Dead Iron by Devon Monk
I couldn’t stop thinking about this book; I read it really quickly, knew I liked the writing style, but I was unsure how I felt about the overall story, and then it took a full 48 hours to sink in—this book was flipping great. The writing is snappy, the story is fast-paced, and the characters are all fleshed out, and I felt like I knew them all instantly.
Cedar Hunt is a hunter with a curse and an equally tragic past sans curse; he plays the trope of the Iron Woobie straight, and that’s fine because the character’s written well here. Rose Smalls, Shard LeFel, and Mae Lindstron flesh out the four main characters, and all of them have significant plot in this book. Mae is a witch whose husband Jeb has gone missing, and she fears he’s dead (she’s partially right). Rose is a town girl with a head for mechanics (it is Steampunk, after all), some magical energy about her, and a personality that’s too big for a town obsessed with marrying off daughters at 16. Shard LeFel is an evil son-of-a-bitch, and he’s the main antagonist in the novel.
The plot revolves around LeFel wanting to go back to his magical other realm; he’s 300 years old, and his time on earth is up. If he doesn’t get back, he dies. LeFel is being pursued by the Madder brothers, three ‘men’ who are also long-lived beings (the aspect of what they are is unclear to me, although my guess would be something akin to fae). The big plot is about LeFel trying to get back home, which involves three sacrifices and a MacGuffin. But let’s not dwell too much on the overall plot, which sometimes feels like a sideshow to the journeys Mae, Cedar, Jeb, and Rose go on; this isn’t a dig on the main plot—it’s an electric ride with plenty of scares—but I cared about the character’s personal journeys a lot more than the main plot. This may bother some people, but the characters were awesome and kept me wanting to read more.
There’s many layers to this book, which is impressive considering how much of the plot I’ve written about in this review already. But there’s so much more–maybe too much for some, but the plethora of ideas and depth of world-building always is subserviant to the characters and their arcs. From early in the book, I guessed how it might end, and while there were no real surprises for me, the final confrontation was satisfying. The emotional moments in this book may not register for those who don’t like gritty Westerns, but I think that element elevated this story for me.
The part of the book that wore on me the most was aspects of the steam punk world. I get it, steam punk is atmospheric, and gadgets are nifty, but sometimes the action and horror get bogged down in what all the devices look like. Also, we’ve seen a hot air balloon before, so introducing one in-world as if it’s very novel just doesn’t build to the same level as, say, the three sacrifices moment it’s juxtaposed against.
I know I love a book when I find myself shouting at the pages or computer screen; I did that several times during this book. The characters are all well-done versions of their respective tropes, so while I didn’t find any of them surprising (there is a sequel…), I found them all interesting. The world building is there, but the main thing you need to know is that it’s a Western Steampunk with paranormal elements. The plot never slows down and is unusually straight forward for urban fantasy (seriously, you know 95% of what you need to know for the plot by chapter 3), so the story utilizes the dramatic tension of knowing LeFel has the prisoners juxtaposed against Cedar, Mae, Rose, and Jeb’s problems to solve their respective missions. In a less skilled hand, this might’ve failed spectacularly to create tension, but the characters are well crafted. What I’m saying is read it to find out for yourself.
- I seriously kept waiting for this book to take a True Blood turn in the relationship department. Monk restrains herself (that’s what sequels are for).
- LeFel and Mr. Shunt are nasty villians. Seriously surprised LeFel didn’t twirl a mustache at some point.
- Rose might seem a bit useless, but she’s clearly in here for sequel bait.
Read if: you’re an urban fantasy fan that wished True Grit (the remake) should’ve included some werewolves.
Beware if: you have a low tolerance for steam punk mixed into your urban fantasy. Also, if you like romance, this book isn’t for you.
My rating: 5 stars for having a full story, teasing the sequel, and being unable to get off my brain.