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a nod of (mixed-up) appreciation

My Clarion West classmate Tina Connolly pointed out to me that my short story “Bone Mother” has been placed on the latest very very long list of stories eligible for the Nebula Awards. It’s nice that at least one SFWA member thought my story good enough for a nomination.

What’s amusing to me is that the story is miscredited to Maureen F. McHugh. Maureen is a fabulous writer, so I’m mostly flattered by this mix-up. I’ve pointed out the mistake, and I’m sure it will be resolved eventually.

At the weekend I picked up Marjorie M. Liu‘s latest novel, The Iron Hunt. Liu has established herself with a series of paranormal romance novels, none of which I’ve read. The story description of The Iron Hunt caught my attention a while back when it was released, so when I saw it in Forbidden Planet in London I scooped it up.

There are a number of reasons I enjoyed reading this novel, but one factor is its brisk, lean style that lends the prose a muscular vigour that propels you along with the action. The story revolves around Maxine Kiss, whose entire body is covered in tattoos of demons – at night the pack of demons peel off her body and become flesh.

Yet, Maxine is a demon hunter, a hereditary job that is passed from mother to daughter upon the death of the mother. The mythology of this world states that demons were captured in a prison over ten thousand years ago, but certain demons have always been able to escape – and when they do they possess the bodies of humans (Maxine refers to them as zombies). Maxine’s job is to exorcise people of demons, preferably without destroying the host body, but the host is often considered disposable. At this point in the story the prison is failing, and it’s expected the demons will descend upon humanity in a short period of time.

Hunters generally have short, brutal lives, with no emotional attachments except between mothers/daughters. The main story opens five years after Maxine has become a Hunter, and she has settled into a life in Seattle with Grant, an ex-priest and social worker, who is capable of influencing others. He’s been trying to work with the demons that infect humans to sway them to a different life. Maxine has allowed this to happen, despite her innate suspicion and the dictates of her vocation. As the story progresses more about the background of the creators of the prison is revealed, along with information about the initial pact made by Maxine’s progenitor, the first Hunter. Maxine realises she must revise her notions of what is right and wrong in order to survive.

Overall I thought The Iron Hunt was a terrific fast-paced book. My only complaint is that there is a story device used that became tiresome at times. In fact, I commented upon the use of this same device in my review of Cherie Priest’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds. In The Iron Hunt Maxine is ignorant of a great deal of information about her background – people have wilfully kept it from her. So, over the course of the book this information is doled out in dribs and drabs, often in obscure hints, and via silences. It’s a way to control the exposition in the story so it doesn’t hit the reader in one torrent, and it’s tied up with the mystery at the centre of the novel that Maxine must uncover. Yet, there were several times during the novel when I just found the deliberate obfuscation downright irritating. I don’t mind being tantalised, but when everyone in the story seems to know more than your POV protagonist it seems rather unbelievable as well as aggravating.

Despite this quibble I think The Iron Hunt shows tremendous promise for this urban fantasy series, and I look forward to the next instalment.

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