I have mixed feelings about this book. By that I mean I basically loved it, I have a few minor sads about it, and I sincerely hope it isn’t the last in the series.
Before you continue reading, you really need to do a couple things. First, read Dead Iron. Then read Tin Swift. Then (or instead of doing that) you can go here and here and read my reviews of them, respectively. Then read Cold Copper. You aren’t going to want to read this without knowing everything that’s happened.
First, a quick summary, not necessarily in perfect chronological order because I don’t have my copy on me at the moment and memories are fallible.
Pretty close to the beginning of the book, things start falling apart for our dear protags. Rose stayed behind with Hink thinking everything would be awesome, but he’s apparently a cheating good-for-nothing. (I’d just like to say, as I push my glasses up on my nose, that I never believed Rose was right about Hink and spent the majority of the beginning of the book yelling at her for being so rude. Although I can completely see her point. I was blinded by love, I suppose.) They’re still living with the witches, at least until repairs are complete on the Swift, and Rose overhears a conversation that erodes her faith in the women. She wonders what they’re up to, but knows it’s nothing good. After Rose finds him in a brothel and gets mad, confronts him, and storms out, (Okay, I didn’t blame her here, because Hink was basically a big jerk. So.) she bumps into a rather dapper gentleman on the street who is immediately creepy to everyone but Rose, apparently, who just goes and gets herself a huge crush on him. He and Hink have words and we learn that Hink does still love Rose. They meet on the train later, thwart a robbery only to discover its a cover to steal automaton parts, Dapper Gent gets weird, and Rose ditches him and the train for Hink and the automaton car, which is being carried away by an airship. (Yeah, this book is a wild and fast ride from page 1.) They’ll end up in Des Moines soon enough, along with Dapper Gent who turns out to be Hink’s boss from the Marshals.
Meanwhile, Cedar and Mae, along with Wolf-Wil and the completely insane Madder brothers and the ladies from the French ship we met in Tin Swift. They struggle along in the snow, protected by a warmth charm from Mae (who is back in her right mind, thankfully). They end up in Des Moines, despite considerable protest from the Madders. Once there, we meet a Native American priest (Hooray for more POC protags!!) who calls in a favor from the Madders, who proceed to spiral into ever-increasing insanity, which is saying a lot for the Madders. (They’re nuts, basically, is what I’m telling you.) Des Moines is a bustling city but there’s something unsettling about it. It’s booming, a city of invention where wild and coiffed come together in some strange concoction. Cedar is reminded of his days back East and starts thinking he can actually start over (with Mae of course). The Governor whisks them away to his mansion for a meal, at which point things go south quicker than ever, the Madders go to jail and are expected to be hanged for murder. Wait, did they cold-blooded kill a man? (Yes, but also no.)
The pace picks up (yeah that’s actually a slow beginning) and when the characters all reunite at Father Kyne’s church, they learn a lot of things. The Madders are physically bound by a promise to the Kynes, which the Father calls in. Hundreds of children are missing and Kyne gets them to promise to find them. Cedar can feel the Holder somewhere nearby and is bound by his promise to find it for the Madders, but he’s sidetracked by the missing children, the Madders’ imprisonment, and the presence of tortured Strange, one of which tries to contact him repeatedly.
Mae binds Cedar and Wil’s curse to Father Kyne so the two can hunt the Strange as men with the senses but not emotions of the beast. But while under the spell, Kyne hunts down and confronts the Governor, nearly getting killed in the process.
The Governor turns out to be crooked, from a long line of crooked family members, and oh, surprise! He’s also a witch, and a pretty powerful one. He’s been getting magicked items from the witches of Mae’s coven, and he needs her dead—remember, she’s the only thing her coven ever feared. After following the sad Strange, Wil and Cedar find the Holder under a frozen river. The Madders stage a jail break in true Madder fashion, then head off with Rose to find the missing children as Hink and Dapper Gent (Thomas, actually, is his name) fend off an attack on the church from the Governor’s men.
When the freezing temperatures and effects of the spell wear on Wil, the sad Strange possesses him and helps Cedar defeat the Governor, saving Wil’s life in the process. Before things can get too much worse, the remaining crew of the Swift show up and haul them to safety. Meanwhile, the Madders and Rose return with the children, which is the only thing stopping them all from being shot on sight by the crazy Sheriff. Once Hink and company are safely on board the Swift, they cross town to blow up one of the Governor’s warehouses, releasing the tortured Strange and freeing the children from their cursed sleep.
Whew. There’s a lot going on here. But here’s my take on it all.
I love the pacing of this novel. It’s super quick, which made for a fast read. I love that and hate it, for obvious reasons: I love it because it drags me into the book and makes me hate putting it down, and since it’s so fast-paced, I don’t have to put it down much. I can tear through three or four chapters in no time because I have got to know what happens next, Hink, you old dog. I hate it because the book is over that much faster, and there is a long time between installments in this series.
Of course, this books also adopts the shifting POV of the first books. The chapters are longer this time, and the shifts in perspective make more sense chronologically. It feels more like things are happening simultaneously, rather than the reader just rapidly jumping from character to character.
And speaking of characters. I love Hink. I love him so much I cannot stand myself. It did strike me as odd that nothing was mentioned of the bond between him and the Swift, a key point in the plot of the previous novel. Granted, there was almost no time spent on board the beautiful airship in this novel, but given the role Mae’s binding spell played in the first book, I was hoping it would come up again here.
And that airship. I love it, too! And even with the footnote that was Hink’s call to the ship before leaping heroically from the train, their arrival over the river just felt a little deus ex machina. I don’t know. I’m probably being really picky right now. But don’t take that to mean I didn’t love it; this book joins the previous two on my All-Time Faves shelf.
I’ve always liked the idea of a group of characters racing toward a single goal. I think the automatons being the MacGuffin in this case really works, because it cements the one theme that really brings everyone together: the times, they are a’changin’. This isn’t the landscape of the first book anymore, a world dominated by superstition, horse-and-buggy, and weekly airmail delivering the post along with fabrics and housewares. (Keep in mind this is all coming from a person who loves the concept of the MacGuffin. Two of my favorite films revolve entirely around one: see Snatch. and Léon: The Professional. If MacGuffins aren’t your thing, or they’re your pet peeve as deus ex machina plot points are mine, then you may find yourself a bit put off by this book.)
Back to characters again! Boy, I should really outline these posts. Wow. Anyway. The further development of so many of the characters was fascinating. Rose really comes into her own in this book and shines, completely separate of her love interests or Mae or even Cedar, who’s been taking her under his wing since book 1. She makes hard decisions under pressure and pushes through circumstances that the Rose of book 1, for all her talk of dreams and clouds, would probably have shied away from or blushed at. Cedar learns to wrestle more successfully with the beast caged inside, and Wil finally gets to be a human for more than a page at a time. He’s quite the card, an excellent complement to his eternally severe older brother, and somehow I get the idea that he’s impressively good-looking. The implication is not lost that he’s pretty aware of this fact, and he’s completely okay with being in various states of undress in public, which he seems to be a lot. At some point you kind of wonder if he isn’t just doing it on purpose. I really missed fiery Molly MacGregor; her absence was palpable despite the short scenes aboard the Swift. I’m desperately hoping the witches really get what they deserve, though.
But I still don’t like that slimy old Thomas.
Overall, the book was a completely fitting follow-up to the first two and a wholly satisfying read. I’m hoping there’s another, and based on the ending I’d say there is. I just don’t think it can get here fast enough.
Character development: 5/5
Bechdel test: PASS