Hannah's Reviews > The Iron Wyrm Affair

The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow
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's review
Jun 30, 2015

it was ok
bookshelves: urban-paranormal, steampunk, gaslight-fantasy
Read from August 05 to 06, 2012

The most succinct way to describe The Iron Wyrm Affair is "a convoluted mess." It is really disappointing to have looked forward to this book for the last few months only to be let down so thoroughly. Not just let down - I have rarely been so frustrated by a book that I wanted to hurl my Kindle across the room. If the following review sounds confused and incoherent, that is because I just wasted the last few hours of my life reading one of the most incoherent books I've ever had the misfortune to come across.

There is little I have taken away from this story other than the following: Archibald Clare is supposed to be a mentath and one half of this "Bannon & Clare" story but was outshone by one of Emma Bannon's Shields, Emma Bannon has a short temper and serious trust issues and this was an urban fantasy novel disguised as steampunk.

Firstly, those who're reading this as a "steampunk" novel should be quickly disabused of this notion - there is little of the steampunk variety here other than vague mentions of automatons, logic engines and various "mechas." They attack our heroes, although it's not very well-established why this happens; it just does. Magic is really the name of the game here, since Emma Bannon is a sorceress through and through. Apparently one of the most feared classes of sorcerers in the realm, she tosses it around without a thought, defeats enemy after enemy with her powers and so on - it's frankly hard to see why it was even necessary for there to be machines if she could do everything with her magic. I would be greatly distressed if people walk away from this book feeling like the steampunk genre is not for them. Let me assure them that this is hardly a representative example.

It's fairly obvious from the cover that The Iron Wyrm Affair has "borrowed" from the Guy Ritchie film in the most outrageous fashion - about the only noticeable difference is that we have a girl on the cover rather than two guys. The things immediately established at the outset only confirm that this is a failed attempt to imitate Sherlock Holmes; Archibald Clare constantly harps on about his powers of "deduction", except rather than impressive showings of logic, he only ever waffles on about things that I figured out long before he put a stop to his verbal diarrhea. He even has an arch-nemesis, "Dr. Vance," who is mentioned in passing but never appears at all. Instead, Emma Bannon charges into his house and drags him off with great urgency, they are attacked by various supernatural/natural beings (this entire episode was such a mess that I could hardly follow it) and it is thus established that Clare's genius is in danger. Oohhh.

After this most confusing opening, it only gets worse. The author appears to think that if she'd just toss out new terminology and insert character/place names as she goes, readers will simply figure it out. NO. It doesn't work that way, particularly when we are given no context whatsoever on most occasions. More often than not, details are either not explained or a passing remark made MUCH LATER will finally enlighten me. Really, I shouldn't have to find myself wondering things like, "What the heck is a/the Shadow?" when characters are talking about it, only to reach the next chapter and it'd be finally placed in context so that I realize, "Oh, I think it's the name of a place!" There are also many instances where the tension builds to a climax and you're at the point where a character's fighting for their lives... and then you're ripped away and dropped into a different POV. By the time you return, the action's over and you're only told what has happened. Worse, the magic system, which Emma constantly references and is obviously central to her scenes, is only explained 4/5ths of the way through the book at page 246. By then, I had given up on understanding it, only to be greeted with a one-page infodump.

This is all unfortunately coupled with overly verbose prose that is often grammatically incorrect or simply clunky - it's an obvious effort to twist words around so that they'd sound as complicated and "historical" as possible. Take the following sentence, for example:
A traitorous warmth bloomed in her belly, was sternly shelved.

Or this one:
Clare freed himself with a violent, wrenching twist, losing his top hat, and made it up to one knee, his freshly loaded silver-chased pepperbox pistol out.

...What? I had to read that sentence several times.

I could forgive these poor attempts to imitate period language if it wasn't so obvious that the author couldn't decide whether to make Londinium (yes, not London, because that would be too normal, see?) true to the Victorian Era or turn it into a totally unique fantasy world. There seemed to be a reluctance to commit to either, so we end up with a weird combination of both - Emma talks about hiring hansom cabs, there are apparently social norms for well-bred ladies that she's clearly not following, there's a queen and her consort, a Duchess of Kent, Buckingham, etc. However, the queen has been renamed Victrix and her husband Alberich, the spirit of Britannia apparently chooses vessels and are surrounded by sorcerers... it's really a badly disguised alternate London. I'd probably appreciate it more if there was better world-building, but I lost my grasp of anything in this novel somewhere at the beginning.

