** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **
There is something about approaching a debut novel by an author that is very awe-inspiring to me. It may sound incredibly hokey, but I feel like it is akin to unwrapping a writer for the very first time, and seeing what their wonder and peculiarities are, and, by the time I make it partially through the book, see how this fledgling will fare.
To follow further into this horrible metaphor, when I approached Mr. Oakes’ “nest” of City of Iron and Dust, he shot out of the nest, circled me a few times and then promptly took a few dive-bombs at me in the first handful of pages.
Our intrepid journey begins with a prologue explaining how the world was all magic, happiness, and light amongst the fae folk until the goblins came streaming down from the North headed up by the terrible Mab. Using her horrible magic, Mab destroyed the fae forest cities, and, in their place, the goblins created great cities of iron, steel, and glass: subjugating the fae until they withered under the oppression.
For the years after, the goblins ruled, and the fae became the downtrodden grist for the mill. Five great Goblin Houses arose, and with each, a tower. The current-day portion of the story, however, kicks off with a mysterious penthouse/charnel house and an even more mysterious package of white powder.
From the prologue we begin to see how this story is going to unfold. Like all good adventures, this story kicks off in a bar. A working-class fae dive, to be exact. Three goblins enter the picture. These goblins should not be in this bar, let alone the entire neighborhood, but the ringleader, Jag, heir to House Red Cap, is trying to make a point to her half-goblin/half-sister, Sil, who also happens to be Jag’s bodyguard. Also accompanying is Bazzack, but he is hardly important.
Also in this bar are two other very important characters to this story, Knull and Edwyll, though neither knows the other is there (this becomes important later).
This all sets the scene, and when that scene blows up (and it blows up spectacularly), this wave of destruction fans out throughout the Iron City and fae society. Some of it is related, some of it pure coincidence. Either way, the story gets very spicy very quickly. Let’s just say that fae insurrection, a whole lot of magical drug, and even more Goblin House posturing and politicking makes for an incredibly interesting read.
What I love most about City of Iron and Dust is all of the big things it hits on that are so familiar in my years of consuming popular culture, literature and film. The entire setup — as well as most of the story — just reeks of a massive Shadowrun campaign (someone should seriously write one). I was also often reminded of Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, certain aspects of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, a dash of Manchurian Candidate, and you just can’t avoid the giant Akira’s Tetsuo moment near the end.
What held me in the story was the structure of how it was written, and the visceral meat of the political and class intrigue. The reader really does get to see all facets of this highly oppressive society, and where there is a lot of unexplained “mixing” and counter-ideologies that seem to sprout from no logical place. There is compassion where the nature of that character would not dictate it, and there is cruelty that seems to sprout from all the wrong reasons.
One thing I really loved about this novel, which, oddly, has annoyed me with others, is Mr. Oakes’ style of heading up each section with the name of the character from whom the point of view is presented. In many scenes, this allowed me to consider the change in perspective when several of the characters might be experiencing the same scene, and maybe even be in the same room.
The other thing I rather enjoyed is the pacing. City of Iron and Dust is very fast-paced, but it does not feel rushed. Mr. Oakes takes the time to fully develop each interaction, and, as such, the reader is able to develop a very well-defined view of what might be going on in the many scenes of total chaos. The incredibly puzzle-piece fit of the dialogue also helps immensely with this.
Don’t even get me started on the conflict choreography and styling. It’s an utter masterpiece.
City of Iron and Dust has so many themes that would appeal to a hugely wide variety of potential readers. If you like high magic/fantasy, that box is checked. If you like political intrigue, that box is also checked. If you like crime, drug, or class war stories, all of those boxes are checked. Finally, if you like stories of perseverance and truly believing in what you fight for (good or bad), that box has a big ol’ check.
Kudos to Mr. Oakes for putting this one out there. I really hope this is a world that we get to revisit in the future. I can’t wait to see what comes next.