Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review - Dead Iron by Devon Monk

Dead Iron
The Age of Steam Series Book One
Devon Monk
Roc Trade
Publication Date: July 5, 2011
Trade Paperback
352 pages


     Ask any writer, editor, or publisher the one thing they think makes or breaks a good book and nine times out of ten they’ll reply, “The first sentence has to grab you, pull you in, get you invested in the character or the setting or some other aspect of the story. Otherwise, you’ll lose the reader’s interest.” Devon Monk’s Dead Iron: The Age of Steam does just that. As a matter of fact, the first sentence tells a story in itself.

     “Cedar had stared straight into the killing eyes of rabid wolves, hungry bears, and charging bull elk, but Mrs. Horace Small had them all topped.”

     I wouldn’t call this the best first line that I’ve ever read but it certainly does what every good opening sentence is supposed to do. It pulls you in and you want to learn more about the characters, want to see what happens next and once you start reading you’ll find it difficult to put down.

     Cedar Hunt is a frontiersman with a secretive past living in a cabin near the remote village of Hallelujah and that gives him the perfect opportunity to steer clear of other folks. But when supplies run low Cedar must travel into town to replenish them. While in the general store Cedar learns that a four-year-old child has disappeared under mysterious circumstances and he takes it upon himself to track him, find the abductor, and bring them both back dead or alive. His resolve is cemented when he discovers that the mysterious “Strange” is somehow involved in the disappearance. Rose Small is an enigma in town. She’s beautiful but unmarried and at seventeen that’s unusual for these parts. But Rose has a penchant for strange, little “devices” and most town-folk regard her as slightly touched in the head. Rose is unaware that she also harbors a long-lost secret. When Mae Lindsom “feels” her husband’s death the ties that once bound them together are instantly severed. In that moment the call from her coven to return home becomes too strong to resist. But first, she must find a way to destroy her husband’s killer. The antagonist, Shard LeFel, is as slimy as Simon Legree, more cold-hearted than the Grinch, and as vindictive and downright mean as Lemony Snicket’s Count Olaf, and he has something to hide as well. To make matters worse, he’s killed Mae’s husband three times! Busy bringing the railroad through Hallelujah LeFel is in exile looking for a way back to his homeland which, we sense, isn’t even in our universe. The bizarre Madder brothers seem to enter and leave the story at timely, or depending on your perspective untimely, moments and we’re never quite sure of their motives. They’re protecting something. But what? Very early on in the narrative it becomes apparent that time is running out for every one of them.

     In my opinion, Dead Iron should be classified in a genre of its own. With elements of Steampunk, the frontier old west, dark magic, the mysterious “Strange,” lycanthropic heroes, bogeymen, steam-powered “devices” and a surplus of oddball characters, this story seems to reside outside any one genre but pulls in elements from many. I thought to call it “Strange”punk but that sounds awkward and Metalpunk sounds too much like a music genre. SteamWest doesn’t fit well, either. Magicpunk? No. Frontierpunk? Westernpunk? Devicepunk? No, no, and no. But somehow all of them fit in some way.

     If you visit Ms. Monk’s author site you’ll see that at least one other book is scheduled for the series (Tin Swift 2012) and that’s a good thing because I, for one, want to know more about all the characters she’s so skillfully crafted. In a perfect world this would be a series that enjoys a long run and sells tons of copies. I know I’ll be contributing to making the world a little less imperfect by purchasing the future books in the series.

     Dead Iron: The Age of Steam is well-written, fast paced, has a unique and creative premise and is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. Recommended if you liked Mike Resnick’s The Buntline Special, Joe R. Lansdale’s Dead in the West, or Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and best suited for western lovers, Steampunk fans, urban fantasy and magic enthusiasts, and those who simply love to enjoy an engaging read.

4 ½ out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Author Site

Devon Monk Wiki Page

Dead Iron: The Age of Steam Excerpt

Dead Iron: The Age of Steam Page

“The Ranting Dragon” Book Review

The Age of Steam Series

1. Dead Iron (2011)
2. Tin Swift (Scheduled July 3, 2012)


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