the iron wyrm affair

Monday, September 17, 2012 |
There are times I know that I want (or need!) to read a book even before I check out the summary on the back cover or inside flap.  I’ve even been known to skip the summary altogether, and take a cover image on faith.  Lilith Saintcrow’s The Iron Wyrm Affair was just such an occasion.  That faith was born out – I was impressed and pleased to find that this title exceeded my (admittedly high) expectations.  What can I say?  A steampunk Sherlock Holmes-style tale, mixed with magic equals my reading dreams come true.

the iron wyrm affair by lilith saintcrow book cover
Emma Bannon, forensic sorceress in the service of the Empire, has a mission: to protect Archibald Clare, a failed, unregistered mentath. His skills of deduction are legendary, and her own sorcery is not inconsiderable. It doesn't help much that they barely tolerate each other, or that Bannon's Shield, Mikal, might just be a traitor himself. Or that the conspiracy killing registered mentaths and sorcerers alike will just as likely kill as seduce them into treachery toward their Queen.

In an alternate London where illogical magic has turned the Industrial Revolution on its head, Bannon and Clare now face hostility, treason, cannon fire, black sorcery, and the problem of reliably finding hansom cabs.

The game is afoot…

In Saintcrow’s rendering of a fantastical, steampunk London, mentaths are unparalleled devotees of Logic, wielding their intellect with precision and to great effect – that is, if they are official and ‘registered.’  An excess of that same intelligence left without an object drives them mad.  On the other side is illogical magic, to be used in the service of Queen and Country.  However, someone has been killing mentaths… and the trail leads toward conspiracy.  Then sorceress Emma Bannon is entrusted with the keeping of mentath Clare, and the survival of Britain may rely on their ability to trust each other, deduce, and fight!

Reading this book was work for my brain – good, complex work that left me anxious to find out what would happen next, how the twists would unfold, and to see who would survive.  It is a superbly plotted and lushly written mystery adventure, and I, for one, have been hooked completely.  I haven’t read a sci-fi or fantasy world so minutely rendered in a long time.

However, Saintcrow takes it a step further: her characters are lovable.   It is their wide open faults and weaknesses that make Bannon and Clare such a wonderful match.  Bannon is caught somewhere between lady, magician and public servant, and it is a difficult space to occupy.  Clare is unregistered, and perhaps a smidgen too close to madness.  And yet, their partnership works, and there is enough of the unexpected (both in terms of plot and character development) that this reader, at least, was pleasantly surprised by the departure from cliché.  Was that too vague?  Here’s a tidbit: the slight hint of romance was JUST RIGHT, and I imagine this series will continue to be not only clever and exciting, but dangerous, surprising, and satisfying as well.  You couldn’t really expect any less from an epic steampunk mystery team, could you? It’s a heck of a fun ride…er…book.

Recommended for: fans of sci-fi/fantasy, anyone with a confessed ‘thing’ for steampunk and Sherlock Holmes (perhaps especially the recent films with Robert Downey, Jr.), and those who like their stories clever, their intrigue just a bit bloody, and the consequences of failure dire indeed.

If you're interested in steampunk, check out the Steampunk Week in September event, running from the 16th to the 22nd here at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia.


Liviania said...

I've been curious about this one. Steampunk meets Sherlock Holmes sounds like the best thing ever.

Lisa (starmetal_oak) said...

Oooh, steampunk week! I can't wait to see what's coming up.

Nice to see you enjoyed this one more than me. I'm wondering what the second will be like–I might be persuaded to give it another chance.

Charlotte said...

Well this sounds like one for my own wish list! I hadn't heard of it before--thanks.

carol said...

This one's already on my to-read list. I love the idea of a Sherlock Holmesy steampunk mix.

Grace said...

I hope the next one comes out soon. I adored "The Iron Wyrm Affair."

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