“Superb,” the man in the black cloak said, and slammed his dagger into the young man’s temple, killing him instantly. The blade emerged from the other temple with admirable precision, and the man in the black cloak supported the corpse all the way to the floor, stepping away from the flow of blood. Then he filled the secret compartment with his deadly secret, wearing gloves; one tiny jewel skittered away across the table and he tracked it down, picked it up with coal tongs from the fireplace, and put it in his belt-purse. Then he threw his gloves–fine, black gloves–in the fire, where they sparkled as if impregnated with gunpowder. He left, satisfied, leaving the shop door wide open to the looters already moving along the street like roaches.”
Miles Cameron, also known as Christian Cameron, is a well-respected author who writes mostly historical fiction and fantasy. Cold Iron was my introduction to his work, but his Traitor Son Cycle series is sitting on my shelf staring at me, just begging to be read! SOOON! I follow him on Twitter (that’s such a thing to say these days, isn’t it?) and it’s clear he knows his shit. The man is a military veteran with a medieval history degree, after all.
From what little I know, this is a departure from his other work. Cold Iron is more of a classical fantasy. That’s not to say it isn’t unique in its own way, of course.
Cold Iron is the coming-of-age story of Aranthur Timos, a student training in magic and languages. While on his way home for the holidays, he runs into some trouble involving a political conspiracy, which throws him into the center of things.
Miles Cameron painted such a vivid picture of the world and its inhabitants, laying out the story with a slowly expanding narrative. I’m a sucker for the academia / learning trope if done right… which this was! It had flashes of The Name of the Wind and Age of Assassins, by way of Red Sister. There were some unbelievable action sequences. Just insanely detailed and fucking gloriously bonkers! Not to mention the strong, well thought out female characters. Especially Dahlia. She is a complete badass!
“Fine. You’re dead. First light,” Earrings said. “Then maybe I’ll fuck your corpse.”
“I supposed that passes for a witty exchange, in the North?” Dahlia said. “After I kill you, I will not make any attempts on your corpse. Although I suspect your member will work as well, or ill, after death as before, eh?”
It’s clear that this fantasy was inspired by similar modern world issues we face today. Racism, privilege, religion, feminism, inequality, politics. The world that Cameron created is complex, compelling and carefully crafted. It’s wonderfully diverse and full of culture. However, a criticism I had was that Cameron did such a great job of discussing the racism that is laced throughout this world, that Aranthur faces as an outsider. Yet, on more than one occasion, Aranthur the Arnaut referred to his people as “mongrels.” It was done in a seemingly nonchalant way, which was unusual considering how much of the story is condemning bigotry. This felt out of character to use such an offensive term in this story, especially because Aranthur has struggled with being called a “half-breed” or “mongrel” himself.
It took me a bit to get into the rhythm of Cold Iron with the entire book told through first person narrative. It’s highly subjective, but I would have preferred if there were a few more POV’s thrown into the mix, characters like Dahlia and Iralia. Overall though, I really dug it! If you are looking for blistering pace from beginning to end, this is not that. This is a slow burn. But goddamn.. once it unfolds, it truly builds on the momentum.
Is this grimdark or grimheart? Is it low fantasy or high? While not the most grimdark book that ever grimdarked, there are certainly grimdark elements throughout the more traditional fantasy tone. No matter the subgenre, the storytelling was intriguing, descriptive and exquisite. I nerded out hard over the details of the weaponry, armor, houses and sword-fighting. I was transported into this world, rather than bogged down with exposition. Cameron is a brilliant writer! Why have I waited so long to read him?!?
There is a lot to love about this one and here’s hoping the second book is even better!
Cold Iron released October 23rd!
Grab yourself a copy
(Big thanks to Orbit Books for sending me a copy!)