Blood and Iron is a slow ride that is quietly demanding. Elizabeth Bear makes no allowances for her reader’s familiarity with faerie tales or Irish pronunciation, weaving the implicit weight of her chosen myths into her own sharp tale of the war between Faerie and Man. If you don’t know what you’re missing, it may feel both surprising and sketchy; if you have long loved Irish myth and the Matter of Britain, you will probably get a good deal more out of it.
I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, and the combination of a friend pulling it from her shelf (I do like a group read) and the faerie qualities of made me decide it was time to get to it. After an initial struggle to engage, it ‘clicked’ about 5 pages after I commented online that I would be setting it aside. Faeries. They’re just attention seekers, really.
This is a dark, complex tale of bright bells, brave banners, high magic and bloody betrayals. Bear has done a fine job of sketching the Fae as I’ve always seen them – heartless, soulless and captivating – and understands that the differences between the Seelie and the Unseelie are little more than split hairs if you’re a mere human. Nonetheless, she deftly wins you to the Faerie cause as her human Magi declare war, merciless in her conviction that no side is any better than another.
There were the odd points that raised my hackles (mostly from the werewolves, who I took exception to for most of the same reasons as Elaine, and who felt the least incorporated of all the myths in the weft) but overall this is a fine if occasionally stodgy read. My main beef was with the Kindle formatting, which didn’t show breaks in points of view. I suspect these have multiple line breaks in the printed edition – in Kindle, the paragraphs merge together, having suddenly changed time, location and perspective, which kept me on my toes and made it tricky to find handy stopping points!
If you don’t like faeries and Arthurian myth, avoid like the plague. If you do, this is another strong addition with a bittersweet lilt familiar to any reader of Guy Gavriel Kay.
…all that said, I won’t rush to read the other Promethean novels, although I’ll keep an eye open. However, I will look for more Bear. I fancy some Bear in space – I’m assuming she’s space opera rather than hard scifi, and I suspect she does it rather well.