Review: The Iron Wyrm Affair

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Iron Wyrm AffairThe Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow
Series: Bannon & Clare #1
Published by Orbit on August 7, 2012
Genres: Alternate Universe, Fantasy, Historical, Mystery, Steampunk
Pages: 323
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
two-stars

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. It doesn't help much that they barely tolerate each other, or that Bannon's Shield, Mikal, might just be a traitor himself. Or that the conspiracy killing registered mentaths and sorcerers alike will just as likely kill them as seduce them into treachery toward their Queen.

In an alternate London where illogical magic has turned the Industrial Revolution on its head, Bannon and Clare now face hostility, treason, cannon fire, black sorcery, and the problem of reliably finding hansom cabs.

The game is afoot...

First Sentence: “When the young dark-haired woman stepped into his parlour, Archibald Clare was only mildly intrigued.”

Review:
Dudes, I was SO excited about this. I mean, look at that cover! Steampunk awesomeness surely awaits within, right? Well, sort of, depending on what you’re looking for, but not so much for me. I, sadly, spent most of the book bored, though occasionally hopeful after a promising bit. All of that promise didn’t ever turn into anything more concrete.

Let’s start with the pleasant aspects, shall we? Saintcrow’s steampunk world building is intense. She has created an alternate universe that just brims with detail and is one large step over from the Victorian world we knew. Names have been tweaked slightly: London is Londinium, The Thames is The Themis, etc. Mechanical creatures abound to satisfy steampunk fans. With the increased popularity of steampunk, a couple clockwork creatures are enough to earn the label now, but this one really merits it.

Bannon & Clare show a lot of promise as a lead duo. Emma Bannon is the kind of powerful woman that thrives in steampunk, one of the reasons I love the genre; women always seem to be more powerful and better in a crisis in steampunk novels. Emma has insane amounts of power, one of the highest order of sorcerers, a Prime. She gets to use her magic a lot, but, honestly, her magic was a bit odd to me.

Clare, on the other hand, has mind-based power. He is a mentath, which I need to discuss in more detail, as it was my favorite bit of worldbuilding. Mentaths are, essentially, Vulcans: “Mentaths did not feel as others did; logic was the pleasure they moved towards, and irrationality or illogic the pain they retreated from. Emotions were to be subdued, harnessed, accounted for and set on the shelf of deduction.” Without problems to solve, deductions to make, mentaths literally go insane. A life of mental stagnation kills them. As such, Clare quite enjoys even the worst bits of this adventure, because it gives him so much to ponder.

In the few scenes where Bannon and Clare are actually together, they have a nice back and forth. They respect one another’s abilities, while also making their own little judgments. Their relationship thus far has also been free of any romance, and I hope it stays that way. There have been some hints on Clare’s part that they might end up together, but I think that would weaken things. Plus, Mikal and Bannon have some great chemistry, when they’re allowed time together.

The problem lies in the fact that, despite having these great characters, she doesn’t make full use of them. Interaction is kept to a minimum. More dialogue and character development would have worked wonders. Unfortunately, Saintcrow cared much more about building up her steampunk world and so the reader is instead bombarded with description after description.

While I love me some complex writing and am used to world building set up from epic fantasy, I just could not deal with Saintcrow’s style in this book. Her descriptive paragraphs constantly threw me out of the text. I couldn’t ever get into the novel. I’m not sure if her descriptions were clunky or what. I kept finding myself skimming them inadvertently and fighting battles with my eyelids. So many descriptions and yet I still have so little mental picture of what happened. Also, I know German and some of the German in here is wrong.

This was my first experience with Lilith Saintcrow, so it’s hard for me to say whether this is her typical style. I suspect this writing may work better for others, but did not resonate with me at all. The most important aspect of a book for me is characterization, so I could not enjoy this one, despite Saintcrow’s world building efforts.

Favorite Quote:

“‘You are likely to have some entertainment planned for the evening.’
‘If by entertainment you mean conspiracy-hunting and unpleasantness, as a matter of fact, yes.'”

16 responses to “Review: The Iron Wyrm Affair”

  1. Giselle says:

    Londinium? That made me laugh out loud!! Bahaha. I’m very wary of steampunk it’s not often that I can say I really enjoyed it so I doubt this one would be a hit for me. It sounds like everything was just not used to its full potential. I do like this cover, at least!

  2. Lynn K. says:

    I got this because the cover reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes movie poster and despite not being a fan of the author’s previous books. >.>

    *Looks at review* I think I’ll push this…to the back of my list.

  3. The wordbuilding sounds totally fascinating (Londinium! Throw a bit of Latin in it, and I get all excited), but the magic/paranormal element would probably confuse me a lot. So… I don’t know.

  4. Oy, while I do appreciate some good world building, I hate feeling like that’s all I’m reading about and there isn’t enough of the actual story going on. I haven’t had much luck with Steampunk to be honest, I’m not sure why but I always feel exactly that, too much world building and not enough going on. I really wanted to love Masque of the Red Death and we all know how THAT went. Great review Christina!

    • Christina says:

      I’m all about the characters. I love epic fantasy, and that has crazy world building parties. Sometimes you have to read a whole book before you really get to the good stuff. BUT I need good characters to keep me going!

  5. Oh no, this was high on my wishlist, since I like this author, I love the sound of the world-building, but disappointed that is all it was..*sighs*

  6. Adriana says:

    Steampunk! It is a fantastic cover and even though you didn’t really like it I think I would still read it. The German thing is a bit annoying. It’s a good thing they didn’t put anything wrong in spanish because that would have really annoyed me more.

  7. I think Lili’s style is more action-based, her dialogues are pretty dry usually. I think she might have overdone descriptions in this book because she got carried away with the new genre, otherwise I do love her to bits in her UF series. *shrugs*
    By the way, I don’t know why Giselle found the name Londinium hilarious because it’s an actual Roman name for London and pretty well known as well. 🙂 In fact a lot of the names I saw in the book had Roman counterparts.

    • Christina says:

      I do plan to read another Lili book at some point; maybe her YA series. The book could have used more action. The fight scenes generally felt rushed. Dramatic descriptions of magic, while bodyguard kills everyone off screen.

      Some of us didn’t know or didn’t remember Londinium was a real name. *bows head in shame* Londinium does just kind of sound funny. Like if I built a miniature London out of aluminum foil, I would TOTALLY call it Londinium.

    • Chickensalad says:

      The funny part is the fact that this “Londinium” has a Duchess of Kent, Buckingham Palace, a queen called Victrix who is totally Victoria (and her consort is called Alberich instead of Albert), references to Dover and Brighton, etc. So is it an alternative London, or an alternative Londinium – which, as you mentioned, was an actual Roman city?

    • Christina says:

      I suspect it’s an alternative London, which is cool, I guess, but I don’t know. With all the world building, I would have liked details on where history diverged. Oh well.

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