Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.
Iron & Blood was a heck of a lot of fun. There's a nice mix here of science fiction, pulp adventure, mystery, and supernatural horror, with some interesting commentary on the clash between magic and science that serves to keep it all in context. While I didn't find this to be as memorable as Gail Z. Martin's epic fantasies, the collaboration with Larry Martin has certainly introduced some fun elements that I felt were absent from her urban fantasies.
Rather surprisingly, what I found myself enjoying most about the novel was the mystery element involving Drostan Fletcher. He was, by far, the most interesting character in the story, blending the early deductive genius of Sherlock Holmes and C. Auguste Dupin with a more contemporary sort of sympathy and humanity. Seriously, if he were to spin off into his own series, I'd very much be interested in following his solo adventures.
Jake Desmet and Rick Brand are perfectly suitable protagonists, but they just lacked that indefinable quality that makes them truly exciting. I liked them, and thought they developed well throughout the course of the story, but I'm not entirely sure I would have felt compelled to read through to the end for their sakes alone. Instead, it's the supporting cast - including Nicki LeClercq, Adam Farber, Mark Kovach, and Drostan Fletcher - who kept me reading. Nicki is a really fun heroine, a woman who can more than hold her own against the boys, both in terms of banter and action - especially with the weapons hidden in her corset. Adam, meanwhile, is your typical over-the-top inventor, a genius with a child-like sense of wonder at his own steampunk technology, while Mark is the battered rifleman who trusts nothing as much as the cold steel of the gun in his hands.
This is one of those books that gets both bigger and sillier as it progresses. Each time the magical danger level rises, so does the technological innovation level. There is, no doubt, at least one scene or invention that each reader will think is just too much, but that's part of the appeal for me. I actually like that moment of eye-rolling, that loud guffaw, so long as the authors reign things in and allow the characters to carry us through to the end. Fortunately, that's precisely what Gail and Larry do here, never forgetting that it's a story about people first, and everything else second.
My one major complaint with the novel is the pacing/structure. Early on, I felt like we were missing out on too much, having adventures recapped and summarized instead of allowing us to experience them. I know a lot of that was background building, but it approached the level of info dumping and actually proved to be a bit of a distraction. Also, there's a very odd decision to halt the story and change perspectives just before we get to the climax, which I felt robbed the story of its momentum. I understand why they did it, and there's value in that shift, I just think it could have been handled better.
Overall, my minor quibbles aside, Iron & Blood was a fun read. There are some big threads left dangling for a sequel, and I know there are a series of short stories planned, so I doubt this is the last we'll see of the gang.
Paperback, 432 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by Solaris