Today in case you couldn’t tell from that big banner there (yes my blog name is wrong; no, I didn’t notice until it was too late to do anything), I’m on the blog tour for Cold Iron today. This is the first book I’ve read by Miles Cameron, and there was lots to enjoy about it.
Aranthur is a student. He showed a little magical talent, is studying at the local academy, and is nothing particularly special. Others are smarter. Others are more talented. Others are quicker to pick up techniques. But none of them are with him when he breaks his journey home for the holidays in an inn. None of them step in to help when a young woman is thrown off a passing stage coach into the deep snow at the side of the road. And none of them are drawn into a fight to protect her. One of the others might have realised she was manipulating him all along . . .
A powerful story about beginnings, coming of age, and the way choosing to take one step towards violence can lead to a slippery and dangerous slope, this is an accomplished fantasy series driven by strong characters and fast-paced action.
So, I did really enjoy Cold Iron. Aranthur is a likeable, if rather naive, lead character, and I enjoyed seeing him become a little bit wiser as he moved through the events of the book. It would have been nice if he’d learned a little bit faster, instead of repeatedly making the same mistakes, but as one of my pet bugbears in books is characters hiding vital information from the protagonist for “reasons”, I shared a lot of his frustration at his friends and colleagues. I realise that sometimes there’s no plot without this, but if one conversation can solve everything, then that seems a little bit like lazy writing to me. But I digress. This wasn’t actually an issue in Cold Iron, because there were legitimate reasons for not sharing the information, and while Aranthur’s life might have been easier if his friends had talked to him, I can understand why they didn’t.
The secondary characters were actually my favourite thing about Cold Iron, especially the ones we got to know – there are a lot of characters to keep track of, and as a result we don’t necessarily get to find out much about a lot of them – but I really liked Dahlia, Tiy Drako, Sasan and Ansu, and even the military characters we only met briefly, like Equus and The General. Cameron is very good at getting a lot of personality across in a few words, and it’s surprisingly effective in getting you to care about people.
The world building is also impressive. The magic system makes sense, and there’s a lot of history built into the story. I’m not going to lie, some of it is dropped in an info-dump way, but most of it is woven into the story very effectively. The setting is also described in a very vivid way – I could easily imagine the Inn of Fosse, Aranthur’s rooms and even the streets of the city as events played out. There’s a hefty political system at work too, and a lot of political intrigue and conspiracies. I did find some of this confusing as I was reading, but it ties together beautifully by the end, and I did think the way Cameron built the story was very clever.
The one thing I really disliked about Cold Iron was the racist way Aranthur refers to himself and the people he comes from. It happened a few times, and while I understand that Cameron was probably trying to show how Aranthur had internalised external attitudes, it was a very bad choice of words, which just came across as racist. The first time it happened was very near the beginning of the book, and it did have an effect on the way I read the rest.
Overall though, Cold Iron was a very enjoyable book. I think it could have been smoother in its writing, as it did seem to jump about quite a lot and the timescale wasn’t always clear, but it all tied together brilliantly. However, I also think that Cameron needs to think a bit more about the language he uses and the connotations it might have, whatever his intentions actually were. The blurb doesn’t lie though – it is a powerful story, well told, with a fascinating cast of characters. If you like your fantasy epic, this is for you!
Cold Iron is out now from Gollancz.
Advance copy sent to me by Stevie Finegan at Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!