JOINT REVIEW: Iron & Magic by Ilona Andrews
Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, served only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master has cast him aside. Hugh is a shadow of the warrior he was, but when he learns that the Iron Dogs, soldiers who would follow him anywhere, are being hunted down and murdered, he must make a choice: to fade away or to be the leader he was born to be. Hugh knows he must carve a new place for himself and his people, but they have no money, no shelter, and no food, and the necromancers are coming. Fast.
Elara Harper is a creature who should not exist. Her enemies call her Abomination; her people call her White Lady. Tasked with their protection, she’s trapped between the magical heavyweights about to collide and plunge the state of Kentucky into a war that humans have no power to stop. Desperate to shield her people and their simple way of life, she would accept help from the devil himself—and Hugh d’Ambray might qualify.
Hugh needs a base, Elara needs soldiers. Both are infamous for betraying their allies, so how can they create a believable alliance to meet the challenge of their enemies?
As the prophet says: “It is better to marry than to burn.”
Hugh and Elara may do both.
Content warning: Violence. The sex scene had mild BDSM undertones. (The sex was fully consensual.)
Sirius & I both read Iron & Magic as soon as it came out. We thought it would be fun to review it together. ~ Kaetrin ~
Sirius: Your Kate Daniels books are my favorite urban fantasy series, period, and I was not about to miss any new stories from that world, but I do read your blog on a regular basis and let me just say that the possibility of the upcoming redemption of Hugh D’Ambray, torturer, killer, kidnapper and all around nice guy left me highly sceptical.
Not so sceptical as to make me not want to buy the book, of course, and once I started reading, I *could not stop*. I love my work, but on that day, I could not wait for the day in the office to be over so I could finish the book. It was highly readable and very entertaining.
Kaetrin: Yes, I gobbled this one up too. It was a cracker of a read – like a roller coaster but without the nausea and fear.
Sirius: The blurb is perfect. We catch up with depressed and drunk Hugh at the same time when several of the soldiers under his command previously locate him and basically beg him to come back and lead as he used to, because Landon Nez and his people (another nice guy who is serving under Roland) is killing them one after another. Hugh does not want that to continue and takes over the leadership again; however, he and his people are hungry, tired and need the base to recharge.
Hugh’s officers find a base for him – a castle relatively close by where some people led by Elara Harper took refuge and made the castle their own. They make and sell a lot of plant-based drugs and have other things they do in order to make money. We know and learn that a lot of Elara’s people and Elara herself are magic users. I am not going to tell you what kind of magic users they are, but I will say that the authors once again introduced a lot of fascinating magical stuff. I loved it, but by now I have learned to expect that. Elara is very powerful. We see a lot of what she can do by the end of the book, but since this is the first book of the trilogy we don’t know the full extent of her powers yet, or how and why she came to manifest her powers in the first place.
The thing is, Elara does not think she and her people can hold off Landon Nez and his army, who have tried to run them off their land for a long time now and will not mind resorting to violence if everything else fails.
So as the blurb tells you:
“Hugh needs a base, Elara needs soldiers. Both are infamous for betraying their allies, so how can they create a believable alliance to meet the challenge of their enemies?
As the prophet says: “It is better to marry than to burn.”
Hugh and Elara may do both. “
I hope it is not a spoiler that Hugh and Elara enter into an arranged marriage and a very real alliance.
Kaetrin: No, I don’t think it is a spoiler at all. It happens very early in the book and it’s almost impossible to talk about the story without mentioning it.
The snark between Hugh and Elara was something special. By the end of the book it was foreplay but at the start, it is mostly Hugh goading Elara for a reaction – one he almost always gets.
“And just to be crystal clear,” Elara said. “This marriage is in name only.”
“Sweetheart, you couldn’t pay me enough.”
Pink touched her tan cheeks. “If you betray us, I’ll make you suffer.”
“We haven’t even married yet, and I’m suffering already.”
“We have that in common,” she snapped.
Sirius: I thought they had wonderful chemistry together. They sniped at each other all the time, but this was a case when fighting made perfect sense to me – initially neither had time to come to grips with the decision which they freely made for the sake of their people, but when they eventually come to understanding I felt it was well earned.
Kaetrin: Yes, I think the set up was pretty well done as far as the reasons for the marriage and why they had to make it look authentic to outsiders. I had a bit of cognitive dissonance throughout the story though (I expect this was a deliberate choice on the authors’ part) because the whole arrange marriage, being in an actual castle, the helmets and armour Hugh wore when riding into battle and the gowns Elara wore (I don’t entirely know why – maybe she just likes them?) all felt very medieval. But then Hugh would open the fridge in his room or there’d be discussion of machine guns and I’d be all ‘what’?
Sirius: Certainly. At times I get such dissonance when I read Kate Daniels too. But then I remind myself that this is the word where magic and tech coexist together – well, one comes after another in waves – and I shrug off the coexistence of medieval and older than medieval things, magical things and contemporary things as a feature of the world, not as a bug if that makes sense.
I am not saying that you have to remind yourself about that, I know you know that, I guess I am trying to say that I do agree with you that this was a deliberate choice from the authors.
But what about Hugh’s redemption? I will say this; the authors did a *fantastic* job under the circumstances. They did not shy away from every single accident which could have been a road block in the Hugh’s transformation and tried to either explain it away, or confront it head on and let Hugh face it.
