Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: Dead Iron

Next time you read your favorite Western novel or watch your favorite Western movie, picture this:

“He looked out far as he could see. There, through the scrub, cresting over the hill and pouring down toward him. Matics. He counted up to four, but more kept coming. So he stopped counting. Jeb found himself a stone to put at his back with plenty of room in front of him for swinging. He tugged the thresher arms off from over his shoulders and stood his ground.
Two of the matics spotted him. He licked his lips, already hungry for the sweetness in their heads.

The matics rushed.

Jeb Lindson smiled.

Then he started killing. (p. 155, Chp. 16 , Dead Iron, Devon Monk)”

Devon Monk’s Dead Iron is the type of novel that will make you reconsider how you feel about Westerns. Even if you’ve never had the urge to pick up a Western novel or watch a Western film you will love this book. It is definitely a steampunk Western which just proves my theory-- that if you add Sci-Fi or Fantasy elements to anything it instantly takes on an entirely different identity.


Bounty Hunter, Cedar Hunt, is a loner. He has to be. He is cursed to spend three nights a month as a werewolf and he is still suffering from the guilt he feels at killing his brother, Wil. Cedar is hated by the town of Hallejuah. They don’t quite trust him, even if they all don’t know his terrible secret.

When the blacksmith’s four-year-old son, Elbert, goes missing one night Cedar might be the child’s last hope for survival. Meanwhile Mae Lindson, a witch, has recently become a widow once she felt her husband Jeb’s death. As an interracial couple she and Jeb have always struggled in the town, but without Jeb, Mae is completely heartbroken and anxious to get revenge for her husband’s murder. Mae approaches Cedar about hunting the men responsible for Jeb’s murder, Cedar declines, anxious to find the young boy who is most likely still alive. Neither he nor Mae foresees their paths crossing as they eventually end up searching for the same man.


As a new fan of steampunk I was looking forward to reading this book and it came highly recommended by a friend. Monk’s writing style is phenomenal and one of the many highpoints of the book. The way she describes the town and the things the Cedar and the other characters see is amazing and worth reading the book for her literary style alone.  

Monk also does a great job of focusing on four different characters throughout the story, but in the end all of their stories diverge into one ending.

You quickly get the sense that unlike most classic, romantic, Westerns that you’re used to reading ,this story is a lot darker, more violent, and just maybe there might not be a happy ending by the end. There is certainly nothing forgiving about the Strange, the name used to describe the supernatural beings that are encountered throughout the novel. While many believe that the Strange is merely folklore, there are a few in the town that believe there are Strange among them, Rose Small and the Madder brothers included.

There were a few times throughout the book where I thought that the townsfolk were more in denial of the Strange and maybe not oblivious, but I think that the fact that they are so clueless adds a nice element to the story. It’s almost like there are two worlds in this series: the human world and the Strange world. I’m curious to see how both develop in later novels.

There was one thing that did bother me about the book, but not enough to give up on it, especially since this is just the first book in the series.
I can honestly say that it did take me a while to get to the point where I understood just what was going on.  The book sort of starts off at an odd point in the plot.  It’s almost like there should be something more to the back-story, which is almost nonexistent. You learn as you go along, which honestly I love in a lot of series but it didn’t really work for me here. There was a little too much going on already from the beginning which is why I think it didn’t work.  At one point I actually stopped reading just to be sure that I was reading the first book.

Despite that, I can honestly say that I am anxiously awaiting the next book.
If only all Westerns were like Dead Iron. I’d probably read (and watch) more of them.

Dead Iron is the first book in the Age of Steam series. More information about the next book coming soon.


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