The world of role-playing games and their associated licensed products
continues to branch, ever outward toward some eventual fractal
complexity where every table-top gamer will be perfectly matched with
a pre-made fantasy world precisely appropriate to his or her needs.
Mr. Bolme's novel "Bound By Iron" is another step in that direction,
providing a glimpse into a licensed world called "Eberron" that I can
only describe as fantasy cyberpunk.
Of course, maybe I'd better explain what I mean by that term. I don't
mean cyberware and computers: though those are the usual trappings of
cyberpunk, they are not what really makes the genre, just its
enablers. Cyberpunk, as I would define it, is about the relationship
between technology, society, and the individual:
* Technology makes the world small and society fast-paced.
* Technology makes individuals feel mutable and insignificant.
* The motivating forces of society are giant corporate entities.
* Individuals don't affect corporate entities, they cope with them.
I don't know whether it's the setting of "Eberron," or Mr. Bolme's
take on it, but those are all fulfilled: it's just that the
traditional Dungeons & Dragons style of magic is effectively just
technology when managed properly, and that there are "Dragon-Marked
Houses" instead of corporations. But when you've got one
"Dragon-Marked House" that runs a fleet of magical airships and
another the manages the "lightning rail" zipping people across
continents, they really might as well be 20th century corporations.
Yet despite all of this modernity, the main character Mr. Bolme
introduces us to is none other than that most venerable and peculiar
of character archetypes, the paladin. Now this, I found most
interesting, watching how Mr. Bolme maneuvered a character oath-bound
to tell the truth, help the weak, and so on, through this hard-edged
fantasy world in search of justice. I think, based on the series
title, that it might have been intended to feel more film noir, and it
does get a little Kurosawa at times, but he just doesn't have the
right world-weariness or self-destructiveness for my conception of
The writing is uneven, the character development at times awkward and
stilted, but overall, I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the way in which
the central mystery is revealed in bits and pieces, the way that the
history of the characters comes out slowly, the combinations of
innocence, experience, and cynicism. I wish that Mr. Bolme had
produced better prose, but I suspect that won't happen as long as he's
working for his current editors.