fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Elizabeth Bear Promethean Age Blood and IronBlood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear may have given her novel a rather generic title, but within the covers of the book is a story of intrigue, politics, family relations, romance, mystery and magic, as well as one of the best depictions of Faerie I’ve read in a long time. If you love fantasy, but are sick of boring Tolkien knock-offs, then Blood and Iron should fix you up nicely. Reminiscent of several other original fantasists, (Patricia McKillip and Jan Siegel spring to mind) this is an interesting take on the world of Faerie and its relationship to our own world.

The realm of Faerie and the world of men have been engaged in a cold war for centuries. Whilst Faerie agents known as Seekers steal away human-beings with a faerie heritage in order to swell their dwindling ranks, the human-magi known as the Prometheus Club attempt to close all ties between the two realms and secure their own race.

Two members of each side come head to head over a young potential named Hope: Matthew Szczegielniak (whose brother was stolen away by Faerie) and the woman only known as Seeker, who is bound against her will to the Faerie Queen Mebd. Seeker wins this particular confrontation, racing back to Faerie with Hope and a new servant, (a kelpie named Whiskey) but soon both sides become aware of another target that could tip the balance in the ongoing stalemate of the battle. A being known as ‘the Merlin’ has been born again, which inevitably means that a Dragon Prince will emerge too, and the pattern of violence, betrayal, sacrifice, bloodshed and cataclysmic change that inevitably follows these two figures will once again take place. The most famous Dragon Prince is obviously King Arthur Pendragon, but Bear makes some fascinating connections between him and other ‘Dragon Princes’ in legend and history: Emperor Huang Di, Sigurd, Harold Godwinson, and Vlad Dracul, all of whom were doomed to fate.

But this time the Merlin is a vivacious and beautiful woman, whose loyalties are divided between her own people and her affinity with Faerie. Furthermore, Seeker finds that her own family is firmly caught up in the conflict, acting as the playing pieces of the drama as it unfolds. How far will a fey creature go to protect her kin? What does it take to thwart fate? How can a war be won when neither side is either completely innocent or totally condemnable? Is the cost of one soul worth the victory of a war? Don’t you love fantasy books that tackle the big questions? Bear juggles a range of story threads, including the intrigues of the faerie court, the power struggles of factions like the Prometheus Club, the Unseelie Court and even Hell itself, the tensions within a werewolf pack, the decay of Faerie and the inner struggles of Seeker’s family: her ex-lover, her parents, her servants, her son and her bondage to the Faerie Queen. All of this can be confusing at times, as often Bear’s language gets rather dense at times, obscuring what’s going on in the actual story. This being the case, it is also fair to say that Blood and Iron demands a second reading; it is so full of meaning, foreshadowing, twists and interesting storytelling techniques (my favourite being an unexpected, but entirely workable switch from third-person to first-person narrative) that one read could never do it justice.

What is best about Bear’s portrayal of Faerie is her acceptance of its mutability. As we know, the figure of King Arthur Pendragon is a legendary figure, with very little grounding in historical fact. Bear acknowledges this, but nevertheless Arthur appears as a character within the story — because humanity’s mythology translates into reality when in Faerie. As one character puts it: “Bard’s tales shape history as much as history shapes the tales. Especially here, where will is the shape of the world.” As such, characters such as Morgan le Fay and Robin Good fellow (a.k.a. Puck) appear as the changeable reflections of their portrayals on this earth.

Blood and Iron is also full of mythological and literary references, everything from old ballads to Victorian children’s literature, the Bible to Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis to Tolkien. It’s impossible to catch every single quote and allusion to our own literary history, but its still fun to keep one’s eyes open for them. It’s certainly not a perfect book, nor an easy one to read; but it is memorable and thought-provoking, and has increasingly rare features of the fantasy genre: creativity and imagination. Wow.

Promethean Age — (2006-2008) Publisher: Spellbound by the Faerie Queen, the woman known as Seeker has abducted human children for her mistress’s pleasure for nearly an eternity, unable to free herself from her servitude and reclaim her own humanity. Seeker’s latest prey is a Merlin. Named after the legendary wizard of Camelot, Merlins are not simply those who wield magic, they are magic. Now, with rival mages also vying for the favor of this being of limitless magic to tip the balance of power, Seeker must persuade the Merlin to join her cause — or else risk losing something even more precious to her than the fate of humankind.

Elizabeth Bear Promethean Age 1. Blood and Iron, 2. Whiskey and Water, 3. Ink and Steel, 4. Hell and Earth Elizabeth Bear Promethean Age 1. Blood and Iron, 2. Whiskey and Water, 3. Ink and Steel, 4. Hell and Earth Elizabeth Bear Promethean Age 1. Blood and Iron, 2. Whiskey and Water, 3. Ink and Steel, 4. Hell and Earth Elizabeth Bear Promethean Age 1. Blood and Iron, 2. Whiskey and Water, 3. Ink and Steel, 4. Hell and Earth


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.