I've always had a bit of a fascination for Russian history, so Heart of Iron (which is an alternate history take, where feudalism was ended much earlier and work started on the Trans-Siberian Railway too) was always going to be an easy sell for me. I was only slightly perturbed on getting hold of a copy to discover it was first person, since I've had more than my share of that in terms of urban fantasy and so I don't always find it particularly easy to read any more.
Okay, basic premise of Heart of Iron: reform has come to Russia in the mid-19th century and when Sasha's aunt annoys the Emperor, she is made to be one of a number of guinea pigs for plans to extend university education to women. At the same time, there are also Chinese students attending the same university and, as mutual outsiders, Sasha finds common cause with them, even though the Russian court is very much leaning towards heavy Anglophilia. There is also a civil war going on in China and when Sasha's friends disappear, she's drawn into an elaborate plot involving the British Secret Service (fronted by Dame Florence Nightingale, who thought all that nursing stuff was a bit wimpy and decided being a spy would be more exciting) and stolen plans.
So far, so good. And then Sasha and the one non-evil English person she encounters end up on the run, heading towards China and it all starts to drag immensely - yes, as with Dreadnought it's very difficult to make travelling a long way by train exciting, even in first person. Maybe even especially in first person, who can say?
All in all, the descriptive writing of Heart of Iron is lovely, as is the attention to detail paid to the settings in general. Because Sasha spends most of her time with male characters, there's a pretty obvious 'do I love him or is he just a friend?' sub-plot rattling along too. In the end, I was left feeling more than a little unhappy with the implications of it - to my mind Sasha chooses the right man, but the wrong man is just lurking around and a comment gets made at the end of the book about how the other one 'hasn't given up hope'. Nope, that's just creepy.
Sadly the edition I read had a number of typographical errors (missing words etc.) which jolted me out of the story at times as I found myself trying to figure out what a sentence should have been - likewise the ongoing references to 'Dame Nightingale' did the same. As a character brought up with an English governess, there is no way Sasha wouldn't have been taught that the correct reference is 'Dame Florence', so that made my concentration stumble each time I came across it. So, all in all, not bad but nothing that made me desperately want to read other books by this author!