For the last two months, I’ve read nothing but straight-up YA lit. No fantasy, no science fiction, no horror. No alt-history, no zombies, dragons, krakens, nanotech, robots or airships. It’s been all realism, all the time.

Check out Children's and Teen Editor Vicky Smith's favorite books of 2011.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Cybils season. I love completely immersing myself into one category of book, I love having the opportunity to pick up on the less-obvious trends of the year, I love the challenge of cramming a crazy amount of reading into a short period of time, and I especially love having the excuse to do so.

Despite all that, my Christmas present to myself was this: I snuck a science-fiction novel into the mix. And not just a sci-fi novel, but an adult alt-history, sci-fi steampunk romance. With zombies.

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Because, really. I think even my Cybils panel coordinator couldn’t expect me to wait a whole extra month to read Meljean Brook’s second Iron Seas book. (I hope not, anyway. Even if she did, I guess the cat’s out of the bag now. Oops. Sorry, Jackie. *waves*)

iron duke For those of you who have pricked up your ears, be forewarned: Heart of Steel has the same sort of cover art that its predecessor, The Iron Duke, did. It’s the sort of cover art that will earn, at best, sideways glances from your co-workers (I’m living proof), and at worst, total mockery from your husband (ditto). Even more annoying, exactly as in the case of The Iron Duke, the cover art is almost completely inaccurate.

I mean, sure: There are airships. One of the main characters is an airship captain even. And, sure, adventurer Archimedes Fox* prefers blades to guns when he’s dealing with zombies**. And, I admit, there are plenty of passages that describe his muscle-bound physique. In detail. And yeah, all of that adventuring would definitely make a guy sweaty.

But, more often than not, Archimedes Fox wears clothes that Chrestomanci himself would covet: Ridiculously loud waistcoats and shockingly bright trousers. Also, those silly gauntlets? There’s no way they’d be able to contain his foot-long, spring-loaded blades. Sheesh. And the model’s face—not just his features, but his expression—is all wrong. Archimedes Fox rarely looks serious.

Fans of The Iron Duke will already be acquainted with—and, I suspect, already have a great deal of affection for—the main characters in Heart of Steel: Captain Yasmeen and Archimedes Fox were minor characters in book one. But it won’t take you long to catch up. And why wouldn’t you want to? After all, now that they’ve encountered each other once again, Archimedes is determined to fall in love with Yasmeen (the fact that she killed his father is a mark in her favor, and he’s pretty sure that she wasn’t really trying to kill him that time she threw him overboard), but she’s determined to not reciprocate. Politics, zombies, assassins, a clockwork army, a priceless lost-and-found-and-lost-and-found-again da Vinci sketch—and its forgery—also figure in.

What about you? Did you give yourself a literary gift this year?

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*I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s an awesome name.

**After all, blades are silent, and you don’t have to reload.

If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is impatiently waiting for the next winter share from her CSA.