Eighteen-year-old Vivienne lives in a world of knights and ladies, corsets and absinthe, outlaw magic and alchemical machines. By day, she is lady-in-waiting to the future queen of Camelot—Guinevere. By night, she secretly toils away in the clock tower as apprentice to Merlin, the infamous recovering magic addict. Then she meets Marcus, below her in class, destined to become a knight, and just as forbidden as her apprenticeship with Merlin. When Morgan le Fay, the king’s sorceress sister, declares war on Camelot, Merlin thinks they can create a metal beast powered by steam and alchemy to defeat her. But to save the kingdom, Vivienne will have to risk everything—her secret apprenticeship, her love for Marcus, and her own life.
Rose's shaky debut, first in the Metal & Lace series, introduces a steampunk Camelot in which Christianity and the "mechanical arts" from the East are rapidly replacing addictive pagan magic. Eras blend uneasily in Arthur's court, where knights wear blazers and shoot crossbows, aeroships sail through the sky, and serfs till the land. Seventeen-year-old Vivienne, apprenticed to the inventor Merlin, builds a mechanical dragon to fight sorceress Morgan le Fay while struggling with her feelings for a squire on the verge of a vow of celibacy. At times, awkward prose makes it difficult to fully invest in Vivienne's dilemma. If Vivienne runs away with her beloved, " reputation would be a harlot's, and he might be outcast from the kingdom as nothing more than a serf whose mother's life could be lost." If she stays, she must face impending war with Morgan ("Days of peace are few before it will all come to pass"). While Vivienne's resourcefulness, courage, and relationship with Merlin, her quirky mentor, make her an appealing heroine, that doesn't offset the unpersuasive worldbuilding and convoluted style. Ages 13 up.