Devon Monk: Dead Iron

Reviewed by Mike Kraus

Steampunk is one of the most exciting sub genres of fantasy fiction.  Generally, these novels are set in Victorian England in the late 1800’s.  Steampunk novels envision a time when when steam engines powered by burning wood and coal are the dominant energy source.  In these novels there are steam powered trains, airships, mechanical computers, and automatons.  Often there are elements of the occult, alchemy, dark magic, and supernatural powers and beings.

Monk transports the steampunk genre into the American West.  In her novel she combines the elements of steampunk and the Western.  In the main character Cedar Hunt, we have the outsider with a tortured past.  He has been burdened by an awful curse.  And he is a hired gun.  He is looked down upon by the people of the town.  Yet they go to him when they need someone or something to die.  His innate sense of honor forces him to undertake a dangerous mission that probably will cost him his life, without pay.

The railroad is soon to arrive in town.  It comes with strange machines, strange goings on, and strange beings.  The rail tycoon, Shard Lafel, has his own curse to deal with.  Within days he must orchestrate the deaths of a witch, a wolf, and a child.  If he is successful, he will control incredible evil power.

In the town there are other outcasts:  the odd orphan girl who can hear nature and devise machines, the three brothers who work in a mine and suddenly appear at the most opportune times, the witch who vowed her soul to the town’s only a black worker, and her husband who was killed three times yet wouldn’t stay dead.  Can all these outcasts with different powers find a way to defeat the evil that has invaded the town?

I really enjoyed this book.  It is the first in a series of novels which will explore the Old West through a steampunk lens.  I liked Monk’s writing style.  She skips back and forth between her characters and moves the plot forward.  The novel was a real page turner and I finished it too fast.  I am going to watch for the next books in the series.

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