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Steelhands (Havemercy, #4) - Jaida Jones,  Danielle Bennett Got this book as a First Reads giveaway.
Like another reviewer mentioned, the contest specified that this was a stand-alone book. It's not; it's the 4th in Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett's 'Havemercy' series. I've intended on reading the series, but I did plan on reading them in order. To anyone who hasn't yet started the series: I HIGHLY recommend reading them in order. It may be too late for me, but not for you!
I have a feeling that I might have given this book 4 stars if I'd read the prior books. Even considering that this is a sequel, it has a particularly slow start. If I already knew and loved the characters, I might have appreciated the updates on what was going on with them. But it took me at least 100 pages to feel even slightly familiar with who everyone was, what the world's situation was, and to feel like any kind of story was happening.
However, after that, I began to get into it. The characters definitely gained my affection, the world was interesting (although still somewhat confusing - it's a sort of Franco-Russian empire which has recently been at war with sort-of China and sort-of Germany?), and steampunk-style dragons are pretty cool. The plot, involving a couple of countrified scholarship students who come to the city to study and become embroiled in a plot involving both the aristocracy and a group of decorated war veterans, is entertaining.
I'd recommend this for fans of books such as Ellen Kushner's 'Riverside' tales.