I’m about 66% through Ghouls of the Miskatonic. It has at times been a struggle, but I’ll cover that in the review, which should be up in 3-4 days.
After that, I’m torn between The Hero of Ages, Knife of Dreams, and Dance of the Damned. I definitely want to start one that I can finish by the end of the year, and I’ll have a better idea after I finish Ghouls.
Reading Time: about 6 hours
With elements of the Old West, Steampunk, Lycanthropy, Magic, and strange creatures, Dead Iron has everything it needs to be a heck of story. So is it a heck of story? The answer will soon be revealed (minor spoilers to follow)…
The story takes place in the fictional frontier town of Hallelujah, Oregon, and with the introduction of rail and steam, and references to the (Civil) War, the period seems to be close to the turn of the 20th century. I have lived in Oregon and still live nearby, so the setting has an appeal to me. The story follows Cedar Hunt, a tracker/bounty hunter cursed with Lycanthropy. When a little boy goes missing in town, Cedar decides to track the boy and bring him back.
What Cedar doesn’t count on is crossing paths with the Strange, evil apparitions that stalk the land, and Shard Lefel, a railroad magnate with sinister plans of his own. Both Lefel and the Strange interfere with Cedar’s plans, causing him to sidetracked. To complicate matters, it’s a full moon, and Cedar has no control over who or what he kills when he takes his wolf form.
Cedar Hunt is a troubled man. Due to his curse, he keeps his distance from other people. Many years ago he was responsible for the death of his brother, and it weighs heavily on him. He’s an honorable man, university-educated, and a likable character.
Besides having viewpoints from Cedar Hunt and Shard Lefel, we are also following the stories of Mae Lindson and Rose Small. Mae is a witch, but one of the good types, she specializes in healing. Her husband has been killed by Shard Lefel, but unknown to her, her husband has risen to take revenge on Lefel. At the same time, Lefel needs the witch for his own dark purpose and plots to capture her. Rose Small is a teenager witch a knack for inventing things (called devising) and a desire to see the world. Left on the doorstep of her adopted parents’ home, no one knows exactly *what* Rose is, but it’s clear she’s troubled and mouthy, and because of that and her inventions, she is considered past her prime for marriage, leading to whispers about her throughout the town. There are also three brothers, miners called the Madder brothers, and an evil Strange known as Mr. Shunt, that feature prominently in the story.
The paths of these characters constantly cross, and drive the story. At several points I expected the story to go a certain way, but Devon Monk surprised me by taking it in a different direction. There are all kinds of steampunk inventions, including mechanical creatures that serve as bodies for the Strange, powered by a green liquid called glim, which is harvested in the air by airships and is extremely valuable.
The plot centers around two threads: cedar’s attempts to find the missing boy, and Lefel’s plan to return to his native land, for he is sort of a creature of faeirie. The plot works, for the most part, due to a time restriction for Lefel to return to his land, giving him a sense of urgency and desperation, while Cedar constantly comes up against powerful forces that get in his way as he searches for clues and tries to help the widowed Mae.
There are a few problems with the story, as I’ll detail below:
- Jeb Lindson keeps coming back from death, at least 3 or 4 times, with no real explanation for how this occurs, and becomes impossible to stop. By creating a character like this, it takes some of the drama out of the story, since you know the character can’t be stopped.
- People are constantly getting mortally wounded but still survive. It’s hard to tell what it takes to actually kill someone. At one point Mr. Shunt is destroyed but able to stitch himself back together; later in the story he is unable to accomplish this again, and I’m not sure why.
- There is also much mention of a gun needed to kill the Strange, but it never becomes the factor it’s made out to be, despite the fact that it’s mentioned constantly throughout the story.
- At one point characters are running through an underground mine but are found from above ground, without any explanations as to how they were able to be detected from above.
- We never learn what Rose *is*. There are hints but no answers. Perhaps the answer to this will show up in a sequel…
- With so many characters converging at the finale, things become a bit chaotic and the action can be hard to follow at times.
Overall, it was an enjoyable read. Devon Monk has a prose that borders on beautiful, and there is a vibe, a feel to that prose, that is unique. It’s not for everybody; some reviewers over at Amazon have complained that the story moved too slowly, but I didn’t feel that way. It’s character-driven, meaning the characters are the focus, not the action. It does feel like this could be a screenplay – not for a movie, but rather a weekly series on, say, the Syfy channel, and it would be right at home next to Warehouse 13 or Haven. I think it would be quite good if done right. I wouldn’t claim it to be the best story I’ve read this year, but it was a good, light read, and I may spring for the sequel.
