The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Well, to be honest, this is the first book for which I have downloaded a sample to my Kindle, bought the full book, and then had an unsatisfying reading experience. Usually the samples are enough to filter out books I won't like. I don't often write bad reviews for books, but I'm going to make an exception for this one.
The Iron Wyrm Affair is set in a Victorian London-esque fantasy world. It chronicles how a sorceress called Emma Bannon and a "mentath" called Archibald Clare (basically Sherlock Holmes by another name) team up to thwart a trio of intertwined evil plots.
I bought this book because I enjoyed Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, and I thought The Iron Wyrm Affair would be a similar sort of book. Unfortunately, whereas Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair are true steampunk, The Iron Wyrm Affair is more "slap some gears on it and call it steampunk".
I had various other complaints about the book:
Lack of satisfaction
The Iron Wyrm Affair jumps back and forth between the two characters on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Saintcrow often ends chapters on cliffhangers. This in itself isn't a problem. But when she switches back to a character, instead of being greeted with the resolution to the cliffhanger, the reader instead finds that the character has already solved the problem, and the narrator proceeds to tell the reader what happened "off screen" in a short summary. In other words, a lot of the most interesting action happens while the reader isn't "looking". This makes for a most dissatisfying reading experience!
No understanding of logic
Which, let's face it, is a big problem when one of your characters is supposedly a walking computer / logician. When Archibald Clare is fighting another "mentath", his foe is described as "blasting him with pure logic". Um, what? When the worldbuilding specifically states that what a mentath can do is as far from magic as you can get? What does that even mean? The author seems to have been unable to come up with something for Clare to do, so she defaulted to a magic-like battle because that was what she was comfortable with. Clare's 'deductions' are also poorly realised.
Meaningless props and plot points
Rampaging mecha! Why? Er . . . because they're cool!
As I mentioned earlier, there were, the reader is told, three evil plots to be thwarted by our heroes. But in only one of these was there a proper confrontation with the enemy. In one of the other plots, a secondary character takes out the bad guy OFF SCREEN and we don't even find out who was paying him or what the ultimate goal was. Hell, we never even SEE him! And the third plot we don't even have any evidence that it existed, other than that the characters told us it did, and there were bits of infodumping throughout the book to support their hypothesis. Again, not a satisfying conclusion.
The story gets so muddled and nonsensical towards the end that it honestly reads like a first draft. This story needs significant assistance from a structural editor, assistance which it apparently didn't receive.
All in all, I found little to redeem this book. I wouldn't recommend reading it. But it has made me think about what makes a good book, and where stories can go wrong, and I appreciate that lesson.