Iron & Blood is another genre blender story from Gail Z. Martin; this time with Larry Martin as co-author. The novel reads very much like a traditional murder mystery except that it is filled with magical creatures, ghosts, witches, zombies, steampunk airships, and tesla rays, and is set in the alternate history city of New Pittsburgh circa 1898.
The main protagonists of the tale are Jake Desmet and Rick Brand, heirs to the Brand & Desmet Import Company. These two travel the world acquiring unusual items for their wealthy clientele. While their procurement of these treasures is usually completely legal, there are times when less conventional means are necessary, things do become harrowing, and a bit of fisticuffs do ensue.
As this novel begins Jake and Rick – along with their cousin Veronique LeClerque (Nikki to her friends) – find themselves pursued by some violent fellows, who seem determined to kill them over a rather insignificant acquisition. Fortunately, our heroes are tricked out with the latest armored carriages, high flying zeppelins and other assorted steampunk goodies that allow them to escape. But when shadowy assassins follow them across the Atlantic Ocean, leaving New Pittsburgh awash in blood, Jake, Rick and Nikki uncover a plot involving magic, vampires, politics, and industrial sabotage that threatens not only themselves and their home city, but the entire world!
While Iron & Blood has loads of daring-do by our trio, plenty of cool steampunk gadgets, and some vile villains, my favorite part of the narrative was the setting itself: New Pittsburgh. This hub of engineering contraptions, steam driven machines, and insane mining is the center of American steam-powered industry. Built upon the ruins of the old city of the same name after its destruction and elevation (Both literally and figuratively) by earthquake, it is a marvel to behold, modern in that charming steampunk way, yet filled with urban fantasy creatures and shadowy governments and known to the world as ‘hell with the lid off.’ Truly, it blew me away; one of the best steampunk setting that I have yet experienced.
On the other hand, Jake Desmet and Rick Brand did not blow me away. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them, but they never had that “It” factor that turns a protagonist into a star for me. And, unfortunately, the supporting cast were not developed enough to carry the story, even though Nikki showed a lot of promise as a tough, witty heroine in her too brief appearances.
The only other criticism I have of this novel (and it may just be me being too picky) is that I felt the authors gave too much of the mystery away by their constant focus on the villains. Sure, I liked seeing the bad guys plot their evil plans. Yeah, it felt good to always be one step ahead of the heroes, as they bumbled around trying to discover the things I already knew. But, at the same time, knowing everything that was going on took a lot of the fun out of the story for me. I mean, why read page after page of Jake and Rick frantically searching for clues to solve a mystery when I already knew it all.
Now, I’m a sucker for genre blenders, so this mix of pulp adventure, mystery, steampunk, urban fantasy, and fantasy with a great setting was exactly the sort of story that I enjoy. For that reason, Iron & Blood was a fun book to read, and I’d encourage others to give it a try.
I received this book from Solaris Publishing and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to inform everyone that the review you are about to read is my opinion alone.