The Iron Wyrm Affair is clever and well-told story by Lilith Saintcrow. Lilith Saintcrow, a brilliant name with its nod at the first Eve, holiness and Odin’s messenger, brilliantly combines in this novel vivid and vile places inhabited by extreme personalities, adept in magic, skill or logic, with aplomb and verve.
From the outset the reader is plunged into Victorian London but it differs somewhat from the historical template. Londinium’s environs are not only filthy and vile but populated by machines blended with flesh so they can toil even harder and longer for the benefit of the nation. It is a dismal and nasty place for the majority of the population. The privileged, who have greater access to magical abilities, are few and vicious in their actions to protect their status. Victrix, a distorted version of Victoria, is both a young queen and inhabited by the spirits of the earlier rulers of Britannia. The Iron Wyrm Affair is of the steampunk genre though Saintcrow describes it as ‘alt-history mixed with urban fantasy’.
The main character, Emma Bannon, has been snatched from poverty for intense training once her magic ability manifested itself. She dresses superbly in the current fashion as she is concerned about appearances, is a stickler for manners and proper service in her elegant house (‘tidiness was one of Emma Bannon’s specialties’) but she is courageous, ruthless and literally wades through filth in her determination to support her queen. The support cast includes mentath, Archibald Clare, modeled on Sherlock Holmes but with a few extra tics and friends of superb technological ability; the assassin, Ludovico Valentinelli, and her extraordinary bodyguard, the Shield Mikal. Of all of Saintcrow’s creations I found the role of the Shield most interesting; and so does Emma Bannon.
This is quick, riotous novel but it keeps its shape throughout. The Iron Wyrm threatens the whole fabric of the nation, though at times it is so industrially revolting that I hesitate to support Emma in her mission. The characters are entertaining but the hints at cruel and problematic personal histories makes the prospect of more novels set in this world very appealing. The author says it was fun to write and I found it fun to read.