Monday, December 22, 2014

The Iron Thorn

If you're not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his oeuvre, I'm not sure if you'll like this book.  It relies quite heavily on the Cthulhu Mythos and makes myriad references to the world Lovecraft created.  Just a warning.  This doesn't mean that you cannot possibly enjoy it if you haven't read Lovecraft, but you might be a bit puzzled.

With that out of the way, this is an amazing book.  It's the sort of book you want to linger over, searching for hidden allusions and building up the fever-dream world in your mind.  Kittredge has created her universe meticulously, and in keeping with the dark and sinister things out of time, has not sacrificed artistic integrity for a light and fluffy book.  This is mellifluously dark, with a sensuous bite like very bitter chocolate.  Delicious and a bit dangerous.

Aoife Grayson feels like an orphan.  Her mother has been placed--for her own protection, naturally--in a sanitarium, and Aoife's elder brother Conrad, has disappeared, leaving Aoife as a ward of the state in Lovecraft.  There, she attends school with her friend (well, her only friend) Cal, and aspires to be an engineer.  The only thing that has made sense in her life this far has been engines and clockwork.  It's the great engine beneath Lovecraft that generates enough power to keep away the nightjars, the ghouls, and the springheel jacks--not to mention those infected with the necrovirus.  The engine, however, can't save Aoife from her fate.  This was the fate of her mother and brother before her: a curse of blood.  A dormant strain of the necrovirus that activates on the carrier's sixteenth birthday, causing madness.


Many readers felt that this was too complex and overwritten (in a rare moment, I disagree with Kirkus) with Too Much Plot and Too Much Steampunk.  In my world, there is no such thing as Too Much Steampunk, and an abundance of plot twists is welcome when it seems that every other book I pick up has a wan storyline about love triangles and super speshul snowflakes.

You might think, this being steampunk, that this is a Victorian setting--not so!  It's a version of America in the 1950s if the barriers between worlds had been broken and the only thing keeping Heresy--religion, superstition, and storytelling--at bay is the clear light of science.  The characters read pulp novels, comic books, and have experienced their own version of WWI and WWII.  There is no corsetry involved, surprisingly, and I liked this alternate timeline.

To give a full plot overview would be pointless, as I insist that you go read this for yourself, but here's the main gist of it: Aoife and Cal, seeking to find answers about her condition, break out of the protection of Lovecraft and engage the services of Dean Harrison, quasi-rogue and dashing criminal, to transport them to Arkham, where Aoife's father has a house.  On the way, they encounter spying ravens, Shoggoths (!!!), and references are made to Miskatonic University.  If you're a book nerd/Lovecraft lover like me, you'll be grinning from ear to ear.

Once at her father's ancestral home, she discovers that it is more than it appears to be.  The entire house is controlled by intricate clockwork, and she feels a connection to it--even more than she did with the mechanics used in her classes back in Lovecraft.  Her father's secret journal reveals that their family has a Weird (think of it as an elemental affinity) and that they are charged with keeping the balance between our world and the Fae world.  Her father was able to control fire, but Aoife isn't sure what her Weird is yet--but she'd better figure out soon, because an emissary of the Fae appears and compels her (with typical heartless Fae threats) to assist him in waking the Seelie and Unseelie Queens.  It's all a bit complicated, but if you're passing familiar with fae lore, or you're a fan of Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series, you'll be fine.

To be honest, when the Fae were introduced, I was a bit miffed.  Here we were, going along swimmingly in a clockwork world of monsters and heretics, and you had to toss in the Fair Folk as well?  However, Kittredge pulls it all together nicely.

There are plots, counterplots, counter-counterplots, and so many deceptions and escapes that I couldn't stop reading as I neared the end.  I can't wait to read the next two.

Not for everyone, but for those to whom this book speaks, it is very, very special.

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