Iron and Magic is one of those books I wouldn’t have even looked at if my wife hadn’t insisted it was a necessary read before the last book in the series, Magic Triumphs. Hugh was a jerk in the main series and held little interest to me as a protagonist, nor were his Iron Dogs or background intriguing. Still, I’m nothing if not dogmatic about reading a series in order (Heaven help me if I miss some crucial background fact or inside joke), so I compromised and picked up the audio book.
As any who’s read my other Kate Daniels reviews can attest, I’m not a fan of the woman who narrates the main series, so I started playback with a healthy amount of skepticism. The English gentleman who narrated Iron and Magic, I’m happy to say, did not disappoint. His British was proper upper class, his voice deep and sure, and his character accents convincing without being so thick that they distracted from the enjoyment of the story. For a book about a self-absorbed cocky bastard, he fit the bill perfectly. In fact, my only criticism is that he used the same cocky manner when narrating every non-dialog element, which took power away from the parts that were meant to be cocky. It’s a minor gripe overall, but something for the narrator to consider on future projects.
Story-wise, the book took an abnormally long time to grow on me. I listened to it on and off for several months, reading other books in between, before I had enough story and character development under my belt to tuck in and see it to the end. I’m glad I did.
The other protagonist / love interest (no spoiler there I’m sure) is Elara, a white-haired, powerful woman with a stick up her butt almost as big as the one up Hugh’s, making them the perfect couple. Hugh and his Iron Dogs are down on their luck, starving vagabonds in search of a purpose after Hugh’s fall from Roland’s grace, when they come upon Elara’s fortified but unprotected settlement. The town needs protection. Hugh needs food for his Dogs. So they arrange a marriage of inconvenience—as in, they hate each other and are civil only in public. Hugh’s an arrogant prick and can’t be trusted. Elara’s a tightwad “harpy” whose stingy pocketbook will result in a town full of dead people when the real bad guys arrive, namely his archnemesis Nez. It’s a match made in the 3rd level of Hell.
As with the rest of the Kate Daniels series, Iron and Magic sports a good balance between action and character development. While much of the focus is on Hugh and Elara’s love-hate relationship, we learn more about life in rural areas of Ilona Andrews’ world, where forests are deadly and small settlements must work together to survive, and we’re introduced to a slew of new and terrible magical creatures big and small. Hugh and Elara are both well-drawn with clear character arcs that keep the pages turning. The steam factor is short-lived but more explicit than any Ilona Andrews novel I can recall, which is a fairly high bar given the heat in the Hidden Legacy series. Reader be warned.
If you’re a Kate Daniels fan and plan on finishing the series, this is a definite can’t-miss.