emme is a rabble rouser. When Oliver is assigned bodyguard duty after Emme receives a threatening letter, we’ve got an excellent opportunity for erstwhile enemies to spend some time together. 

However, I had some problems with the execution of the shift from hate to love:

  • Oliver quickly makes clear, to both the reader and Emme, that he absolutely agrees with her cause, just not her tactics. Because he obviously needs to be as thoughtful as possible, since he’s an officer of the law. So the tension of the enmity dissipates pretty early and without much pizazz. 
  • Similarly, the shift to lovers just…happens. There’s a little bit of tension on Emme’s part, because things were simpler when she hated him, but they both are like, well this was inevitable. 
  • I found it hard to swallow that Oliver and Emme had had no other social interactions beyond the confrontational arrests, given that his three best friends are married to her three best friends. 

Furthermore, Emme is just obnoxious. I am all about “difficult” or “unlikable” female characters, but Emme is a ninny who refuses to take the threats on her life seriously. Also her outfits are basically someone cosplaying “steampunk”, complete with top hat tipped at just the right angle with goggles on top and I found this irrationally annoying. 

Literally this but with pants. Because of course she wears pants with her corset.

When I found myself reading two pages and then putting the book down to go do some dishes or scrub some grout, I figured that discretion was the better part of valor and bravely ran away. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Looking for something similar?

Hey now! I LIKE the cosplaying steampunk aesthetic! More of that, please!

Activists and rabble rousers

Love and hate are indeed two sides of the same coin

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