Most certainly I enjoyed Hugh as a hero in *this book*. Did I buy all explaining away? Not really, no – couple of times I laughed and shook my head, because I did not buy into the revisionist history, or because I kept wondering just where the guilt was coming from in Hugh’s character, but overall, they transformed him nicely. I will not even claim that he got a personality transplant, because he was a vicious bastard and remained such. I would just question where he found his morals, but I went along with it because the book was so much fun.
Kaetrin: Yes, I felt the same way. There was an explanation as to why he didn’t apparently feel remorse when he was acting as Roland’s warlord – I bought it but only because I wanted to, not entirely because I was convinced by it – but that didn’t quite fit with some of the, as you say “revisionist history” that was scattered throughout the story. I’d have to go back and re-read all the Kate Daniels books to fully remember all of Hugh’s bad acts as detailed (and it probably helped that it’s been a while and there have been many books in between so I don’t have a clear memory of exactly how vicious he was shown to be in that series) but the explanation for what he did to Ascanio didn’t ring true, particularly with the explanation about his lack of remorse. If he didn’t feel remorse then, how could the revised version of the torture of Ascanio be accurate? Surely these actions are of someone with a conscience?
However, as you did, I was enjoying the book so much I wasn’t really bothered by it. It was only after I finished reading, when I really thought about it, that some of the plot holes (if that’s the right phrase) became apparent to me. When I was reading, I was just along for the ride, totally enjoying the story. I’ve chosen not to think about some of the things about Hugh’s history and the way he was presented in Iron & Magic too much because I don’t want to spoil my enjoyment by too deep a dive in hindsight.
I ended up seeing Hugh as a hero too and I bought into the relationship with him and Elara and wanted them to get their HEA. So, to that extent, yes, the authors pulled off his redemption.
This new life, it was just his. Hugh didn’t owe it to anyone. He was building it himself, brick by brick, one shovel of cement at a time, the same way he had built that damn moat. He was building his own castle, and for better or worse, the harpy wormed her way into his world and became its tower.
Sirius: I suppose I have to settle on “explaining away” previous accidents rather than “revisionist history” because nothing was really changed, the authors just gave the new motivations and the reader will either find them plausible or not. I think most of what they came up with as motivations/reasons for Hugh’s actions *could* have been true, so that was partially the reason why I rolled with it even if I did not completely buy that it *was* true at the time.
Kaetrin: I know Iron & Magic is the first in a trilogy and the authors have described it as “Hugh’s book”. That made sense to me because the first thing that had to happen was for readers to buy Hugh as a hero. I expect the next book will focus more on Elara. There are still many things readers don’t know about her. I have so many questions!! Who really are the Departed? What is the true nature of Elara’s power? (I have a theory but we’ll see.)
Sirius: I have a theory too where Elara’s powers are concerned, or I should say I had such a theory and friend debunked it. So now I cannot wait to find out?
Kaetrin: I also had questions about the motivation of the “mrogs”, who controls them and why they were attacking settlements around the castle. And there wasn’t an explanation (yet at least) for why Landon Nez was so set on taking over the castle – because whatever else was going on, it was clear that Nez/Roland wanted that land well before Hugh got anywhere near it.
Sirius: Yep, I think it was a nice bit of misdirection from the authors. Oh look that is why Nez attacked the castle. What about him wanting the land before as you said? I am speculating that there is something really valuable somewhere inside.
I admit that I was not too curious about mrogs. I catalogued it in my head as to be revealed later, and on its own I was not too intrigued about their origins. Which probably means it will be something really important and/or fun.
Kaetrin: I enjoyed the building romance between Hugh and Elara very much. It was a slow burn in some ways, with the romantic tension almost seamlessly integrated between the action of the story. I think in one of the recent Kate Daniels books I commented that I felt the sex scene was a little too explicit – perhaps my reaction was that it was just more so than in previous books, perhaps it was something else but either way, it didn’t quite work for me. It felt a little like a deliberate attempt to ramp up the heat level of the book rather than organic to Kate’s and Curran’s story. However, the heat level here worked for me totally. The sex is explicit and earthy – that fit entirely with Elara and Hugh and how their relationship worked. Their sex isn’t sparking rainbows and Barry White music – it’s far more raw and primal than that. The language and descriptions used were perfect for Hugh and Elara.
Sirius: Once again agreed – not that sex scene in Kate Daniels was too explicit, but honestly, I just did not care much for it. Here – yes, totally in line with how I saw the characters and hot.
Kaetrin: I also enjoyed many of the secondary characters – Hugh’s lieutenants and Elara’s council. They felt fully fleshed out even though there is clearly vastly more to them than we know already.
Sirius: I enjoyed several secondary characters too, but to me there is a reason why readers of Kate Daniels have always wanted more stories about secondary characters. What is on page is interesting, but what is hinted is even more interesting to me. Here as well, I would love for more stories for secondary characters or just for them to be fleshed out. We all noted Stoyan checking out Joanna for example. Right? Right?
Kaetrin: Yes! Maybe there will be a spinoff of the spinoff. LOL
Sirius: Grade: B+
Kaetrin: Yes, I agree. I’m going with a B+ too.
The point of having a castle isn’t hiding inside its walls; it’s being worthy of it.