Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dead Iron: The Age of Steam

Devon Monk is best known as the author of the Allie Beckstrom Urban Fantasy series, Dead Iron: The Age of Steam is her first foray into the ever growing world of steampunk.

What sets Dead Iron apart from a lot of other entries in this field is that is not set in Victorian England or Europe, but the American West during a mining boom as the railroads are opening up civilising and populating previously remote and inaccessible areas. I like it when an author is brave enough to take on an established subgenre and do something a little different with it, which is what Devon Monk is attempting to do with Dead Iron, although I believe Mike Resnick’s The Buntline Special does something similar (I have that in my TBR pile, just haven’t been able to get to it yet).

Dead Iron contains many of the Urban Fantasy tropes: werewolves, zombies and witches. It’s never specifically explained exactly what the menacing and mysterious Strange are, but they put the one that we did see a lot; Mr Shunt, in mind of some sort of steampunk cyborg vampire. It’s also only hinted at what exactly the book’s equivalent to the Three Stooges; the Welsh Madder brothers, are, but I felt they may have been some sort of dwarvish protectors.

The book has more than one central character, although the taciturn, tortured, lantern jawed Cedar Hunt, a man cursed with lycanthropy who believes he has murdered his brother, is obviously the ‘hero’. Other protagonists are the vengeful witch Mae Lindsom, her recently deceased husband Jeb and the largely shunned orphan girl Rose Small. The villain is the dandy railroad man; Shard Lefel and his evil assistant with a pencnat for stovepipe hats; Mr Shunt. It was never spelled out, but Lefel may have been a necromancer, he put me in mind of Harry Groener’s Mayor Wilkins from Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who was also seeking immortality, which seemed to be Lefel’s ultimate goal and reason for wanting possession of an item known as the Holder.

The plot concerns Hunt’s efforts to track down a missing child and do a favour for the Madder brothers, this brings him into direct conflict with Lefel, and also links him with the other 3 protagonists. Mae is trying to track down Jeb and make his killers pay. Jeb’s trying to exact vengeance for his death and Rose just wants out of Hallelujah. For what sounds like something pretty messy it holds together fairly well.

Dead Iron is relatively self contained, although the sub title suggests a series, and I think Devon Monk may be at work on the sequel. It’s a worthy entry into the steampunk field and it’s a fairly original premise. I don’t regret the purchase or the time taken to read it, and that’s always a good start. There’s plenty of scope for more of the stories of Cedar and friends, the epilogue hints that readers have not seen the last of Mr Shunt, and we have yet to find out more about the Madder brothers and Rose Small. I look forward to exploring Devon Monk’s brave new world some more in the future.


  1. I would probably read more steampunk if it took place in the American West! ^_^

  2. The good news Hobbit, is that with Mike Resnick's series (the sequel to The Buntline Special has just come out) and this series, it appears to be a growing part of the genre. Thanks for the comment and I hope you give Dead Iron a shot.