In Retro Review: The Iron Wyrm Affair

Fun fantasy flies from each page propelling readers into a fog laced Britannia where the next corner could produce a gun runner, robot, or dragon. I've found a new series to follow.

The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

Published by Orbit Books, August 2012. Paperback of 308 pages.

The cover: The cover design is by Lauren Panepinto, the illustrations are by Craig White, and the photo is by Shirley Green. This is the right cover to promote this novel. Emma and Clare are standing back to back wearing their Victorian clothes, against a typical nondescript English street at night. Fog is obscuring their background and feet, and sorcery is emanating from Emma’s hands. After reading the novel, both cover models look much stronger than how I pictured them. Still, this is a good image for this book. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Emma Bannon, forensic sorceress in the service of the Empire, has a mission: to protect Archibald Clare, a failed, unregistered mentath. His skills of deduction are legendary, and her own sorcery is not inconsiderable. Unfortunately they can barely tolerate each other…” Short and to the point, after looking at the cover, this is all the premise I need to want to pick this up. I’ve been looking for a Steampunk book for quite some time that I would enjoy and finding that a third book in this series recently came out, I found this first book and picked it up. Other publishers, please take note: this is how to promote a book without ruining any of the plot! Overall grade: A

The characters: This is a terrific cast and are so well written even the secondary characters are layered enough to support their own novels. Emma Bannon is a Prime, a sorcerer of the highest rank. She is prim and proper and devoted to Britannia. She will do anything that is asked of her by her Queen. She was abused by a wizard in the past and has intimacy issues. Her line of work gives her no time for her heart, which is sad because it is very obvious that someone close to her is in love with her. Her Shield, or human protector (because spell casting takes a lot out of a sorcerer, leaving them vulnerable) is Mikal. He is a large man with yellow eyes, who is quick to the point and will die defending his Prime. He murdered his previous Prime, leaving others, including Emma, wondering if he will repeat the same dark business with his current master. He is a tremendous physical fighter, but acts like a child in private to his Prime. Archibald Clare is a dandy and a mentath, one who is able to use the skill of deduction to find answers where others cannot. Imagine a young Sherlock Holmes, cranked up to eleven. He is a terrific contrast to Emma and Mikal and contributes to the plot where magic cannot. Clare is protected by the Italian assassin-for-hire Ludovico Valentinelli. He is a sensational character who is rude, crude, and does what others without abilities can not or will not. He is also so much more than he seems. Accompanying Clare and Valentinelli on their adventures is Sigmund Baerbarth, a fiddler of electronics who would love nothing better to be tinkering with some kind of clockworks. He was fun, smart, and obsessed with food. He completed the triangle of non-magical men beautifully. The antagonists of the novel are several and they cannot be explained in detail without revealing the plot. Rather than do so, I will focus on just one: Mehitabel. She is the first major villain Bannon and Clare encounter and she was fantastic! She lives in the Blackwerks, where things are made for the rich. She is considered possibly dangerous by Bannon, but when she reveals her true guise she could have been the finale of the book as far as I was concerned. The other villains are just as good, and I really enjoyed the mechanical terrors that the three men went up against. Everyone is a winning character under Saintcrow’s pen. Overall grade: A+ 

The settings: Victorian England where magic and Steampunk rule. This is the type of setting I had been looking to find for months–one that had this combination and was written well. Saintcrow makes it seem effortless as these genres mesh to create a series of environments that are perfectly suited for this story. Nothing is fluff, they all contribute to the story. Bannon’s home is as neat and tidy as one would expect, the Queen’s throne room and stables magnificent, and the city has dangers around every corner. I fell in love with the Blackwerks. This was the slum of construction of London, where street orphans have been Altered (pieces mechanized for sinister purposes) and even the rats are robotic to make them holy terrors. I could get lost in these locations and been in heaven. Overall grade: A+

The action: Plenty of magic to satisfy those who want sorcery in their tales. Magic is simple, to create lights, or deathly powerful, to summon an army of the undead. The scenes involving magic were great. Mikal has many moments where he is using weapons and fists to protect his Prime and he will be a definite favorite of any reader. Even the three men get involved in a fantastic plot dealing with–I hesitate to say–giant robots. This has every type of action one could want from a story and it was marvelous. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: 100% satisfying. I can’t say what occurs, but the payoff is aces. Would be a budget buster if it ever had the good fortune to be made into a film. Overall grade: A+

The final line: This is not well written, it is exceptionally well written. I purchased this to see if I would want to read the newest novel and it’s become a resounding yes. Fun fantasy flies from each page propelling readers into a fog laced Britannia where the next corner could produce a gun runner, robot, or dragon. I’ve found a new series to follow. Recommended. Overall grade: A+ 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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