I received a review copy of Lilith Saintcrow’s “The Iron Wyrm Affair” while I was at BEA earlier this summer.
“The Iron Wyrm Affair” is a delightful blend of steampunk and mystery set in an alternate version of Dickensian Britain. Mr. Archibald Clare is a Mentath, which means that he has the superpower of deduction. When the corpses of Mentaths (some of which have had certain body parts removed) begin turning up, Mr. Clare falls under the protection of the feisty sorceress Emma Bannon. With the help of Miss Bannon’s Shield, Mikhal, they must uncover who is behind a plot which might threaten Brittania herself.
This is the first book in a series of adventures featuring Mr. Clare and Miss Bannon, but it can function as a standalone. The mystery is essentially solved at the end of the book, but a couple loose ends could potentially segue into the next book.
Before I’d even gotten two chapters into “The Iron Wyrm Affair,” my first impression was, “Damn. Lilith Saintcrow has a wonderful vocabulary.” I read so much that it’s rare that I’ll come across new words and will wonder what something means, but it happened several times during this book. I get excited when authors manage to challenge me like that.
I enjoyed Emma’s character tremendously. She’s a Prime Sorceress of the Black, which means she’s uber-powerful and can talk to dead people. People are innately distrustful of those who are a part of the Black, because the idea of control of life and death is rather unsettling. Miss Bannon came from a humble background, and it shows. While she has since moved into the upper class, she’s retained a few of her old habits which make her so much more fun than if she behaved properly. She’s the type of woman who can out-curse a sailor, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.
Mr. Clare’s character is based directly upon Sherlock Holmes. Bannon & Clare make great leads because their personalities and methods are so distinctly opposite of one another. Mr. Clare lives in the world of logic and reason, whereas Miss Bannon works best through magic and hunches. With their powers combined, they are Captain Planet. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) Meanwhile, the minor characters in the book provided rather effective comic relief.
I like the way that Saintcrow handled the romance aspect of the book. It’s treated almost an afterthought, and it doesn’t get in the way of the plot of the story. It’s more like “Oh, Emma slept with someone (and I’m not saying with whom, cause spoilers and all…),” and that’s that. There’s no relationship drama, love triangle, etc., but rather it just feels like a natural incident that happened during the course of her adventures.
My one wish is that I’d liked to have gotten a bit more detail about the world, but at the same time, not knowing every detail about the workings of an alternate Britain that contains clockwork horses, dragons, and sorcery made Mr. Archibald Clare’s deductions seemed that much more brilliant.
I’m a fan of the steampunk aesthetic, but up until this point I’ve found very little in the genre that works for me. This one’s a winner.