Okay, I promised y’all a book review and a book review is what you’re gonna get!
(FYI, I post quick and dirty book reviews on my page over at Goodreads. Those entries are springboards for longer reviews which may contain spoilers, which I will post here. If you want a quick look at my thoughts immediately—or very soon, at least—after reading a book, spoiler- and summary-free, always check my Goodreads reviews first.)
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t branch out of my comfort zone very often. I don’t read books by people I’ve never heard of unless someone I know says, “hey, you’d really dig this book. Why don’t you check it out?” I’ll also admit that while Devon Monk has quite a few other novels under her belt, I’d never heard of her. Which initially made me sad, because I like to support female authors. Now, of course, it just gives me a reason to sing her praises for the Age of Steam series.
Like I said, I don’t branch out a lot. But what I do know is if you want me to read a book, any book about anything at all, tell me it’s a Western. I’ll read a Western until the spine breaks and the pages fall out, and then I’ll tape it carefully back together or hold each page individually if I have to. (Have actually done that. One of my Westerns is a first edition from the early 1900s and it is literally falling apart. Books are meant to be read, guys.) I. Love. Westerns. My great-grandfather (a.k.a. Very Best Friend in the Whole Wide World) loved them, introduced me to them, and my love for the genre has spiraled out of control ever since. In fact, in my entire reading life I’ve only met one Western I didn’t like. I still finished it.
Dead Iron is a Western. But just in case I might decide to overlook it, to think “I don’t know her, what if I spend $15 and it sucks, omg, I can’t take the pressure,” this book decides to also be steampunk. And also paranormal.
O ok can I have 6 copies please
(I kind of have a thing for steampunk/Victorian lit)
(I basically love everything with words)
(and also parentheticals)
After all that digressing, it’s time for some reviewing. Spoilers ahoy!
The cover art is indeed the main character, so, mrowr, helloooo nurse. He’s Cedar Hunt, a university teacher from Back East (oh please could he get any hotter?) who is also an out-of-control werewolf, thanks to a mysterious curse from a Pawnee god. He may or may not have murdered his also-cursed brother. He’s arrived in Hallelujah, Oregon, ahead of a fancy railroad mogul with some sinister ulterior motives. I love the word ‘sinister’.
The novel is entirely set in and around this tiny town, with a cast of characters including a young female deviser with an unknown past, a widowed witch looking to avenge her husband, a blacksmith whose son goes missing, a trio of brothers with an unusually strong connection to the land, and a Strange henchman who isn’t as much man as machine.
While the novel is a bit of a slow burn at the beginning, it’s anything but boring. It does border on overly technical in places, where Monk pauses to describe the town’s steam clock, for example. And while you may not be able to power through these sections, they’re certainly worth savoring, because that clock gives a bit of insight on sleepy old Hallelujah. And I think the slow burn is partly due to the decision to use alternating third person perspective, in which each chapter shifts to a new focal character. Due to chapters that are fairly short on average, it can sometimes be jarring, especially in a marathon read, but overall it doesn’t pull you out of the narrative. It can, however, give the impression that perhaps Cedar isn’t the main character after all.
And the world-building. Wow. While there isn’t a chapter devoted to its point of view, the land, as in all good Westerns, is very much a driving force and a character of its own in this novel. Dead Iron may be set in the US, but keep in mind this is Steam Age America. Nothing is familiar and yet everything is. I was completely transported to this place where ladies wear bonnets and petticoats, people ride horses and pull wagons, and yet there are machines crafted from gears and powered by steam to perform every function in life—and every function to end it. Even the paranormal and horror elements didn’t feel out of place, and it’s typically very easy to end my suspension of disbelief. Sorry, but I’m a nitpick.
Before I realized this was part of a series, I was a little disappointed in the lack of backstory on both Rose and Cedar. But never fear! There are two more books for all that. (Coincidentally, two more reviews coming soon! Ha.) I love the character development Monk executes here, though. Even without backstory, and in some places because it’s missing, Rose and Cedar are full characters with clear goals, fears, and conflicts of their own. And speaking of conflicts, the sexual tension between Cedar and the widowed witch Mae is fascinating. It’s frustrating (see what I did there?) but believable; after all, she’s very recently widowed. But don’t expect that to stop you from trying to will them into getting together. Overall, though, I think Monk treats all the characters with a fair amount of development, detailed yet appropriately concise. I especially love seeing strong female characters who aren’t as emotional as either brick walls or newborns and aren’t advanced through the story via a graphic rape scene. (Seriously though, that’s a cop-out move.)
It’s not often I run across a book I simply can’t stand to put down. In fact, I think the last time that happened was The Hunger Games series. But Dead Iron changed that. Over and over I heard myself say things like, “I’ll eat in a minute, only five more pages,” only to finish those and sneakily begin the next chapter. “Sorry, babe, this chapter’s longer than I thought. Ten more pages?”
I plan to round up every review with a few quick stats regarding things that are important to me. Here they are:
World-building: 5/5 (Detailed, plausible settings; environment conducive to plot/characters/etc)
Character development: 4/5 (Characters with strengths and weaknesses, observable growth/change)
Storyline: 5/5 (Here, I consider time shifts, main plot vs secondaries, believability, etc)
Style: 5/5 (For this I think about stylistic choices like imagery, diction, POV, etc)
Bechdel test: PASS
I was not solicited or paid for this review. I bought the book with my own money, read it on my own time, loved it with my own heart, and raved about it of my own accord. You should do the same.