Review: Iron Angel by Alan Campbell (Tor UK)


This is going to be a struggle this review. Not because I don’t want to write it or that I didn’t like the book instead it’s going to be purely down to how hard it’s going to be make sense of what I’ve just read  and make it into a coherent review.

Lets start at the beginning. Iron Angel is the second book of a trilogy. The first book, Scar Night, introduced us to Deepgate, and the the battle-archon Dill. By the end of Scar Night all hell had broken loose, literally and Dill was safe enough and in hiding with his rescuer, Rachel. I loved Scar Night for its focus on the relationship between Dill and Rachel and the whole world of Deepgate.

In Iron Angel Campbell is really unleashed. He no longer needs to rely on Dill and Rachel to lead us gently into his imagination, instead he gives us his own unique form of Armageddon. Hell is flowing up into the world and its master is determined to shape it in his own (un)godly image. But he isn’t the only god and they don’t seem to share the same vision. At the start they agree they need to stop Menoa from escaping the red mist to be free in the world. So the gods send in the Cospinol, god of brine and fog to stop him.

Dill and Rachel do appear at the start but are then split up and if you enjoyed seeing their relationship develop then you’ll be disappointed. They still have a central part in events of Iron Angel but they have completely different roles. And it’s Dill that you continue to feel sorry for.

Not that there is much time to reflect.

From a slow start Campbell really ramps up the assault keeping the ideas and action flowing. It does become disorientating. Not so much because of Campbell’s ideas but through uneven storytelling.

I can understand why he pulls focus and misses out intervening scenes but sometimes after spending so long building the scenes before it feels odd to just land again with so much happening in between. And there are a couple of examples where what went on in-between is likely to have been more interesting than the details building up to it.

As odd and occasionally frustrating experience this is it doesn’t diminish from the overall effect.

Instead what you get is two different perspectives. One from thief and liar Caulker,  who accompanies John Anchor herald of Cospinol, as they quest to find Dill and Rachel across the world. The other view is from Haper, and engineer who can reshape souls, who who shows us hell and Menoa’s unbending will.

It feels fresh and unlike a lot of generic fantasy – it’s almost gothic steampunk in places. And for all those overflowing ideas and rounded characters that are neither good or bad but shaped from experience as well as abandoning the confines of Scar Night, Iron Angel is a brilliant achievement.

There is a sense that it should have been more even and well paced and focused but it’s hard to untangle and reshape this creation but you’ll be happy if you stick with it. I’m more than happy to get stuck in to God of Clocks.

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