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Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Author:  Devon Monk
Plot Type:  Steampunk Romantic Suspense 
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality1-3; Humor2-3
Publisher and Titles:  Roc
        Dead Iron (7/2011) 
       "Hang Fire" (e-story, 4/2013) 
       Tin Swift (7/2012)
        Cold Copper (7/2013)  

     This post was revised and updated on 2/13/14 to include a review of Cold Copper, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 1 and 2:  

             NOVEL 3:  Cold Copper             

    At the end of book 2, the core team of characters split up. Cedar, Wil, Mae, the Madder brothers, and Miss Sophie Dupuis (an acquaintance of the Madders) headed East on foot in search of more pieces of the Holder. (To review: the Holder is a magical weapon made of seven ancient metals and broken into pieces that are scattered across the country.) Captain Hink and Rose stayed on with the Coven to repair Hink's airship, the Swift. The story alternates between the two groups as they encounter various villains and eventually meet up in Des Moines, Iowa.

     Cedar and his group are forced to stop in Des Moines because a horrendous blizzard has made the roads impassable. When they arrive, they are met by a Native American Catholic priest to whom the Madder brothers owe a favor. They also meet the villainous mayor, who immediately jails the Madder brothers, charging them with various crimes, including murder. The favor that the priest asks from the Madders is to find hundreds of missing children, who have disappeared from their beds over a period of months and have never been seen since. With the Madders in jail, Cedar and Wil, with Mae's help, try to find the children. Wil and Cedar also search for the Holder, which they can sense is nearby. 

    Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Rose is fed up with Hink because he has been spending all of his free time in town at the local brothels. She confronts him in a saloon, but he shrugs her off, so she stalks away and literally runs into a handsome, cultured man named Thomas Wicks, who immediately takes an interest in her. Eventually all three find themselves on the same train, headed for Kansas City. None of them make it, though, because they find that the train is carrying a cargo of cold-copper gadgetry and, that discovery leads to further adventures—most of them dangerous. 

     The plot follows each group as its members interact with the mayor of Des Moines and his cronies, usually in a confrontational manner that includes various types of weaponry and threats of violence. Besides the missing children and the search for the Holder, the plot includes a diabolical plan involving cold copper, captive Strange, and a robotic humanoid. 

     The romances between Rose and Hink and between Mae and Cedar move along a few more notches, with kisses that become more and more passionate. The humor in the story comes mostly from the Rose/Hink part of the story, with Rose and Hink sparring verbally over Hink's scandalous behavior in the brothels and with Hink learning to his dismay that he has a supervisor—and that the supervisor expects to be obeyed. 

     This is another exciting adventure in a terrific series, with a plot that gallops along at a compelling pace and with well-developed characters we have learned to love over the course of the three novels. I recommend that you read novels 1 and 2 before reading this one because you'll need the characters' background information and a knowledge of past events to fully understand what is going on. That is particularly true at the very end, when an old enemy resurfaces. (Please don't peak at the ending—it will spoil the suspense.)

    Devon Monk turns away from her ALLIE BECKSTROM urban fantasy series and tries her hand at steampunk in this fascinating series that begins in Oregon in the late 1800s. Future books will be set in different locations in the U.S. as the story follows the travels of the main characters. If you are not familiar with steampunk fiction, click on the word anywhere in this review to go to my "Definitions" page and then scroll down for a brief explanation. Click HERE if you want even more information about this sub-genre of science fiction/fantasy fiction.

     In this steampunk world, daily life is much as you would expect it to be in the Old West...except that gadgetry is everywhere, with gizmos called matics, or tickers, doing much of the busywork. These matics are made of brass and other metals, and they are run by gears, usually powered by steam. The people who create the matics—almost always men—are called devisers.

     Here are descriptions of two different clock matics: a small clock in the shape of a bird and the town's huge clock whistle:

     "The silver filigreed bird perched on the edge of the high window sang one sweet chirp. Its head was the size of a child's thimble. The gears and burner inside it were so tiny, it chirped once every hour and needed only a half dropper of water a day to power it."  (Dead Iron, p. 4)  

     "...the clock whistle atop a turret made of iron and wood and tin, sticking up like a backbone above the blacksmith's shop. A coil of copper tubes wrapped through the structure and supported a line of twelve glass jugs, round as pearls and big as butter churns. Water poured from the top of the tower downward, like sand in an hourglass, and filled the glass jugs one at a time, until they spilled over into the next and turned the gears inside the tower toward the next hour." (Dead Iron, p. 5)  

     The primary source of evil in this world is the Strange, which is made up of evil spirits who cause trouble in a multitude of ways. Here is one character's description of the Strange: "He had seen the Strangethe true Strangecreatures that hitched along from the Old World, tucked unknown in an immigrant's pocket, hidden away in a suitcase, or carried tightly in the darkest nightmare. He had seen what the Strange could do when set free in this new land." (Dead Iron, p. 12) 

