Posted on July 29, 2008 by GRIM
Iron Angel is the sequel to Scar Night, reviewed HERE. Both books take place in a peculiar fantasy world, fraught with demons and angels and strange gods and possessed of a near-industrial technological level, though, anachronistically, it is one that seems to be without guns. The first book took place within the iconic city of Deepgate, a massive city strung on chains over a pit that descended into hell itself. That book ended with the death of a god but, whoever evil and dangerous that god was its death had to have implications, and these begin to come home to roost in the sequel.
Iron Angel picks up where Scar Night left off, the hapless angel Dill, descendent of warrior archons and guardians of Deepgate, is on the run after the wholesale destruction of much of Deepgate. He and Rachel, a former church assassin who never quite completed her training, have fled the city and are hiding out. Carnival, their erstwhile semi-ally and daughter of the dead god Ulcis, has gone elsewhere and doesn’t appear much in the course of the book.
Iron Angel isn’t really a whole book in and of itself. Where Scar Night was self contained and told a complete story Iron Angel feels like it is waiting for the next book to wrap things up. A great many things are introduced and described throughout Iron Angel but somehow it doesn’t really seem to get anywhere and the story is left hanging. That isn’t to say that things don’t happen or that the plot doesn’t go anywhere, it just doesn’t achieve any sort of conclusion.
Iron Angel is almost a travelogue of fantastical places and people, from the small towns outside Deepgate to the deserts and forests of poisoned trees, we are introduced to hell proper and Ulcis’ brothers whose duty it is to hold back the forces of hell, by any means necessary, blood-flooded ports and demonically reshaped people, giant, floating, rotting fortresses in the sky and a mass of new minor (and major) characters throughout the world.
This is all very cool stuff, very interesting, well described and intriguing, some of the characters such as John Anchor seem rather simplistic and two dimensional but despite their nature end up holding your interest and being more than a one-note party piece. Even so, the book can feel disjointed and there’s so much that is strange and wonderful, so much that is new to the cosmology and background from the first book that you can get a sense of fatigue. Other books that are full of strangeness somehow manage to cope with presenting it without overwhelming you, Iron Angel can be too much, drowning you in ideas and oddness with little time to take a breath.
The storyline is basically a pursuit and, much like the first book Dill, the putative protagonist, spends most of his time as a punching bag, which kills any empathy or sympathy you might have for the character pretty much stone dead. It isn’t until the end of the book where we see a possible chance for Dill to finally get some payback, but even that gratification is deferred to the next book in the series. The real focus of this book is Rachel, the former spine assassin and she, at least, is competent and capable of looking after herself somewhat through the book.
Iron Angel takes a very long time to get not very far at all. Scar Night was a passable work of the new, industrial, urban fantasy, though perhaps a little derivative, Iron Angel has more grandeur and scope and steps out of the shadow of other authors of the genre, but is a little too enthusiastic which removes any real grounding or relatability you have to the characters or the events that are going on. It is more imaginative, but less engaging. It’s a hard book to judge by itself since it is so obviously leading into the following book in a way that Scar Night wasn’t, so I can only really judge this as average. It’s more Dead Man’s Chest than Empire Strikes Back.
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough