Lilith Saintcrow, The Iron Wyrm Affair
In an alternate-universe Victorian London, sorcery is common (though frowned upon), and incredible geniuses known as mentaths are capable of being literally bored to death. Archibald Clare, an unregistered mentath, is in this precarious state when he suddenly learns that his life may be in danger: someone has been killing and mutilating mentaths throughout the city. To investigate, Archibald teams up with Emma Bannon, a powerful sorceress with a dangerous gift and a mysterious past. Their mission takes them throughout the dirty streets of Londinium, where they tangle with foreign assassins, murderous automatons, and very black magic.
Since I enjoy Victorian-era steampunk, I was excited to win this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. It certainly delivers a fast-paced plot packed with action; it was easy to keep turning the pages, and I never felt like the book dragged. There were also enough steampunk elements to please fans of the genre, including mechanical limbs and giant, spider-like automatons. However, the world-building in general didn’t work for me. Saintcrow avoids lengthy exposition, which is a good thing, except that as a result I constantly felt like I was missing something. For example, we learn that Archibald is an unregistered mentath, but we don’t know why he’s unregistered, or even what being unregistered actually means. Similarly, we know that Emma is a sorceress, but we never learn the basic rules of the magical system; Emma can seemingly do whatever she wants with a few simple chants. I found it difficult to become invested in the story because I kept getting distracted by the underdeveloped world of the novel.
This is book one in a projected series, so presumably everything will start to make more sense in future installments. However, I don’t think I’m invested enough in the characters to continue with this series.
4 thoughts on “Review: The Iron Wyrm Affair”
I enjoyed this one tremendously, although I haven’t gotten quite as far as writing my review yet. The Sherlock Holmes type aspect made it work well for me, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.
Glad you liked it better than I did. I was excited about the Holmesian aspects to the plot as well, but I felt like they were sidelined in favor of Emma’s magical powers. I would have liked more insight into Archibald’s character and mentaths in general.
Normally this type of worldbuilding doesn’t work for me; I generally like to know a bit more about how a world operates before I’m thrown into a story. It’s why I can’t stand reading William Gibson, even though people constantly tell me that he’s brilliant. I didn’t the lack of detail/explanation about the world here because it made the Holmesian deduction seem that much more spectacular.
I guess I just wanted Archibald to explain a little more about how he was able to deduce things. As you say, one could interpret this lack of explanation as evidence of how brilliant Archibald is. I took it more as a sign that Saintcrow was cheating. 🙂