Monday, June 30, 2014

Dead Iron by Devon Monk

 This new series by Devon Monk has a steep learning curve. It seems to me radically different in setting and tone than her Allie Beckstrom series. We begin in the American West, somewhere between the Blue and Wallowa Mountains (an area quite familiar to me) in the fictional town of Hallelujah, where a mysterious yet flamboyant man, Shard LeFel, is bringing the railroad to town, and the hopes of its residents are pinned on the prosperity it will bring. To their chagrin, should they ever find out, it is actually being built for the purpose of providing a channel for The Strange, supernatural, possibly psychotic, and predatory creatures to feed on the nightmares and fears of helpless humans. The near caricature of the false religion practiced by the townsfolk - all the trappings of Christianity but none of the heart - contrasts oddly with the slightly more noble and sometimes altruistic behavior of the werewolves, witches, zombies and seers in their midst. I'd say that there are good, evil, and in-between folks in this story, but the good is awfully hard to find, and not where you'd expect it.

There's a fun bit of tension in the early part of the novel when the reader, of course, can see that the shapeshifter, Cedar Hunt, who is hunting for a missing child, and the witch, Mae Lindson, who beseeches him to help her find the man who killed her husband Jeb (who like James Bond simply refuses to die quietly (and the villain likes to brag about his plans, too)), actually are aiming for the same target, and we wonder how long it will take before they figure it out.

Cedar is wracked with guilt for having murdered his own brother when he first experiences the change, and by some strange coincidence comes into possession of his dead brother's pocket watch in the early stages of the tale. The Madder Brothers, whom we immediately dislike and file away into the "big stupid bad guy" category, turn out to be a bit more of a complex surprise that we bargained for.

The foundling shop girl, Rose Small, seems like a bit part when we first encounter her when Cedar goes into town for some supplies, but her role in the coming conflict is huge, and she may just be the one character in the story who has her head on straight. She has the uncanny ability to see the truth through illusion, as well as the talents of a "deviser" and ambitions far larger than her surname would imply.

LeFel has a more personal motive in kidnapping the boy, capturing a wolf, and sacrificing a witch; to return to the world from which his brother exiled him three centuries ago, and to obtain vengeance for his exile. If he does not return soon, the mortal world will kill him, who was born immortal. He has a sidekick, Mr. Shunt, who is a Strange of a very strange kind, and whose merciless evil makes him the perfect minion, aside from the minor problem that all of his tasks seem to fail in the end.

A great start, and I hope an indication of a long and prosperous series. I this whole Steampunk genre is still finding its way, as each time I've found something under that label, it's been a new adventure. Heaven help us if the themes ever grow old and stale.

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