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The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu
Book Name: The Iron Hunt
Author: Marjorie M. Liu
Publisher(s): Ace (US) Orbit (UK)
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Release Date: June 24, 2008 (US) May 6, 2010 (UK)

This is a book about secrets. It isn’t just in the way the protagonist, Maxine Kiss, keeps secrets from the rest of the world, or in the way the demons who live in her tattoos keep secrets from her, or even in the way she has to pry answers out of everyone around her in an attempt to understand what’s happening to the world she knows. It’s in the way the story unfolds. Liu doesn’t give the readers easy answers. Instead, she throws them into the world with little preamble and only exposition that would naturally be in Maxine’s thoughts. There were times when trying to figure out what was happening threw me off from the story, but at the same time, I think it was effective. After all, what’s the point in writing a novel full of secrets if the protagonist reveals everything to the readers?

It does make writing a review rather difficult. I can’t tell how much I ought to simply give away and how much to withhold, even more so than with other novels.

I will say this: when you see the word “zombie”, don’t think of shambling corpses who want to devour the flesh of the living. Think of demons, the kinds that can slip into human skin and possess them, stealing a life for as long as they wish. Knowing this will make the prologue much clearer.

Aside from that detail, I’m not sure how much of a synopsis I can give, since part of the joy of the novel was in unraveling it and in little moments of joy as a detail suddenly made sense. I will say that Maxine Kiss is a demon hunter, as was her mother before her. Their whole family has been demon hunters, passing the job down through the generations from mother to daughter for centuries. The power they carry comes through their tattoos, which are actually a set of five demons who live on their bodies by day and become separate beings by night. Because of her duty, Maxine was taught to live as a wanderer, drifting from place to place and never allowing herself to become close to anyone.

The first time we see her, however, she’s working in a homeless shelter alongside a former priest, and the two of them are remarkably close. The wandering hunter has settled down and made a life for herself in the community of Seattle, and naturally, this only leads to trouble.

My favorite part of the book was easily Maxine’s relationships to the people around her. Liu does a wonderful job at showing a balance between a learned need to keep apart and the genuinely human desire to be around others. Maxine has given herself a small family: Grant, the former priest; her demons, who she calls her “boys”; and the people who frequent the homeless shelter. Her strange family only expands as the book goes on, but each new addition brings new sorts of trouble and new dangers.

Almost as enjoyable as Maxine’s relationships were the people she had the relationships with. While the focus is very much on Maxine and her thoughts, Liu doesn’t take the easy way out by not giving the secondary characters any space to exist. Each one feels like a fully-realized person (or, in some cases, fully-realized demon), and each one has secrets. Sometimes the reader is let in on these secrets, but this only occurs if Maxine herself knows or learns the secret at some point in the novel. Otherwise, we are just as in the dark as she is, and since some of the characters can be very stubborn about what they will and will not reveal, by the end of the book, there is a great deal that we still don’t know.

It’s a very good thing this book is the first in a series, because otherwise the secrets would prove to be very aggravating. As it is, they’re no more troublesome than not knowing the background of the story. This might be a deal-breaker with some readers, and I will admit that it took me a while to get used to, but if you can stick with the story, you’ll be rewarded with a world that both is and isn’t ours.

If there’s a trick to writing realistic urban fantasy, then I think Liu has found it. The world that Maxine lives in is close enough to ours that, if it weren’t for the demons, it would read very much like a modern thriller, complete with a mysterious dead body that sparks a race against time and a search for answers. Even the tone fits; though there are some sentences that are long and beautiful, for the most part, Maxine’s narration is quick. To the point. Terse, even. She has the voice of a woman who isn’t used to having a place to settle herself, and while I don’t often notice the narration style of a book, this one fit so well with the protagonist that it stood out up until I got so involved in the story that I barely noticed anything else.

The world isn’t ours, though. It has demons, and Liu never quite lets us forget that, though she weaves the demons into our world perfectly. Maxine’s “boys” – a term which fits perfectly, because both their size and disposition remind me of some younger cousins – enjoy playing with her car radio, and after a particularly wearying night, she makes a note to watch some TV with them so they can calm down more easily.

As I mentioned before, when I started reading this, I didn’t realize that it was part of a series, which likely affected how I read it. The Iron Hunt, while it tells a full story, doesn’t feel like it should stand on its own. I found myself slightly disappointed at the end, but only because I had been hoping for a more definitive ending rather than one that felt like it was only the start of a much longer tale. I can be satisfied with a story that belongs before the actual heroics begin, but I’m very glad to learn that I’ll get to read more and see what sorts of secrets I’ll discover next.

If you like reading suspenseful thrillers and want a badass woman who feels relatable (and really, who doesn’t?), then this is the book for you.


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