Maid of Steel – Kate Baker | Blog Tour Extract | Book Review | Book & Candle Giveaway | #MaidOfSteel | Book Birthday Blitz | @katefbaker  @BookGuild @rararesources

It’s 1911 and, against her mother’s wishes, quiet New Yorker Emma dreams of winning the right to vote. She is sent away by her parents in the hope distance will curb her desire to be involved with the growing suffrage movement and told to spend time learning about where her grandparents came from.

Across the Atlantic – Queenstown, southern Ireland – hotelier Thomas dreams of being loved, even noticed, by his actress wife, Alice. On their wedding day, Alice’s father had assured him that adoration comes with time. It’s been eight years. But Alice has plans of her own and they certainly don’t include the fight for equality or her dull husband.

Emma’s arrival in Ireland leads her to discover family secrets and become involved in the Irish Women’s Suffrage Society in Cork. However, Emma’s path to suffrage was never meant to lead to a forbidden love affair…

My thanks to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for the tour invite to celebrate the first book birthday of Maid of Steel. Published by The Book Guild, the book is available in ebook and paperback formats (23 February 2023) – I bought my ecopy of this a while ago and the blitz invite was a perfect opportunity to read and review it rather than to keep it waiting on my TBR!

For the birthday blitz today I’m delighted to share an extract, my review and there is a fantastic giveaway (UK only, sorry) to win a signed copy and a fabulous candle and lip salve. Entry details are at the end of this post.


Chapter One

1911, Manhattan

Bright sunshine made no difference to the March temperature, nor did it dry the puddles which covered the surface of Brooklyn Bridge in a rash of reflective measles. Enormous motorcars weaved their way between the more traditional hansom cabs, an army of dark metal monsters chugging their way to a takeover of city life.

Emma pulled her heavy woollen coat more closely round her body to keep out the chill wind whipping up the East River.

‘Hey, you okay?’ Martina stepped back to where Emma had paused at the handrail. They both leant over to watch the wakes left by barges wash to the river’s edge.

‘I’m fine,’ Emma replied. ‘We always hurry across and I just want to enjoy the view for once.’

Martina held up blistered fingers, raw from the scissors she used to cut material into shapes that made up long skirts at the Joseph Cobb factory where they both worked. ‘Try braiding your little sister’s hair with fingers so raw they feel like they’re on fire.’

Emma knew all about agony and today was particularly acute, being the anniversary of John’s death. Her twin brother from whom she’d been inseparable until they’d reached sixteen, and he’d joined the army. Everyone had laughed when she’d expressed an interest to do the same. Everyone except John.

On the day he’d left with his kitbag, he’d hugged her tight and told her he’d be fighting for the both of them. While he’d avoided physical injuries as a soldier, on each – somewhat rare – occasion he came home on leave, another piece of him was missing. When he’d come home on leave, their parents had put his unusually quiet demeanour down to being tired. But on the day they received the telegram to say John had taken his own life at his barracks by throwing himself off the roof of his accommodation block, three days before what would have been their nineteenth birthday, Emma knew she’d been witnessing his deterioration.

After a while Martina pulled Emma away. ‘C’mon, we’ll be late.’

Emma kept losing Martina’s words in the snatched jumble of strangers’ conversations as they weaved their way along crowded sidewalks. ‘Apparently Sylvia’s talk at Hotel Astor last month was incredible. I wish I could have gone to watch. Those English girls are really giving it to them and risking arrest, it’s brilliant.’

Emma kept her eyes on Martina’s worn black heels and walked faster to keep up. ‘Would you go to prison for the cause?’

‘For sure I would. You would too, I know it.’

They turned down a side street where there was more room to walk next to each other. ‘But did you read the reports on Black Friday? Some were hospitalised with broken bones. So many were arrested, and now they’re even force-feeding them. Can you believe that?’

Emma had known little about the American Women’s Suffrage Association until she’d met Martina. Emma’s mother, Maggie, had been horrified and told her to stay away from the growing movement, which had reminded Emma of the time she’d not been allowed to go with John to the Boys’ Club in the church rooms when they were seven. It was always the boys who got to go places.

‘It’s precisely why we’ve got to keep going,’ Martina said, and put out her hand for Emma to grab hold of as they ran across the road. The wheels of a hansom cab swished dirty puddle water onto their skirts and Martina yelled at him. Her exclamation was met with a sneer from the driver, who snapped a whip on to his horse’s flanks. Three motorcars chugged past, wheels slicing through piles of horse manure like knives through butter.

Set between 1911/1912 and moving between New York and Ireland, Maid of Steel is a wonderfully engrossing read that pulled me in from the start. From its dramatic beginning when a tragic event in New York drives Emma to Queenstown in southern Ireland, the birth country of her late grandmother, the reader is treated to a vividly described and poignant story with characters that I could really take to my heart (well mostly, there were one or two exceptions!)

Emma’s ongoing passion with suffrage and getting the vote for women hasn’t diminished upon her arrival in Queenstown. Indeed she is inspired by meeting likeminded women to take an active part and campaign harder, at times with the most unexpected repercussions. Her own family is never far from her mind though and the sadness there drives her on to improve life for others, in particular her volunteering work with the Soldier’s Home.

Emma is not the only character at the heart of this story. Hotelier Thomas and his awful actress wife Alice have pivotal roles in Emma’s life and Emma has to face the consequences.

There was so much to enjoy about this story. The detailed research undertaken is clear and the background themes of social injustice, religion and its prejudices, mental health and the fight for women’s rights give Emma plenty to consider whilst she delves into her own family history and the little that was known about her grandmother’s early life. The main characters have their flaws, Emma is brave but stubborn and at times reckless whilst Thomas’ considerate and compassionate nature was a joy but I willed him to show a bit more backbone where his wife was concerned. Strong supporting characters such as hotel maid Aoife deserve their place whilst the romance element and forbidden love add another dimension. As a Titanic obsessive, the inclusion of its tragic maiden voyage meant that I was desperately hoping that there would be a happy ending, however unlikely that seemed.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this well written novel from Kate Baker I may have been a little sceptical as to how events ultimately unfolded. I can’t say any more because I’d be going into spoiler territory. Nevertheless this didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment. Maid of Steel is a book I would recommend and I would certainly love to read more by this author.

Maid of Steel is Kate’s first full length novel to be published. She also writes short stories and is presently drafting a second novel.

She writes at a desk covered in to-do lists and lights candles in the hope the lists disappear in the shadows.

She lives in East Anglia in the UK with her husband where they attempt to look after farmland for generations to come.

A small, very small, dog can be frequently found on Kate’s lap. Otis is her first miniature dachshund

Follow the author: Website | X/Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon UK

on behalf of Rachel’s Random Resources

*Terms and Conditions –UK  entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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