The Iron Hunt, by Marjorie M. Liu
July 28, 2008
I think that The Iron Hunt is one of the most promising series starts in years. I picked it up because I really enjoyed Liu’s short story in the Hotter than Hell anthology (my review of that can be found here), despite the fact that romance-heavy stories aren’t usually my thing.
Maxine Kiss is a demon hunter, the latest in a long line of female warriors. She’s invulnerable during the day, thanks to a series of elaborate tattoos that move across her skin. At night the tattoos take on their true forms, small demons that fight at Maxine’s side. She settled in Seattle, moving in with a man who has his own special abilities and his own goal – one that seems to conflict with hers. When the cops show up to ask about a murder victim who was investigating Maxine, she knows that the problem is likely to be something that the police can’t face. The veil that protects our world from all but the weakest of demons is in danger of collapsing, and the potential allies that Maxine meets are as disturbing as her enemies. She has to explore her family’s past in order to have a chance in the coming fight.
Something about Liu’s style really attracts me. At times her prose is refreshingly direct, and then it slips into beautiful, descriptive phrases that paint a vivid image without going overboard. The main character may sound like a typical urban fantasy Tough Chick, but some aspects of the story are extremely personal and keep her from being a generic heroine. Maxine’s tattoo demons (referred to as “the boys”) manage to be both cute and creepy, which really worked for me.
There was a story about this character published in a paranormal romance collection called Wild Thing, and there are allusions to those events that feel like the recaps usually found in later series books. I followed the plot fine without having read the short story, but it’s really unsettling to read the first book in a series and wonder how much of your confusion about the set-up is because you’ve missed some of the available backstory. For example, I didn’t feel that Maxine’s relationship was developed enough to explain why she, a demon hunter, could be seriously involved with a guy who was trying to help zombies.
Apart from that, there are several other things that seem unclear. Maxine had some flashes of understanding that weren’t communicated very well. One of the locations could have been more defined, even after re-reading several passages I can’t tell if the Labyrinth and the Wasteland are supposed to be the same place. Characters who were supposedly helping Maxine didn’t do much to help her understanding of the situation, they either deflected questions or answered in riddles. As much as it frustrated her, it frustrated me as a reader even more. It would have been better if the cryptic answers crowd had been a bit smaller or hadn’t dragged it out for a little too long. The one who finally started giving her straight answers before the rest immediately became my favorite of the side characters.
The layered story and engaging heroine easily outweigh those issues. There’s a good mix of action and mystery, and the level of originality makes it a nice break from vampire and shapeshifter stories. I’d recommend it to any urban fantasy fan.