As for the characters, they're little better developed than the rest of the novel. I've already mentioned Clare's so-called "logical deductions" that are less deductions than they are gigantic, unexplained mental leaps that serve to move the plot along. Emma is much better developed and it is thankfully her POV that we get most of the time, but she irritates me almost as much as Clare's completely useless self because she spends much of the book insisting on her distrust of her Shield/bodyguard, Mikal. This is after he has saved her life repeatedly, worried about her safety like a mother hen and made it obvious to everyone who isn't BLIND that he thinks the world of her.

On the upside, the complicated burgeoning relationship between Emma and Mikal was not only a very pleasant surprise, but also the only thing that kept me reading this horrendous mess. The slowly unfolding details of their history was fascinating, and I gave it one more star for this sole reason. I might even have considered picking up the sequel and only reading their sections if the author interview at the end of the book had not taken away this one point of satisfaction with her comment that (view spoiler) WTF? How do all the ways she reacted to Mikal and the emotions she displayed translate to that?

The Iron Wyrm Affair is the perfect example that too much is not necessarily a good thing. It's as if the author tossed every single idea into a melting pot and hoped some magical chemical reaction would produce a great story. Instead, we have a badly executed mess that was a truly painful read. The only joy that I experienced was when I reached the last page and contemplated the scathing review that I was going to write on Goodreads.
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Reading Progress

08/05 page 153
47.37% "Tricked by yet another steampunk Holmes-ish cover! This is such a confusing mess of badly executed plot points so far."
02/14 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-25 of 25) (25 new)

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Nelly I totally agree, except that even the Emma-Mikal part was disapointing too me. They relationship lack any true feeling and development. A month ago he saved her life, she scolds him a lot and suddenly they are sleeping together. Where's the romance?!

Hannah Nelly wrote: "I totally agree, except that even the Emma-Mikal part was disapointing too me. They relationship lack any true feeling and development. A month ago he saved her life, she scolds him a lot and sudde..."

Oh, heck yes! I was so disappointed at the suddenness of that development. I was sort of enjoying the romantic/sexual tension (quite one-sided from Mikal at that stage, granted) and wondering when Emma would stop lashing out at him... and next moment they've slept together. There wasn't a single thing to show that she was interested in him in that way beforehand! I suppose it goes to show what the rest of the book was like if that was already the part I enjoyed the most...

message 3: by Nelly (last edited Aug 19, 2012 04:58AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Nelly "and wondering when Emma would stop lashing out at him..."
My thoughts exactly. :)

message 4: by Beth (new) - added it

Beth Cato Well done summary on why the book just plain fell apart. I had to force myself to finish it.

Joseph I agree with what you said 100%.

Michelle  novelsontherun I love Lili t. Crow. She is a seasoned author, but, I am having so much trouble with this book. I thought it was just me. I want so badly to love this book. I do love Strange Angels series by Lili, but this review really is not exaggerated in the least. I have started this book again as I KNOW Lili can write , but something through many deductions I have made has really come a miss. I actually feel bad that I had so much trouble reading this book and I am only 1/3 way through, again! It is frustrating the heck out of me why I am not understanding, connecting whatever with Liliths tale. Dang.......

message 7: by Hannah (last edited Sep 18, 2012 06:17PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Hannah I've heard people talk about her Strange Angels series. Personally I've never tried her other books, so I'm willing to believe that this is a one-off blip on the radar! I don't know. I get the sense that The Iron Wyrm Affair would have been significantly better if it focused on the magic only (which was the stronger part of the novel) rather than attempting to mix heavy magical/paranormal elements with "science" and "logic" on top of working in a historical background and being marketed too heavily as a steampunk/Sherlock Holmes mashup (which it wasn't).

Michelle  novelsontherun In defence of the Steampunk, Lilith does say at end of book under Q & A's that she herself does not call it steampunk and she has mentioned the Sherlock Holmes thing. This book is hard work to read and I have had to sit back and think why I am finding it so difficult when I know she can write and Strange Angels is a fave series of mine. I've known few stories to be hard work to read and this sadly for me I am finding...eeepp!! I so badly wanted to love this book.

