The novella Book of Iron is Elizabeth Bear’s prequel to her novella Bone and Jewel Creatures about Bijou the artificer. Bijou creates beautiful jeweled creatures by animating bones. I haven’t read Bone and Jewel Creatures but Terry and Stefan loved it, and the publisher promises that Book of Iron can stand alone, so there was no way I was passing on my review copy to Terry without reading it first.
Bijou works for her friend Salih, the second prince of Messaline. Another wizard, a necromancer named Kaulas, rounds out the trio of friends and adventurers and, at least for the moment, is Bijou’s lover. When another group of wizard adventurers comes to Messaline on a quest, Bijou, Prince Salih and Kaulas insist on accompanying them, partly for the excitement and partly to protect their land from these unknown magicians. And thus we go off on a journey through a deadly nighttime desert and a dangerous series of underground caves and caverns.
Book of Iron is a charming story full of wonderful creatures, fascinating magic, beautiful scenery and lovely prose. I was intrigued by the setting — a world that feels ancient but contains at least a bit of modern technology. I want to see more of Bear’s world, but I especially want to see more of Bijou’s artificing and I wanted to know about her relationship with Prince Salih and the necromancer Kaulas (I understand this relationship eventually goes sour and contributes to the conflict in Bone and Jewel Creatures when Bijou is much older).
I was able to thoroughly enjoy Book of Iron without reading Bone and Jewel Creatures, but now I regret letting that novella pass me by a few years ago. I will remedy that situation immediately.