Book Review – Iron and Magic – Ilona Andrews – repost

ironmagic-900Iron and Magic – Ilona Andrews

TLDR: ….here’s the thing: I rate books differently depending on what genre they are—and I can’t decide what genre this book is.

If it’s a romance, it’s a solid 5/5: it has a romance in the A-plot, but it also has an actual A-plot and characters who don’t completely fall apart once they start sleeping together.

If it’s a standard pseudo-medieval fantasy, it’s a 4/5: it has warlords who seem genuinely dangerous and leaders who lay plans and think ahead, act like leaders rather than 20th-century office workers.

If it’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy thriller, it’s a 3/5…because, damnit, that’s the setting, and therefore that’s the genre by default, right? But it kept slipping into stupid romance-novel cliches, or dumb fantasy cliches, or dumb Hollywood cliches, and insulting its own intelligence in the process.

Pros/Cons: My likes and problems with this book are the same as with the Kate Daniels series: it’s at its best when it focuses on the worldbuilding and characterization….and yet it resolutely doesn’t play to its strengths and eventually just gives up and coasts on a smooth lane of cliche.

Plot: Hugh d’Ambray, after failing once too many times at doing whatever he was supposed to do to Kate in the previous series, was placed on administrative leave by Roland. Hugh proceeds to get very drunk. Roland has also decided to thin out those among his men who might be more personally loyal to Hugh than to him. These proceed to die, until they get back together with Hugh and demand he do something about it. So: Hugh has a small army, but no home base, no supplies, allies, or resources. Elara, leader of The Departed (no, they don’t explain it either), has a castle, farmlands, and four thousand people to protect….but somehow doesn’t have anyone to do the protecting. She and Hugh contract a marriage alliance. They also immediately fall in hate with each other (rather strangely, because there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for it), and spend the rest of the book bickering until they finally fall into bed.

Why does The Bailey of The Departed need protecting? Because Roland’s new warlord, Landon Nez, is expanding his territory throughout the Midwest, and small magical communities like Elara’s are his direct targets. So Hugh must fortify Bailey (his battle for access to the bulldozers is one of the most relatable…*wince*…parts) and prepare for the coming fight. Meanwhile, there’s also supernatural weirdos in strange armor systematically attacking and slaughtering the nearby settlements…who also happen to be anti-magic bigots who won’t accept the help of Them Thar Dad-gum Magical Folk, You Can’t Trust ‘Em None (Throw Some Rocks, That’ll Learn ‘Em To Stay Away.)

Worldbuilding: like, how do you dig a seventy-five by ten foot moat and make it waterfast? Well, bulldozers, and then line it with concrete. But where are you going to get the volcanic ash for the Roman concrete? And who’s paying for the fuel? And your precious moat is lower priority than the sewer system, and the concrete isn’t setting right so did you waste our money? And what, oh, you want generators now? You’re pulling people off of the maintenance crew now? Where are we going to get the fuel for the generators and what if we need those men for the gardens? Yep. YYYYYUP. (I recounted this part to one of the maintenance leads at my first job. He wanted to know what the book was and why the author was mocking him.)

But then for the main conflict they use the laziest device ever: the keystone army that dissolves when you kill the queen. The authors needed a Danger to provide exciting action sequences, but needed it not to be too difficult, since the heroes have limited options and resources. Instead of spending some brainpower to come up with a suitable threat–say, roving band of warlocks from Canada; or a nearby settlement that decides Bailey is now a threat and wants to cripple them preemptively; or The Pack, or the IRS, or something–we get mind-controlled Neanderthals, from nowhere, without context, any kind of buildup or backstory, nothing. BORING. BOOOOOORING. Oh, and can you guess that once you take down the queen the rest of the threat stops in its tracks? SUUUUUPER BORING. Ugh.

Characters: I have better things to say about the characters. All two of them.