Hannah I do remember that part in the Q & A, yes. The recent string of steampunk-but-not novels have generally been the fault of publishers trying to appeal to readers of steampunk and capitalizing on its popularity. Funnily enough, it always seem to backfire.

Michelle  novelsontherun I'm hiking my pants up and trying to finish this book, Mikal we can do it!



Hannah LOL, good luck! By the time I got about halfway through, I decided to just embrace my Kindle's "next page" button and employ it to its fullest effect. :P

Heather Your review gets five stars as it accurately sums up almost everything I have thought about the book thus far. I am not finished with it, but the one thing that really made me interested was the relationship development between Emma and Mikal. Going into the book I originally had the notion that Emma and Clare would get together. It didn't take long to figure out that Emma and Mikal would.

message 13: by Diza (new)

Diza Permatasari I totally agree with you. Gosh, read a book has never been this tired

Michelle  novelsontherun Man, I just couldn't do it. I HATE saying I can't get through a book and I love the authors other writing. My brain is gahhhh at why this did not work. I know why it didn't but other eyes would have looked over this before it was in print. I am just eeeeeeee! Words fail my why this didn't work when it should have. I so wanted this to work. It was just so darn hard to read and the style of writing was ???? wrong. This plot could have worked so well but my brain just couldn't grab it. It should have been easier to read, but it just wasn't. I really want this book to be rewritten. Mikal is a great character but my brain hurt reading this and I TRIED so HARD to soldier on. It saddens me that I could not get through this book as I have gotten through a lot of books that were bad, but this one kept capturing me with its words and it was like a web I got stuck in to break free and keep reading then I got stuck again. I love the authors other works. I feel like the team behind the author were not a help in this case. Hmmmmm......

Rebecca I just tried reading The Iron Wyrm Affair and I agree with Hannah. I couldn't even get what the characters were talking about half the time. I was hoping it would have a decent glossary at the back of the book and was disappointed beyond belief. The book was very disappointing.

message 16: by Tracy (new) - rated it 1 star

Tracy THANK YOU for this review. I'm on page 37 of this book and have been wavering ever since page 1 whether or not to continue. Your coherent review of this "Victorian Hot Mess" (as taken from a blogger who had also read the book) has allowed me to realize NOTHING GOOD awaits going past page 37.

Rebecca Oh, thank you for this! I'm eight chapters in and keep thinking this can't possibly be what steampunk is about. The world building is just ... odd. Why insist on calling the city Londinium but then use real world names like Whitehall and Grosvenor Square? Does anyone ever stop and fill the reader in on anything? (Going by your review the answer to that is: no.)

I'm going to try and stick it out--some people appear to have enjoyed it after all--but something tells me I won't seek this author our again anytime soon. Still want to dive into real steampunk, though. Just have to track down some good ones.

Hannah Rebecca wrote: "Oh, thank you for this! I'm eight chapters in and keep thinking this can't possibly be what steampunk is about. The world building is just ... odd. Why insist on calling the city Londinium but then..."

My personal steampunk favourites are Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti (which is a great steampunk/fantasy/romance blend), the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld (alternative history steampunk adventure) and the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, beginning with Phoenix Rising.

Aparajitabasu i totally agree with all your points in the review

Marsha I'm struggling through this one too. UGH.

Vivienne You've really put into words so much of what I was feeling. This certainly isn't steampunk and the author did metion in the interview in back of mine that she loved Guy Richie's Sherlock, which may account for the non-stop action and lack of cohesion as well as the cover. Brilliant review!

message 22: by Ducky (new) - rated it 1 star

Ducky Dame Holy crapoly! I couldn't have said it better myself!

It was worse on audio. Not only was the book a convoluted mess the reader was RETCHED!!!! Due to the fact that I work 10 hour shifts in a file room and this was the only book I had... i was stuck with 10 hours of this crap.

I did try to give it the benefit of the doubt and say it was just the reader but when I took a gander at the actual book .... nope. Still a mess.

Carrie I'm reading it now and "Londonium" The unnecessary changes of that nature are infuriating me. I have never read anything from this author before and at this point I'm not sure I even want to finish this.

Rebecca Oh yay, it's just me.

Celestè Sullivan Agreed with every point made Hannah. Thank you, I thought I was the only one not understanding what was happening in the book. It had so much potential.

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