Sunday, November 24, 2013
The Iron Thorn
by Caitlin Kittredge
Four out of five stars
Reviewed by Sesana
In the city of Lovecraft, the Proctors rule and a great Engine turns below the streets, grinding any resistance to their order to dust. The necrovirus is blamed for Lovecraft's epidemic of madness, for the strange and eldritch creatures that roam the streets after dark, and for everything that the city leaders deem Heretical—born of the belief in magic and witchcraft. And for Aoife Grayson, her time is growing shorter by the day.
Aoife Grayson's family is unique, in the worst way—every one of them, including her mother and her elder brother Conrad, has gone mad on their 16th birthday. And now, a ward of the state, and one of the only female students at the School of Engines, she is trying to pretend that her fate can be different.
There's a lot going on in this book. The setting is unusual. Steampunk, in 1950s America. It's set in a city called Lovecraft (Boston, I think), which is, appropriately, infested with horrible things that would be at home in one of Lovecraft's stories. But they aren't supernatural, of course. That wouldn't be rational. Instead, the creatures that stalk the city of Lovecraft, ghouls, nightjars, and springheel jacks alike, are people infected by the necrovirus. Some infected turn into bloodthirsty creatures, and others go mad. Like Aoife's mother, and brother, and, in time, probably herself. All of this is set up in just the first 50 pages, and it only gets more complicated from there. So many writers wouldn't have been able to handle such a huge, complicated system of ideas. But Kittredge is able to weave it all together into an easily comprehensible, complete world. And although she can't entirely avoid infodumping, she does it as little as possible, and spreads the exposition through the book.
There's also a good cast of characters. Aoife is a good narrator, bright, capable, and with the best of motivations throughout the book: her family and friends. At no point did I find her thoughts or actions unbelievable or inconsistent with her character. Her growing relationship with Dean didn't take over the book, because she had more important things to worry about, and the trajectory of it was plausible to me. I also liked her friendship with Cal. Kudos to Kittredge for giving Cal the sort of casual, paternalistic brand of sexism that I'd expect to see out of characters from the 50s, without letting it turn Cal into a villain or even an unsympathetic character. Hard balancing act.
My one small complaint about the book is that there's so much exposition at the front, out of necessity, that the first half drags a bit. But once the world's been set up, it's a much quicker read. It's the one thing that kept me from loving this book entirely. Since so much has already been established, I expect that the other two books in the series will have less of that. And the ending is enough of a game-changing cliffhanger that I'm eager to read them.