Sunday 15 July 2018

#CBR10 Book 54: "Iron and Magic" by Ilona Andrews

Page count: 396 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

While this is technically the first book in a new series, which can be read on its own, this book fits into the larger framework of the Kate Daniels universe (where this book is book 9.5 out of 10). So there's quite a bit of back story you're missing out on if you've not read the other books first. While the first book is rough, the series as a whole is my favourite paranormal/urban fantasy series, probably ever, so if you like the genre and haven't checked them out yet, do yourself a favour and get caught up before you read this book.

Plot summary stolen from Goodreads:
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.

This book was never meant to exist. Hugh D'Ambray, the male protagonist of this book (can't really bring myself to call him a hero yet, he's very much not one) started out as one of the main antagonists in Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series. His forces killed off a beloved supporting character. He was the main henchman for the series' ultimate villain and did his job really very well indeed. On April 1st, 2015, the authors posted a fake cover and blurb, suggesting that they were writing a book about Hugh. It was meant to be a joke, but the response from their fans was overwhelming. As the authors explain here three years later (when the book was well and truly completed), they got enough requests for the book and thought about it long enough that they realised they could actually make the book a reality.

Hugh really is not a nice man, but Ilona Andrews are absolutely amazing writers and I had absolute faith that if they decided to publish a book about him, he would be worthy of their efforts (the authors, while they put their characters through a lot of pain and misery, are big believers in ultimate happy endings). They were never going to spend time and effort writing a book and waste money self-publishing it if it wasn't going to sell, and be an entertaining story. The fact that apparently Hugh will feature in not just ONE book of his own, but a trilogy, was a delightful surprise.

I really wasn't sure what to expect, but I've said before that if Ilona Andrews decide to publish their shopping lists, I am going to buy them (probably in multiple formats) - so whether they made it believable that any woman would actually marry Hugh (and most likely fall for him over the course of the story) was really rather secondary to me. What was refreshing is that they don't in any way retcon what has gone before in the Kate Daniels books. Hugh was a villain. He did really bad things, all on the orders of Roland, his master and the Godlike figure that gave him power and a reason to live. Of course, all those books are told from the POV of Kate Daniels - we only see one side of things. In this book, Hugh openly reflects on and tells his new allies about his past, and we get to see his side of things. He's still not a good guy, by any means, but a much more believable anti-hero. When we begin the book, Roland - the magical powerhouse that Hugh has spent pretty much his entire life serving, has cast him out and to him, it feels like his God forsook him and there is just a horrible gaping void where his purpose used to be. Hugh pretty much wants to drink himself to death, but what remains of his loyal lieutenants won't let him. They want him to save what is left of their forces and start fighting back.

There aren't a lot of places where a small ragtag army of highly trained fighters and their disgraced commander can find shelter, and Hugh isn't exactly thrilled when he finds out he will have to marry a stranger with unknown magical powers to secure it. Of course, his potential bride, Elara Harper doesn't exactly think he's the catch of the century either. In this book, we don't find out a whole lot about Elara or the reason her people were driven away from the others they used to live with (or why they were willing to use some serious dark magic to summon some horrible beasties to wreak havoc on her wedding day), but she's clearly extremely powerful, and needs to fight to remain in control of her powers.

One of the reasons I didn't feel I could give this book a full five stars is because the authors wouldn't give a few more hints about Elara and her powers, but I guess all will be revealed in the books to come. As always, this book has a great cast of characters - with a diverse cast of supporting players as well as some pretty sinister threats facing our protagonists, not all of them sent by Roland. While making Hugh an main character in his own right and giving him a worthy foil in Elara, the authors set up a lot of stuff to be dealt with in the books to come.

I'm very glad that this April Fool's joke became a reality, and that when the main Kate Daniels series is wrapped up at the end of August, there will still be two more books about Hugh and Elara to look forward to. Thank the benevolent authorlords.

Judging a book by its cover: Ilona Andrews have had a LOT of really very ugly covers throughout their career. As this book is self-published, they financed the photo shoot and cover design of this book themselves. It's still pretty cheesy, but in all honesty, most paranormal/urban fantasy covers are. The guy portraying Hugh looks tough and broody, the lady portraying Elara looks mysterious and bad-ass, there's a castle in the background - it gives you a pretty good impression of what the contents of the book is going to be. I don't love the cover, but in the long history of Andrews' book covers, this is SO much better than most of them.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

No comments:

Post a Comment