Iron & Velvet
Iron & Velvet is the first and highly disappointing book in a series of silly-gritty whodunits featuring Kate Kane, a mortal, hard-drinking investigator of paranormal mysteries. Physically, she’s eternally beautiful and emotionally she’s in constant trouble. Mourning the death of her partner, Archer, Kane is a derelict detective with a succubus secretary named Ashriel and a bad reputation because her inaction got Archer killed.
There are four princes who rule the vampires of England – Cups, Coins, Swords and Wands (as I report this, I’m currently being ruled by Groans). Cups – aka Ms. Julian Saint –Germain – has ruled the vampire realm for eight hundred years, and before that she was a demon-hunting ninja nun. It’s she who approaches Kate for help investigating the murder of Andrew V.H. Vane-Tempest, a member of a prominent London werewolf family who was murdered outside of The Velvet, a high class club. Kate and Julian share an instant attraction and plenty of banter, but Kate doesn’t date vampires – does she?
The premise of Iron & Velvet is so, so exciting and the execution is so, so disappointing. A hard-drinking pansexual private dick who’s a bit of a fuck-up but has her heart in the right place? A parody of hard-boiled noir? That’s done boffo for many authors before. This book should not have been an exception to the rule, and yet it is – drowning in weak homages and poorly executed ideas.
And Kate starts out brilliantly as a realistically hard-boiled detective, a human in a world full of creatures just bumbling along and drinking a lot. But by the midpoint of the novel, development eludes her, and the reader is left unsure if we’re supposed to take her seriously as a character or not.
As a fellow pansexual person, I had to cringe at several stereotypical elements used in Kate’s characterization. For instance, there is not a single character in this story that Kate either hasn’t fucked or doesn’t want to fuck, which puts forward a truly gross stereotype about pansexual women being unselective, and that made me cringe. I’m completely on board for sexually independent female characters, but Kate’s appraisal of the succubus assistant, for instance, is frankly gross and would be gross regardless of her gender or orientation. Also Kate goes days without bathing. I guess supernatural creatures get the heaving moists for the scent of BO.
Unfortunately, Kate’s hard-boiled noir-esque voice crashes into nonsensically florid and over-the-top imagery in the book’s two sex scenes. Would a Bogart character, for instance, be thinking this as he and Bacall crease the sheets?
“She sparkled in my mouth like champagne. My kisses landed on her skin as vivid as butterflies.”
Kate also repeatedly compares Julian to pudding. It’s as if the romance in this book was shoe-horned in at the request of the publisher or ripped from another book; aside from their physical attraction and their okay banter, I have no idea why Kate and Julian fell in love one another.
Kate is a simply awful disaster of a PI (again a tweaking of genre conventions) but not only do people fall over themselves to fuck her, they fall over themselves to hire her, even as she gets people around her killed due to her ineptitude. The author takes it so far you wonder how she’s able to smoke and walk at the same time, and she has violet eyes because jokes! Basically, take Bella Swan, give her a level in badass, make her an alcoholic and you have Kate.
Which I believed was the author’s intent. In case you didn’t catch it above, Iron & Velvet is utterly laden with genre homages, to the point where it becomes distracting to read the book because you get pulled out of its spell frequently by these breaks, shouting ‘I get that reference!’ like you’re Steve Rogers. It wants to be a Mel Brooks movie, but comes off as a Seltzer and Friedberg production.
The lead’s name being Kate Kane (alias of Batwoman in the DC Comics universe) is just one instance. Another example: the vampire cop named Patrick who continues to stalk Kate and leave art on her pillow every night, and tries to tell her what’s best for her and her life is not only a creepily possessive jerk whom she met in high school biology class, he sparkles. Demons, for some reason, talk in allcaps like Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series. Funny! Kind of? Gross? Very! Not to mention the obvious Anita Blake and Kate Daniels homages. In fact, the novel comes very close to serving as a flat-out Daniels parody.
Iron & Velvet doesn’t seem to know if it’s a mystery that should be taken seriously or a parody homage in the vein of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. Which is why I can’t recommend it, but it doesn’t get an F. I did laugh a few times. At least twice intentionally!
Note: This is a reissue of a title originally published in 2013.