Saturday, November 17, 2007

Blood and Iron

By Elizabeth Bear.

This is a dark novel of faerie along the lines of Tithe and Wicked Lovely and even Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, at least the parts of that book that deal with faerie. I stayed up late reading it, which is why I'm mentioning it, although I'll also mention that the reason may only be that it twigged on one of my personal buttons, a lack of volition; faeries can apparently bind and control each other through their names and do so as a common practice, and the main character (which I will call so despite the presence of numerous viewpoint characters) is under such a binding.

This does not feel like the first novel in a series: numerous characters and conflicts are introduced very quickly (by page 20, I was wondering who all these people were already and how they were going to end up related to each other), and there are a lot of unexplained issues in the background. There is at least one line that I couldn't make sense of. Also, the ending goes into what is presumably a little prelude to the second book before stopping. There's also a lot of implied sex.

So why did I enjoy it? There is an extremely effective point of view change at a critical moment (I hesitate to say more about that). There is at least one other really shocking moment. Flipping to the end of the book wasn't enough to give away how things ended: the middle of the story is actually important.

I don't know. From one perspective, it's an exciting adventure and political intrigue story, well-written. From another, it has a ton of characters, a lot of whom aren't really fleshed out for us, and some really disturbing elements that I'm hoping the second book will redeem.* I found I liked it better than I thought I would, so you might too.

On a mostly unrelated note, I wonder why the author is using a pen name instead of her real name; the copyright page says "Copyright Sarah Kindred writing as Elizabeth Bear." Yes, I actually do usually read the copyright page. Scary, huh?

* Wondering why saying "God" hurts faeries is actually only a minor one emotionally (for me), but I suspect it's very telling on their relationship to Heaven and Hell, upon which the second book promises to reveal more.

Update (12/10/2007): I found the sequel (Whiskey & Water) disappointing. The omniscient point of view makes it very hard to keep track of which characters know what at what point, and her self-professed short story style doesn't help (but read her post, it's interesting and argues for a different perspective.) I also didn't have much in the way of guesses about motivation or even what's going on early on; there wasn't enough information, misleading or otherwise, for me to even formulate a plausible hypothesis. Her use of unfamiliar legends and myths may not have helped (Fionnghuala goes from the seeming wise-woman of the first book to become someone else entirely without any warning or hints that I picked up on, although to be fair I may have read the book too quickly.) And I agreed with some other reviewers who said the book started too slowly—I think that the author let a lot of the tension that was present in the ending of Blood & Iron drop simply by letting seven years pass. I really didn't want to finish the book, but I forced myself in the hope that it would get better. Also, there were too many gratuitous sex scenes.

No comments: