Elizabeth Bear

"Blood and Iron"

(Reviewed by Shanna Shadowfax NOV 15, 2007)

Blood and Iron by Elixabeth Bear

For whatever reason, New York City tends to to be a favored backdrop for those writing urban fantasies involving faerie in some form. That's what originally drew me to this tale, since I have a penchant for collecting fantasy that takes place in my home setting. And I have a soft spot for contemporary fantasy with fae characters in general. Elizabeth Bear has gone about creating an epic tale that is out of legend and myth of old, from the tales of Camelot to the ballad of Tam Linn.

The Seeker was once a mortal woman, now bound to serve the Queen of Faerie and charged with bringing her the half-blood children from the human world. Seeker chafes against the bonds that hold her, but has no choice when the Queen lays a new geas upon her: to seek out the new Merlin--a being who is magic-- and seduce him into service for the realm of Faerie. But Seeker will have competition in her race to win the prize. Set against Faerie are the human mages of the Prometheus club. If they can convince the Merlin to join their side against the Fae, all of Faerie may be doomed. On the brink of war, this epic story's protagonists and antagonists must make their choices and ultimately watch the story play itself out.

The premise of this story is an interesting one, certainly this is a grand scale sort of epic fantasy, rather than the more intimate urban fantasy I'm used to. I was originally going to rate this only three stars, but to be fair it likely deserves at least three and half to four stars. I've not read Ms. Bear's work prior to this book, so I can't say if this story is indicative of her usual style, but I tend to like books that are more directly about character and less grand epic. I won't hold preference against a book, so I'll rate it four stars on the grounds that I do think there is some good writing and an intriguing story here--it just wasn't quite my cup of tea. This is an especially tragic and grim story with many bittersweet, dramatic and poignant moments. The story takes itself very seriously and explores themes of sacrifice and the prices paid for victory. I found that the lack of humor in this story made it bleaker than I particularly enjoyed, although given the storyline, it may be what the author intended. I prefer more humor--and humanity--in my reading as a rule, and I think it may have helped bring out the characters a bit more.

The main characters of this story felt too much like set pieces in the game--it was hard to like any of them or really identify with any of them. Even Matthew, the human mage, seems to keep a textual distance from the readers. I kept wanting to know more about these protagonists and their lives. Most of the novel is bound up in describing events and the patterns of myth that color those events. But I kept wishing to care more about the Seeker and her struggle to choose her path. And while the point of view shift from third to first person for Seeker was clearly done to accentuate the transformation of the character, the abrupt shift was hard to adjust to at first.

Only some of this epic story takes place in New York City, but the story is a fascinating revisit of the tale of Tam Linn, weaving in Arthurian legends to create something that profoundly echoes the old myths in a modern setting. There is a lot of blood and violence in this tale, but the author never uses it gratuitously--one of the points of this book is that Faerie tales are full of blood and violence, the sanitized versions for children to day are a pale imitation of those originals. It's a challenging plot line, as the author is crafting a book where no one side is in the right and all sides are fighting for survival. It's more than a little bleak, and there are enough characters and twists for the story to become confusing.

Nevertheless, this was a decent read--kept me reading straight through to the end without wanting to put it down. If you're a reader who likes contemporary fantasy with an epic feel and a sober storyline this might be just the story for you. If you prefer something light hearted or more character driven, you might find this a bit weighty and dark for your tastes. If you're looking for more urban fae fantasy to read, you might try War for the Oaks by Emma Bull or try Son of Darkness by Josepha Sherman.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Jenny Casey Novels:

New Amsterdam:

Jacob's Ladder:

  • Dust (December 2007)
  • Chill
  • Grail

Promethean Age Novels:

The Edda of Burdens:

Iskryne (With Sarah Monette):



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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Elizabeth BearElizabeth Bear (Sarah Bear Elizabeth Wishnevsky) was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1971. She lived in New England for 28 years and then spent seven years near Las Vegas.

She studied English and Anthropology at the University of Connecticut, but did not graduate. She has worked as a technical writer, a stable hand, a reporter, and in various office jobs. Though she sold a few stories to small-press publications in the '90s, she only began writing seriously in 2001, just after turning 30 and losing her job post 9-11. Her Jenny Casey trilogy won the Locus award and Carnival was nominated for the Phillip K. Dick Award.
She is the 2005 winner of the John W. Campbell New Writer award.

She now lives in Connecticut again.

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