Book Review Time: Tin Swift (Age of Steam #2), Devon Monk

Tin Swift

More stunning cover art from Cliff Nielsen

If you haven’t read Dead Iron yet, let me preface all this by saying you absolutely should. No bones about it. Also, feel free to check out my review of it, posted here last month. Last time there was a lot of rambling beforehand, but this time I’m just gonna jump right into it. Ready?

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

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Right off the bat, Tin Swift gets off to a fast start. Like its predecessor, we enter the world with a view of the delicious Cedar Hunt, but unlike Dead Iron, we’re tossed right into violence. There’s no easing into the waters here, and the first glimpse back into this world is a dark one that shows a side of Cedar I wasn’t really ready to see. He’s quickly losing control of the beast lurking within him, thanks to the Pawnee curse from the antecedent action of Book 1.

At the close of Book 1, Cedar was traveling to Kansas City to take Mae back to her coven and break the spell. The young deviser, Rose, accompanies them now that she’s all but disowned in Hallelujah, and the Madder brothers have hitched their wagon to Cedar’s crew and convinced him to help hunt the pieces of the Holder, scattered after the defeat of Shard LeFel and Mr. Shunt at the end of Book 1.

But despite the great choices in traveling companions, it would seem things are unraveling for everyone. Rose seems unsettled—understandably so, but still—Mae is literally losing her mind to her coven’s powers, and the Madders, for some reason, keep upsetting efforts to rid Cedar of his curse. They’re falling apart at the seams, and just as we start wondering what is going on, we’re introduced to a new cast of characters.

Captain Hink—his real name is quite a mouthful, so let’s just call him Hink—and the crew of the Swift are a motley crew to say the least, from Seldom (great nickname, by the way) to Molly Gregor. Yeah, those Gregors. Good thing the blacksmith gave Cedar that ring.

I’m not walking you through the whole book because I think you really should just read it, so from here on in is just my thoughts and musings.

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I noticed several people on Goodreads lamenting that Cedar doesn’t really seem to be the main character of this book anymore. And as much as I love Cedar (swoon), I have to disagree. Cedar still is the main character, and rather than being lost in a flurry of out-of-control subplots, this book reminds me more of one of my favorite movies: Snatch. It’s not that there isn’t a clear main character in that movie; there is. And sure, there seem to be dozens of subplots competing for screen time, but ultimately we come to learn that they’re all so intertwined that there’s just no separating them. Tin Swift is like that. Once you get about halfway through this book, you realize there’s just no way to tear Captain Hink and his crew from Cedar Hunt and his.

I was so excited to see more of Rose, even if she did spend the majority of the book incapacitated. I don’t think that was a copout, a way to include a strong woman without actually including a strong woman. It really lent another level to her development. We see how strong she really is, and when she falls for Hink (who wouldn’t? Cedar who?) we’re reminded how horribly young she is. She’s too young for all this. She’s too young to be staring down death’s door before she’s really loved anyone or really been loved, before she’s really lived her dream or even discovered what her dream actually is. Her ailment just makes her that much more precious to me as a reader, and made me read that much faster. I had to know she was going to make it, that she and Hink were going to be together and everything was going to be perfect.

Speaking of being together, get ready for some cigarette-worthy makeout scenes. While I’m not one to shy away from NC-17 material, I’m glad Monk didn’t force it in Tin Swift. While of course I’m rooting for Cedar and Mae—and now Hink and Rose—any of them sealing the deal in this book would have just felt so contrived and completely out of character. Rose and Hink’s witty, flirty conversations throughout the book are completely adorable and have some blush-worthy moments, but I’m not sure anything stacks up against The Kiss. You’ll know it when you read it.

Now, there are also plenty of people who decry the inclusion of romance in their action books. Sure, sure. But to those people I just have one thing to say: Have you ever read a Western? Because seriously, you should probably do that. All snark aside, romances are part and parcel of Westerns, though admittedly they usually end badly. (So far so good on that front at the end of Book 2, though I am still working my way through Book 3. There’s still plenty of time for things to go horribly awry.)

Aside from that, the romance doesn’t dominate. Don’t worry. If it isn’t your thing, you don’t have to sit through it long.

There are gut-wrenching deaths, more mind-boggling tech, and Cedar being sexy and hardcore. Plus now there’s also Hink being sexy and hardcore, so, ladieeeees. Even with her mind slowly failing her Mae is still strong and occasionally terrifying. She does regain her faculties when they finally reach her coven, which is fantastic. She also chooses to leave and continue on with Cedar, which, thank God. Geez, Mae.

Even the deaths don’t feel unnecessary. I’m not happy about them, but they seem, at least now, like they had to happen. I’m still a bit sore at Monk for the horrible things that happened to Hink, but he seems to be handling it well, and Rose isn’t all that broken up about it either.

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Ultimately, this book was an excellent read, a superb follow-up to the first book, and one that will probably live on my bookshelf forever. And I am totally okay with that. The mix of old characters and new is just enough to make me feel lost and uncomfortable when I should, but reassured and safe when I should.

There were a few points in this book where I feel Monk really improved upon the last. First, the world-building is once again stellar. But this time, it really seems more careful, more intentional, but without being ham-fisted. I could probably draw you a map of this world, and I am literally the world’s worst at sketching things. Second, the first book had a tendency to shift perspective too quickly, resulting in chapters that were entirely too short and some occasionally jarring scene breaks. This book lengthens the chapters and the time within perspectives, opting for short chapters only when appropriate. I love it. The flow of this book really works, even more so than the first one.

In short, it’s a completely stellar read that exceeded even my admittedly lofty expectations.

So I’ll leave you with my silly metrics I’ve devised.

World-building: 5/5
Character development: 4/5
Storyline: 5/5
Style: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Bechdel test: PASS

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