Hugh has to play a double role of warlord and romantic hero; but here’s the thing. A warlord isn’t going to be a hard bastard all the time; he has to have charisma, he has to demonstrate intelligence, and he has to be able to sweet-talk or reassure the people he can’t intimidate. I’d actually say that they hit the mark with this: Hugh’s code-switching is done perfectly, and you get a man whom men will trust immediately. Also dogs and kids. (Although the little girl was a bit of an overkill). And, given his powerset–he’s an immensely strong healer, as well as a master swordsman–he’s fun to watch in a fight…theoretically. There aren’t really as many good fight scenes as there ought to be. (Post apocalypse? Fights. Thriller? Fights. Romance novel? No fights.) As far as his character arc, it’s nothing new; we know he’s going to snap out of his drunken funk just as surely as we know he’s going to shape up into the man our heroine can sleep with; and we know he’s going to protect the Bailey and not back down. This isn’t a problem. Tropes are tools, and as long as they are used right–as they are here–it’s satisfying to read.

Elara Harper is also a pretty good heroine: a thoughtful, cunning leader who values life despite the rumor that her people engage in human sacrifice and that she’s the host of some kind of eldritch abomination from the elder days that not even Roland wants to cross…and even with this, she’s hampered by, again, the romance-genre tropes. Instant dislike to her new husband? Check. (I even re-read the scene again. There really is no reason for them both to start breaking out the insults while in the middle of negotiating for their people’s lives). “Fiery” personality that engages in charged bickering with her significant other? Check. Goes to extra lengths to keep him off because she’s really attracted? Check. Actually very soft-hearted and caring underneath? Check. Is any of this a problem? No; tropes are tools. These are just a little more obvious than they should be, and I noticed them a little easier.

Minor characters, such as boisterous, blunt berserker-bro Bale (I wonder if that is exactly what the author’s notes say about him) and the deaf-mute advisor girl who communicates in sign language (because she’s a banshee), remain minor but shouldn’t have. This is where the romance-genre tropes work against the book, by focusing things too much on the main duo rather than letting others get time in the limelight.

Action: is OK. My current gold standard for action writing is Larry Correia’s stuff. Hugh being someone who can heal himself or even his opponent as he fights is something that might come in handy for writing a really brutal fight scene….yeah, no. Well, again; if we call this a romance novel and not a post-apocalyptic thriller, then this isn’t a problem. (WHAT GENRE IS THIS BOOK?! It’s so good when it’s not a romance!)

The other problem is the use of that the really stupid Hollywood cliche “only the hero can do anything heroic on-camera. ” It’s a cliche that shouldn’t be here, just by the book’s own logic.–there’s quite a bit of setup of how Hugh’s Iron Dogs work, are disciplined and competent…and should be able to do things like send out patrols and investigate suspicious happenings and report back to their boss, who is having dinner with some bigwigs and should have no reason whatsoever to be wandering around getting in a fight.

I will favorably mention one scene I thought particularly good: it’s simple, no frills, no magic, nothing fancy…just a child, a monster, a woman, and a shotgun, in a room.

Humor: is used deftly. “You’re handsome, a big, imposing figure of a man, and um…” Lamar scrounged for some words. “And they’re desperate.” Even the slap-slap-kiss romantic bickering is more amusing than annoying.

Oh, and the post-apocalyptic wedding having an official DJ, photographer, and videographer? Pretty good. Preparing to host a self-proclaimed Viking with “one of those big barrels filled with beer, trust me, it works every time”? Hilarious. Like I said, the worldbuilding is one of the strengths of this book, and that includes throwing in funny, as well as realistic, details whenever you can. If only the authors had done it more.

In conclusion: I liked this book enough to read it in one sitting, write 1500-odd words about it, and want to read the next one. Check it out; it’s pretty good.

Love and Destiny – CDrama recap – Ep 28

So….Yun Feng….
…..appears to have abducted Lord Fang and is forcing him to make porridge.

Lord Fang is not on board with this. “A warrior can be killed but not insulted!” Also, it doesn’t appear to be going very well…AND LOL Yun Feng forces him to keep doing it. DUDE. Is he putting extra pepper in on purpose? So finally Yun Feng allows him to leave, this idea was a bust. Is he going to try it himself?

So…Qing Yao finally wakes up to to some “acceptable” porridge that poor Yun Feng has spent probably quite a while on. But she eats it without comment and even smiles. And then makes a run for it while Yun Feng is out of the room, looks like. Lol. The course of true love, etc.

Back at home, we’ve skipped ahead to Lin Mo being all grown up! She’s hugging the peach tree, because. And she’s hauling water and being useful, because that’s how she is. Meanwhile, her sister is still a brat and complaining about food to the servants.

