The Iron Wyrm Affair (Bannon and Clare)
by Lilith Saintcrow
Cover Artist: Craig White
Review by Gayle Surrette
Orbit Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316201261
Date: 07 August 2012 List Price $13.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Iron Wyrm Affair, by Lilith Saintcrow, is a strange mix of magic, sorcery, technology, and steampunk. It's also a mystery and a political thriller set in what in our world would be the Victorian Era. As a book, it's engrossing, entertaining, exciting, sometimes humorous, and frustrating.
Dr. Archibald Clare, an unregistered mentath, is visited by Sorceress Prime Miss Emma Bannon and thus starts an adventure that will put them in danger and test their abilities in way they never would have thought or expected to survive.
Someone is killing and mutilating mentath, Clare is one of the few left alive, and Bannon must protect him until she can learn who is killing them and why. Bannon works directly for Queen Victrix, the current incarnation of Britannia. Much of the story takes place in Londinium.
The frustrating part of the book is that is sounds like a London with a Queen Victoria just changed a bit for the steampunk magical story that will be told. Saintcrow begins the story and doesn't explain anything so the reader will pull previous experience reading such books out of their mental bag of reading tricks and will find that just when they get comfortable, a strange and totally unexpected development will cause the reader to readjust to include this new data point. After a while, it becomes a sort of game between book and reader to figure out how this world works.
The reader is left out of the heads of the characters. You follow them closely but seldom, if ever, get a glimpse into what they are thinking. This keeps the reader guessing about what's going on and in some ways puts the reader in the place of Clare, who as a mentath is logical, data driven, and a bit of a Sherlock Holmes character. The reader only knows what is presented on the page -- the events the characters take part in and the information conveyed in conversations heard or told to some other characters.
None the less, the world is rich and what the observant reader will learn is that all of the major characters have hidden but presumably interesting backstories. Since The Iron Wyrm Affair is that beginning of a new series, we can only hope that in future books we'll learn more about Bannon and Clare and the world they inhabit. Because I doubt if many readers who finish this first book in the series will be able to resist reading the second when it hits the bookstores.