My Amazon shipment has arrived, and I’m eager to dive in to the Arkham Horror books. First, though, I’ll need to finish Dead Iron and post a review. I’m about halfway through Dead Iron and so far it’s pretty good – there’s some cool elements to the story, and it definitely has a unique “voice”. I’m hoping to finish it by this weekend.
Reading Time: about 7 hours
Halt’s Peril is the 9th book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. After the positive review I gave to The Kings of Clonmel, the 8th book in the series, I was really looking forward to this story. Some spoilers of Book 8 will be revealed, as the two stories are linked, so if you haven’t read that book you may want to stop here. Otherwise, it’s on to the review…
The book begins a little after the events in the previous story – Will, Halt, and Horace are attempting to track down and capture the fake prophet/cult leader/con artist Tennyson, who always seems to be a step ahead of them. There’s some solid opening scenes, one taking place in a smuggler’s port and the other in a pirate attack on the sea during a storm. The boys continue to pursue Tennyson, but when they finally get close, they’ve got to deal with an ambush from the Genovesan assassins. The ambush scene is fantastic – Will & Halt know it’s coming, but there’s really no avoiding it. The tension builds as both sides attempt to take down each other, knowing the first to make a mistake will die. This showdown is tension-filled and logical, and is perhaps the highlight of the book.
Although I may be about to reveal a spoiler here, it’s in the synopsis on the inside of the book cover, so I’m not sure it’s a shock. Halt gets nicked by a crossbow bolt from one of the assassins, who happen to use poison. When they get back on the trail of Tennyson, Halt takes a turn for the worse. This leads to the fight to save Halt’s life. Unfortunately the story at this point becomes a grind, as Will and Horace try to figure out what to do, then set out to do it. This subplot consumes about 125 pages, or roughly a third of the book, during which not much happens. At several points I was gritting my teeth as it took the characters several pages to work through obvious solutions, although the means by which Horace & Will determine which antidote to use is well-conceived.
The characters continue to act consistently, though there’s a lot more angst & bickering in this book than there was in the previous one. There’s also one curious scene where Halt rants at Will in a manner that is totally out of character, nor is it explained why. The humor continues to be the guess-you-had-to-be-there variety, and there’s quite a bit more of it forced on the reader than there was in the previous story.
Some previously-introduced characters make an appearance, including one of my favorites. The ending is wrapped up nice and neat, with no cliffhangers or loose threads to be resolved. There aren’t really any major shocks or surprises in the book.
Although I did enjoy Halt’s Peril, I feel it wasn’t quite up to the standard set by The Kings of Clonmel. It’s a little slower, a little more predictable, and a little more forced. My feelings are mixed on whether or not I’ll by the final book in the series, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja. The reviews are somewhat mixed on Amazon, and it does take place in an eastern setting, which I have loathed thus far; however, that setting is akin to feudal Japan, which I think I would like, and Halt’s Peril wasn’t awful, so I may take the plunge and finish out the series.
I’m still not ready to write my review yet, I don’t have time to hit Powell’s Books, and my Arkham Horror novels have not yet arrived from Amazon. Although I have some other books in the queue like Knife of Dreams and Against All Things Ending, those are some massive tomes that I was hoping to save for my Christmas break. What better time to pick up a steampunk novel?
I had completely forgotten that several months ago, I won a contest over at Fantasy Literature, and the prize was a copy of Dead Iron by Devon Monk. As a fan of steampunk (I’m currently building a Steampunk Pinball Time Machine), the book sounds very intriguing: a frontier setting, with magic, werewolves, evil-doers known as the Strange, and of course steampunk elements. I’ve happily added it as my current read.
Devon Monk lives in Oregon, which is very close to where I’m at. Unfortunately I missed her at the Beaverton Powell’s Books, which she was at in May, before Dead Iron was released. Hopefully I’ll catch up to her for an autograph and conversation at some point…
I was prepared to read & review White Wolf’s Son by Michael Moorcock as my next book, until I learned that there is a book that precedes it called The Skrayling Tree. Since Powell’s Books is supposed to have it in stock, I’ll be heading down there soon to pick it up. In the meantime I have finished reading Halt’s Peril by John Flanagan and will have a review up soon.
I’ve ordered the following books from Amazon:
The Alloy of Law from Brandon Sanderson…I’m almost done with the original Mistborn trilogy, so it seems like a good time to add this.
Ghouls of the Miskatonic by Graham McNeill. I’m a huge fan of Lovecraft & the Arkham Horror board game from Fantasy Flight Games, so when I saw this release of the first book in a planned trilogy (Book One in The Dark Waters trilogy), I knew I had to have it.
Dance of the Damned by Alan Bligh. A new release in a separate trilogy (Book One of The Lord of Nightmares trilogy), I also had to have this one for the reasons described above…