Following is a list of the good guys and gals who have continuing roles in the series:
     > Cedar Hunt: a man cursed by a Pawnee god to be a werewolf destined forever to hunt down and destroy the Strange
     > Wiliam (Wil) Hunt: Cedar's brother, also a cursed werewolf, but with slightly different characteristics
     > Rose Small: an orphaned young woman and a budding feminist who can identify the Strange and may have some deviser magic in her
     > Mae Lindson: a witch who is widowed in Dead Iron and who is especially skilled with curses and oaths; a love interest for Cedar
     > the Madder brothers (Alun, Bryn, and Cadoc): mysterious and eccentric devisers who hunt the Strange as they seek to find the Holder, a magical artifact that could destroy the world  

     The series story arc focuses on the retrieval of the Holder, which is described here by Alan Madderjust one of the numerous good and bad guys who are desperate to own it: "The Holder is a device of seven pieces, made of the seven ancient metals. Each piece is a talisman, an artifact, a device to be used for good: healing the sick, blessing crops, bringing peace unto a land. When this New World was discovered, the Holder was brought here as a gift by likeminded men who wanted peace and prosperity for settlers and natives alike. But Shard LeFel caught rumor of it. He sent his Strange to sniff it out...Then they worked their dark devising. The Holder is now a weapon of pain, plague, war. Each piece broken and remade Strangewise, so that nothing but sickness, ruin, and chaos fall to any who find it. And if someone is clever enough to put those seven pieces back together again, then they'll be clever enough to understand the Holder can also be a weapon of a magnitude that has never been seen in these lands." (Dead Iron, p. 333)  

             NOVEL 1:  Dead Iron             
     The series opener is set in Hallelujah, Oregon, an isolated town that has pinned its hopes for prosperity on the new railroad that is inching its way toward them. The villain of the story is the seemingly human Shard LeFel, a wealthy railroad tycoon who is desperate to get back to his Strange homeland (from which he was banished by his brother) before the next waning moon. If he can't return by then, he will die. LeFel has set up his headquarters in three specially built railway cars. The story reminded me a lot of Sergio Leone's great classic film, Once upon a Time in the West. Both story lines involve a villainous railroad tycoon; soulless, murderous villains; and heroes who are society's castoffs. LeFel's right-hand man is Mr. Shunt, a powerful Strange who is ensconced in a matics body that appears to be human. In order to go through a portal and back into the Strange, LeFel needs a wolf, a witch, and the blood of a dreaming child. The plot follows his efforts to attain all three while the good guys try to stop him. One additional character also tries to stop LeFel: Mae's husband, Jeb. LeFel keeps trying to kill Jeb, but Jeb keeps rising from the grave—and his one and only goal is to kill LeFel so that he can save Mae's life.

     The story is filled with action, from murderous matics to bullying drunks to a witch-hating mob. The mythology of the Strange is lightly sketched, but if you just keep reading, you'll understand the concept. The story is told in the third person, and it moves from one person's perspective to another. In general, we see things from the standpoint of Cedar, Mae, Rose, Jeb and LeFel. After the climactic ending, the surviving characters head East for their next adventures.

     Although I'm not a huge steampunk fan, I did enjoy this book. The concept is fresh and inventive, and the characters are complex and well drawn. By the end, I found myself wanting to know what will come next for each one of them, so I plan to keep reading the series.

     Click HERE to read chapter 1 of Dead Iron.  Click HERE to go to my review of Devon Monk's ALLIE BECKSTROM Series.

     Here is a description of one of LeFel's matins, each of which is powered by a vial of glim, a rare, magical substance harvested from the air:
     "Beneath the shadow of a tree, a small matic clicked and whirred. Sensing the tremble of stones and dirt falling from the dead man's grave, it rose up upon spider legs, balancing its portly copper teapot body. The gyroscope and compass set within its belly pointed the ticker east. It skittered off on quick, spindly fee. East. To the rail. To the man who had left it spying here. To Mr. Shard LeFel" (Dead Iron, p. 38)      

            SHORT STORY 1: Hang Fire            
    This is a connector story between novels 1 and 2. The story follows Cedar and his group as they begin their trip to Kansas, and it introduces Captain Lee Hink and his airship, the Swift—all key elements in the plot of Tin Swift

     Monk first distributed the story piecemeal in June and July of 2013 as part of a 20-day blog tour for Tin Swiftone chapter per blog. 

     If you don't want to purchase the story, you can click HERE and scroll down for a list of the 20 blog links. Reading it that way is a bit rough, because some of the blog links no longer take you directly to the chapters. In fact, the very first one is an inaccurate link that takes you to the blog, but not to the "Hang Fire" chapter. Instead, click HERE and scroll down for chapter 1. Although the link at the end of each chapter is supposed to take you to on the next chapter, that doesn't always work. Sometimes it's better just to go back to the 20-link list and click on the link for the chapter you want to read.  

