Review: The Iron Wyrm Affair

Posted: December 11, 2012 by in Books that are Mediocre (3/5 single_star) Meta: Lilith Saintcrow, Alternate Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Books for Chicks

Emma Bannon is a sorceress in the employ of the Queen herself, tasked with protecting Archibald Clare, an unregistered and failed mentath. Why? Because other mentaths all over Londinium are dying unexplainable and grisly deaths and there’s more to it than a serial killer.

Set in an alternative Victorian England, THE IRON WYRM AFFAIR (Amazon) blends magic and steampunk with enthusiasm. Known for her Urban Fantasy series, Lilith Saintcrow tries something different with a steam-sorcery-mystery tale that threatens Britannia herself.

In chapter one our PoV characters meet through Clare’s eyes as he deduces who Emma is as well as her Shield Mikal, her protector. Clare’s character is interesting because he sees the world differently and Saintcrow paints him well (despite some later inconsistencies). Emma is a sorceress with a knack for darker magic, who is powerful enough to expect to get everything she asks for. Their PoVs aren’t particularly disparate, and sometimes I even confused their dialogue. But they’re likable characters well aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. Mikal could have been a more interesting secondary character if only his brooding glowers were less frequent. Saintcrow’s other characters are fun to read and she gives them the details they deserve.

From the beginning we’re thrown into Saintcrow’s world of magic. There’s Victrix, the vessel of Britannia, the soul of the kingdom itself. Magic-wielders with varying degrees of ability. Gryphons who are the protectors of Britannia, but love to eat sorcerer flesh above all. Young dragons who live in the shadows while their elders sleep. Mentaths whose abilities with logic and deduction border on the obsessive and require constant work or they go mad. Tideturn re-supplies magic-wielders the energy for creating their magic. I could go on but that would ruin the story for you–you’ll have to discover Saintcrow’s cleverness for yourself.

THE IRON WYRM AFFAIR blends magic and steampunk with gusto. It does a moderately good job at telling the story too, if you can swallow all the description.

But where WYRM’s strengths of setting is what makes this a fun read, it’s also unfortunately its weakness. Saintcrow has so much information of place, magic, verbiage, and people and she immerses us into the story so quickly we get lost amongst all the New Words. Not everything is explained. And while it’s great when authors move a story along and reveal as they go, it’s not so great when the reveals are choppy or arrive frustratingly late. Add to that transition issues between scenes and within action scenes, which made it hard to sometimes know what was going on. And alas I’m not sure I can bear to discuss Saintcrow’s sometimes florid prose.

I almost gave this book a Like rating, it barely made it into Mediocre, the main reason being that I don’t want to steer dear EBR readers wrong thinking that this book is without much flaw. But those who like the flair of typical Urban Fantasy but with a Victorian romantic twist will likely enjoy this addition to Saintcrow’s body of work.

  • Recommended Age: 15+
  • Language: A couple instances
  • Violence: Throughout the novel, and it's occasionally gory
  • Sex: A few references only, and without detail

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