After the end of the Great War, the entire world was in turmoil. Everything we thought we knew as a society had been upended. Boys mown down with automatic weapons, faces burned off with poisonous gas, young people struck down with the Spanish Influenza while the elderly survived. The world went completely topsy-turvy, and so it's no wonder that logic took a break from society as well. The passage of Prohibition isn't something that the Founding Fathers saw coming, I'm sure. But the legislation to make hemopathy--magic from the blood--illegal? Well, that goes right along with the nation's history of intolerance and fear.
But wait--magic isn't real.
Welcome to an alternate version of 1919, one in which girls still bob their hair, the rich and famous still get their kicks slumming it, and some people perform illusions because their blood is different.
Don't worry--the magic performed by hemopaths has nothing to do with the whole sacrifice-a-virgin-on-an-altar type of blood magic that you might expect. This is something special from inside each hemopath that still mystifies the science of the day.
But even in this atmosphere of gin, jazz, and magic, Iron Cast pulls off a rare feat: the friendship between the two main female characters, Ada and Corinne, pushes any display of magic to the side with its strength, authenticity, and power. I long for a friendship like theirs, forged in the midst of mistrust and fear, but now stronger than anything, even the iron used to break and torture hemopaths. Even better is the fact that neither girl gives a fig about the other's skin color. Ada's mother is from Kenya, and her father, currently wrongfully imprisoned, is Portuguese. Corinne's family is white and blue-blooded, living in an austere mansion and concerned with the oh-so-important task of keeping the family name untarnished. And while Corinne recognizes the prejudice society has against her best friend, that doesn't mean that she buys into it. No way. Corinne and Ada are a magical machine by night, and an experienced con artist team by day.
What? A girl's gotta make a living. And why not charm idiot politicians into thinking that there's a bridge simply teeming with elephants in the middle of the day? Why not steal from the rich to distribute among the poor and oppressed? Besides, it's a heck of a lot of fun messing with the minds of their marks.
Cor and Ada live at the Cast Iron, a club that provides hemopathic entertainment sub rosa, since the consumption of hemopathy by non-hemopaths is now illegal. They're under the protection of Johnny Dervish, one of the two main players in underground entertainment. But not even Johnny Dervish can keep the cops from arresting hemopaths and taking them to a special asylum. When one of Johnny's men is killed, tensions in the underbelly of the city stretch to their breaking point, and Corinne and Ada must discover the murderer before all-out war erupts. In addition, they have to stay one step ahead of the cops, out of the asylum, and away from their families.
Fresh from her stint in the asylum, Ada isn't willing to trust their friend Saint, a talented artist who broke during police questioning and turned stool pigeon. Gabriel, Johnny's newest hired muscle, seems earnest enough, but irritates the ever-loving heck out of Corinne. In the end, alliances are forged and broken, confidences are shattered, and it turns out that Ada and Corinne are playing a very dangerous game. It might cost them their freedom and even their lives. But they can't fight their blood or its power, so why not embrace it and dance fast and loose in life? Death comes for everyone, in the end.
Iron Cast is one long con, with twists and turns that will keep you guessing. The undisputed stars of the show are Corinne and Ada, with Corinne creating illusions with poetry and Ada manipulating your emotions with her violin. Step into the Cast Iron, order up a gin fizz, and let this story weave its spell of illusion.
I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.
This post is part of ARC August, hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat. Check out my other posts in the series, and find other bloggers participating in the challenge on Twitter using the hashtag #ARCAugust. Slay that ARC pile!