Iron and Magic
I read and enjoyed Ilona Andrews’ recent Hidden Legacy trilogy and was keen to read more of the authors’ work, so I nabbed a review copy of Iron and Magic without realising it’s a spin-off of the popular, long-running Kate Daniels series. Which I haven’t read. But I was intrigued by the blurb, which promises an uneasy alliance between a disgraced warlord and a magical being who should not exist, and when I realised that the aforementioned warlord was actually the villain in the Daniels books, I was even more intrigued – I do love it when a bad guy is transformed into a hero.
For anyone – like me – who hasn’t read the other series, I’ll try to give a bit of background information without getting too bogged down (and here I’ll say “Thank You” to Maggie Boyd for giving me a few pointers). Iron and Magic is the first book in the new Iron Covenant series, and is set in the Daniels universe, in a near future in which technology and magic vie for supremacy. When the tech is up, magic doesn’t work and vice versa, and there’s no way of telling when a magic wave will hit or how long it will last. Hugh d’Ambray, the Preceptor (leader) of the Iron Dogs was once the right hand of Roland, the god-like being who is Kate Daniels’ father, but has been cast out and is no longer in Roland’s good graces or under his protection. When we encounter Hugh at the beginning of the book, he’s been on a massive bender, he’s heartsick, directionless and heading downward in an ever increasing spiral of hopelessness and despair. The life he knew has been ripped away from him, along with his sense of self and his place in the world, and he’s a complete mess when he’s found by some of his men who tell him that the Iron Dogs are being wiped out by the Golden Legion, the necromancers who ‘operate’ Roland’s army of mindless vampires and are led by Landon Nez – who hates Hugh. Who hates him right back. The pair had been Roland’s two enforcers, and with Hugh’s exile, Nez’s power has increased. The news is bad – from a force of thousands, the Iron Dogs now number only three hundred, and clearly, Nez is intent in wiping every last one of them from the face of the Earth.
Hugh built the Iron Dogs into more than a fighting force; he forged a brotherhood, “a family, where each of us stands for something greater”. Hugh’s realisation that the remainder of his men need him to lead them finally sobers him up, and his determination to do what he can for the loyal Dogs who have always followed him is the first indication that this character – seen as a ruthless killer, a conscienceless butcher – is redeemable.
Sending out one of his inner circle to gather the rest of the Dogs, Hugh sets about solving their most immediate problem, which is finding a suitable base. Berry Hill in Kentucky is a definite possibility, a small settlement on good farm land near a lake, occupied by families with children, and a few witches and stray druids – who need protection from Nez because Roland is after their land. The Dogs need somewhere to live and the denizens of Berry Hill need protection; it sounds perfect. But the only way to hold off Nez is by a show of strength, so they’ll need any alliance they work out to look completely watertight… and the best way to do that is the ages-old method of marriage. Once Hugh gets over the shock, he realises he has few other options; they’re running out of food and they need somewhere to regroup… he might as well meet with their Lady – the White Warlock – and see they can hash out.
It’s clear from the first time we meet Elara Harper that she’s possessed of a powerful magic, but mostly her powers are kept fairly vague and we’re not told exactly why her enemies have branded her an Abomination; but this is a series, so I expect things will become clearer in subsequent books. She’s not wild about the idea of marrying a complete stranger either, but she will do whatever needs to be done to keep the people of Berry Hill safe. She and Hugh are alike in many ways – strong, stubborn and determined – so there’s no way they are ever NOT going to strike sparks off each other. They quickly find out how to push each other’s buttons and take delight in needling one another and I loved their constant snarky, and innuendo-laden bickering.
She gritted her teeth and put her hand into his.“Oh look, my skin isn’t smoking,” Hugh murmured.
“You’re overdoing it with the PDAs.”
“We’re newlyweds. If I threw you over my shoulder and dragged you into the woods, that would be overdoing it.”
The image flashed before her. “Try it. They won’t even find your bones.”
“Oh, darling, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding my bone.”
I particularly enjoyed the way in which the Dogs and Elara’s people begin to work together against their common enemy; I love scenes of strategising and watching the good guys figuring out how to outwit the bad guys, and the plot itself is well-constructed and executed, with plenty of action, laced with mysticism and magic. The fight-scenes and set-pieces are very well written and paint a vivid picture of the action in the mind’s eye; there are a few gruesome scenes, but nothing fans of this series or of urban fantasy in general are unlikely to have come across before.
Ultimately, however, it’s the central characters who really dominate and propel the story, and I’m definitely invested enough in knowing what happens next to want to read future books in the series. From reading reviews of the Kate Daniels novels, I gather that Hugh was something of a one-note character; Roland’s enforcer who was quick to violence and was without remorse. If that’s the case, then the authors have done an excellent job here of growing and rounding-out his character without giving him a personality transplant. He’s still quick to violence and he still doesn’t baulk at killing or doing whatever he must to ensure victory, but here, he’s making his own choices, and they’re based on things other than what Roland wants. Hugh is fighting for a cause, for the people he cares about and who rely on him for safety and protection; but even though he’s come to understand how far Roland used and manipulated him, he constantly struggles with feelings of loss and abandonment.
Elara is a fascinating character and I’m looking forward to finding out more about her and her magic. She’s as ruthlessly pragmatic as Hugh, and as determined to protect her people as he is to protect his; they clash, but can see that they are stronger united and are able to work together to achieve the desired end. They have great chemistry and it’s clear they’re strongly attracted to each other, but it’s too early for declarations; by the end of the book they’ve developed a genuine mutual respect and have arrived at a truce of sorts, and I’m looking forward to future developments.
Iron and Magic is a strong start to a new series, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.