OH BOY. Here we go. So, dad’s friend is here to propose to Lin Mo!–on behalf of his son, whew–and he doesn’t care that she’s deaf because she’s a kind, considerate, able person. YAY! He promises to treat her very well. Dad is worried about his Mo…but he hopes that they will take care of her. The future father in law guy is making way too big of a deal that they will. There’s going to be an evil stepmother here somewhere.

But in the meanwhile, there’s definitely one here at home. All the women of the house, with the exception of Mom, automatically think it’s going to be Little Sis. So of course they’re congratulating him…until it comes out that it’s going to be Mo.

Meanwhile in Heaven, Jiu Chen is watching. Si Ming cowers reflexively, because it’s not his fault. But! Si Ming has also sussed out that Ling Xi’s hearing may be related to Blue Guy regaining his senses. Jiu Chen goes off to investigate.

Lol, the imp is in there…and Jiu Chen tells it to get lost. Good, that thing was evil.

Oh, poor Blue Guy. He wants desperately to see his old boss, the god of fire and find out why he was betrayed and framed…but that guy’s dead. Blue Guy has been in the tower for seventy thousand years. Jiu Chen tells him: is he sure that the god of fire did all that to harm him? Turns out, god of fire didn’t die of natural causes–he was killed by the demon king and extinguished. So Blue Guy not being at the battle was the only thing that spared his life. And, after all, it’s been seventy thousand years and Blue Guy hasn’t figured out why the boss would have wanted to hurt him….

His boss was trying to protect him. By having him be stripped of all five senses and thrown in jail for seventy thousand years. Well. That’s sad whichever way you look at it.
Blue Guy bows to his spirit’s memory AND GIVES BACK ALL OF HIS FIVE SENSES AGAIN, WHAT NOOO poor guy. But, ok. So Jiu Chen asked for Ling Xi’s hearing but promised to try and have him released. But Blue Guy doesn’t have any reason to leave now, and plans to just stay in the tower and cultivate his power. He’s giving up his chance for the others, too, as penance. That’s still sad!

Jiu Chen at this point realizes that Ling Xi doesn’t know what the plan is to rescue her and died despairing. Blue Guy apologizes for making this be the case, and offered up the rest of his senses in penance.

So. Jiu Chen wants to give Ling Xi her hearing back directly. Si Ming has a better alternative (that won’t hurt her in her mortal form): a magical fruit.

Back at home: Dad is discussing the marriage with Mo. He tells her it’s going to be pretty good because the family genuinely likes her, are good people, and will treat her well. And the guy she’s going to marry is intelligent, well-educated and well-off. Also, dad likes the folks and they live nearby.

There’s a short scene of Lin Mo/Ling Xi being industrious and careful. After a cat spills her medicine tray, she is carefully sifting through the things on the ground and separating the different herbs by smell. Heh, is she a better doctor as a human than as a goddess? Anyhow, Dad is giving her a bunch of herbs to smell, and a book for herb gathering. Oh, aw, OK.

So Lin Mo sets off to go gather herbs. Alone. I have a feeling that’s not really safe if you’re deaf. So she doesn’t seem to have noticed anything amiss until she actually sees the rainclouds overhead. She then, what? trips over a rock and ends up in a trapper snare.

And, naturally, Jiu Chen flies in to the rescue.

AW! He comments she’s grown, and she asks if he’s the one who’s been guarding her all her life. He says no (It’s probably Qing Yao), but then, LOL. She thinks he’s her fiance guy, and he just changes the subject.

OOOO, boy is making strides. He’s gotten a glimpse of an ankle already, woooo dayum. But she has a nasty bruise and WOOOOOOO this boy going FAST. He’s offering her a hand up and a piggyback ride, oh booooooy.


Anyhow, they get caught in the rain and have to take shelter. She’s cold and he committs breaking and entering (it’s okay if you’re a god?) to bring her a brazier. Meanwhile, Lin Mo moves fast, too. She taking his pulse and everything. Oh, wait, he doesn’t have a pulse. Jiu Chen, you’re on thin ice here. Be careful!!!

But they get to sit together and watch the rain for a while. LOL, Jiu Chen magic-hands the rain to keep going while her back is turned. (That is the dumbest great idea in the history of dumb bright romantic ideas.)