Blood and Iron

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Elizabeth Bear

Published: 2006

Reviewed: 2009-02-16

Publisher: Roc

This book took me so long to read and review that, unbeknownst to me,
Kevin finished his own review before I even realized that he was
writing one too. And while I must say that Ms. Bear does write well,
judging by Kevin's experience, it seems that a long slow progress
through "Blood and Iron" is not unusual. That said, go read his
review now; I'll wait for you right here. Back? OK, you're ahead of
me. I'm not reading his review until I've written my own, and we'll
see how closely our opinions relate to one another.

So, let's start with the basics: Ms. Bear's "Blood and Iron" begins
what is clearly to be an epic saga of the clash between mortal mages
and predatory fae, with Hell sticking its oar in just for good
measure. This clash is brought to a head by the appearance of a
Merlin (an extremely magical human) and a Dragon Prince, who always
brings blood and change and is fated to be betrayed by his loved ones.
But, of course, this is Ms. Bear we're speaking of, and the obvious
plotlines turn subtle and start corkscrewing around on us. Nobody's
the Good Guys, nobody's acting from particularly clean or heroic
motives, and nobody's as harnessed to their fate as they think that
they are.

It takes a damned long time for the book to get there, though. For
the longest time, I thought I was going to be watching a fairly
standard Shakespearean tragedy, and felt like all the interesting
convoluted mythos was just so much Gaiman retread. Even once we get
there, I'm not quite sure that it's worth it: I found the morality
play that is going on pretty painful and straightforward ("Who are the
real monsters here?"), and all very much a victim of the "Great Man"
theory of history. Which, in fairness, is how this particular
universe is defined to work, and Ms. Bear is certainly capable of
writing books that don't suffer from it. So perhaps it's just not to
my taste.

In the end, I would recommend this book to those with a higher
appreciation for Shakespearean tragedy and high epic than myself.
It's clearly a good novel, well done, capable of taking highly
unexpected turns and a sophisticated approach to its material. And
I'll probably read the next in the series to see if that catches me
more than this one did. I'm just sad that it wasn't as marvelous an
experience as I had hoped.