             NOVEL 2:  Tin Swift             
    In book 1, the story focused on the railroad, but in book 2, we're up in the air—high above the Bitterroot Mountains on steam-driven airships to be exact. In Dead Iron, we learned that glim is a rare and valuable resource that is harvested from the sky. "Glim, more precious than diamonds or gold, used to power ships on air, water, or land. Used to heal the sick, cure the blights, turn the tide in wars, and make anything and everything stronger and longer lasting. Glim was even rumored to extend a man's life well beyond his years....But the only place glim was known to occur with any regularity was above high mountain ranges, and up higher still. Above the storm clouds, floating like nets of soft lightning, the glim fields were capricious and fleeting. Difficult to find. Deadly to harvest." (p. 19) In this book, we meet the glim harvesters, hard and violent men and women who live on the edge of danger and who don't mind turning their backs on the law.

     At the end of Dead Iron, Cedar Hunt and his team were headed east to Kansas to return Mae to her coven. All of the regular characters are back: Cedar, Wil (mostly in wolf form), Mae, Rose, and the Madder brothers. When Mae first joined her Coven as a teenager, she swore a blood oath to them and with the death of her husband, the voices of her sister witches are constantly in her head demanding that she return to them. This has the effect of driving her steadily towards insanity. When the ragtag group reaches the tiny town of Vicinity, they discover that the Strange has been there ahead of them. In fact, Cedar and Wil can detect the sulphurous odor of the dastardly Shunt, whom they thought they had destroyed back in Oregon. To their dismay, they learn even though they chopped his body up into little pieces, he was able to pull them all together and regenerate himself. During Shunt's brief time in Vicinity, he killed all of the people and collect various body parts from them for his own nefarious purposes. 

     When Cedar and his crew attempt to bury the dead, one body explodes and badly injures Rose and the rest rise up and attack them—with spirits of the Strange driving the human corpses. To their rescue comes Paisley Lee Cadwaller Hink Cage (aka Hink, aka Lee), captain of the Swift, a sleek, fast tin airship with a competent, if quirky, crew that is expert in harvesting glim and keeping it from being stolen by rogue airship crews. There's a reason for Hink's odd, lengthy name, but I won't spoil the pleasure of learning it for yourself. The two groups combine forces and the story follows them as they search for the Holder (to cure Rose's injury) and keep heading for Kansas (to restore Mae's sanity).

     Along with to Shunt, the villain in this book is Alabaster Saint, a disgraced Civil War general who was demoted and imprisoned for various acts of cowardice and insubordination based on Hink's testimony. Saint hates Hink with a passion, and he despises the U.S. President, who believed and followed through on Hink's testimony. Saint is building an army that will support and defend him as he creates his own kingdom, separate from the rest of the U.S. Shunt envisions himself the leader of the new western world—the one and only leader who reaps all of the profits from the glim harvested western mountains. Both Saint and Shunt want the Holder, each for his own reasons.

     This book has more romance than the previous one. Cedar has fallen for Mae, and when she is sane, she falls for him as well. Then, Captain Hink and Rose take one look at  one another and they're in love, too. No graphic love scenes, thoughjust some sweetly romantic scenes between each couple. By the end of the story, most of the good guys are still on the trail of the holder, although some will go in different directions than others.

     This is a solid addition to the series that carries the steampunk aspects into a different dimension. For all you steampunk fans, there are plenty of goggles, gadgets, gears, and guns. The descriptions of the airships are fascinating in their fantastic detail, and the air battles are full of action and danger. The entire concept of glim-harvesting in the stormy skies high above the mountains is beautifully depicted. In this passage, Hink describes glim harvesting to Rose: "We catch it with nets....Long-armed out-rigging that drags through the sky, gathering glim on the strands, like pollen on a bee's butt. Those strands draw the glim down to finer threads, where it collects like liquid in large glass globes. Can't box glim up in too small a spot. It's always looking for a way out, a way back to the sky, I reckon."  (p. 225).  

     Even better than the descriptive narrative, though, is the vivid delineation of the characters, especially the cursed brothers—Cedar and Wil, who have had their lives turned upside-down by outside forces but still maintain their close relationship and their honor and nobility. Cedar seems to have burst from a heroic myth. He's fearless, but vulnerable; strong, but tender. At the end of the book, Cedar is forced to make a huge decision about his life and his brother's—whether to continue in a fight for the greater good or to take a different path that might lead them to personal happiness. Others must also make life-changing decisions, all of which portend a great continuation of their story in book 3. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Tin Swift.

1 comment:

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