The Iron Hunt: Visceral and poetic at the same time

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Marjorie M Liu Hunter Kiss 1. The Iron HuntThe Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

“When I was eight, my mother lost me to zombies in a one-card draw.”

That’s the first sentence of Marjorie M. Liu’s The Iron Hunt, and it’s just about perfect as opening lines go. It’s the primary reason I bought the book. Not only does it draw the reader in, eager to find out how and why this happened, but I’m also pretty darn sure it’s an Angela Carter reference. I love Angela Carter.

It would be misleading to suggest, though, that Marjorie M. Liu sounds like Angela Carter throughout The Iron Hunt. Liu has a different style, one all her own. I loved it. Liu’s style is unusual and won’t be to everyone’s taste. However, I found it visceral and poetic at the same time, and especially good when describing violence and magical visions. A couple of examples:

I tried to hold her to me, but she slipped away, and zombies took her place. So many. Shoulders broad as mountains. Packed tight. Breath hot. Stinking with sweat and winter wool. I could not see faces for shadows, but the zombie in the suit leaned close. Crooked his finger like a hook.

Waking dreams. Walking dreams. Swift dreams, black and white like old scratchy movies tinted and blurred with age. I dreamed in sparks and moments, and saw women in moonlight, pale as snow, hair as black as a raven’s wing — steel in their hands, always, sword bound, hair bound, in sunlight, tattoo bound — and I flew with them, I ran, and their bodies merged into one, a woman large as thunder, with eyes like the starry night, and wolves at her back.

Hunter Kiss by Marjorie LiuAnother aspect of The Iron Hunt that worked well for me was the mythos. Liu blends the myths of many cultures into her story, mixing Sumerian, Asian, Celtic, and Greek in a way that never feels forced or awkward; instead it gives the reader the sense that all of these cosmologies are valuable but incomplete shards of one vast long-forgotten whole.

Liu’s Seattle is painted in — I’d say vivid color, but this is Seattle, so it might be more accurate to say rainy grays. There is a real sense of place in The Iron Hunt.

A small gripe, and this may be a case where the cover-blurb writer sold the novel writer short: there isn’t really a romantic subplot.
The blurb gives the impression that this is a major focus of the story when, in fact, the heroine and the love interest are already involved and their relationship is written more as background than as plot. I gather that this romantic subplot was actually resolved in a previous short story by Liu. It’s not so much that the novel needs a major romantic plot; it’s just that it was weird to find the plot quite different from the blurb. The real plot has more to do with Maxine’s discovery of new and frightening powers and her growing awareness of her mother and grandmother’s history.

I highly recommend The Iron Hunt to anyone who likes urban fantasy, tough female characters, and unique prose. I will definitely be looking up more of Liu’s work while I await the sequel to The Iron Hunt.

Published in 2008. Demon hunter Maxine Kiss wears her armor as tattoos, which unwind from her body to take on forms of their own at night. They stand between her and her enemies, just as Maxine stands between humanity and the demons breaking out from behind the prison veils. It is a life lacking in love, reveling in death, until one moment—and one man— changes everything.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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