Tuesday, May 05, 2009

“Iron Angel”, by Alan Campbell (Tor)


A dark, brooding and thoroughly haunting sequel to Scar Night

In the aftermath of the destruction of the chained city of Deepgate, the Spine militia struggle to halt the exodus of panicking citizens with brutal force. Rachel and the young angel Dill are captured and taken to the Temple torture chambers, but they are in greater danger from what lurks in the shadows outside the Temple stronghold.

The god Ulcis’ death has left the gates to hell unguarded, and all manner of foul things are rising from the abyss below the ruined city. In the skies above, the god of brine and fog is coming to join forces with his remaining brothers to avenge Ulcis, and Rachel and Dill will find themselves caught between two opposing forces, as men and gods, archons and slaves are forced into desperate alliances in a battle they cannot hope to win.

Scar Night was a magnificent debut, and Campbell doesn’t disappoint with the sequel. Iron Angel is an utterly spellbinding, richly Gothic tale of angels, gods and demons. We catch up with Rachel and Dill, fleeing for their lives, and are introduced to a host of new characters: Cospinol, the decaying god of brine and fog, and John Anchor, the giant who hauls his skyship across the land; handsome Rys, the god of flowers and knives; Silister Trench, the dead archon; Alice Harper, dead engineer and reluctant servant of King Menoa, lord of hell (and easily the most terrifying creature yet encountered); and the mysterious Mina Greene.

Campbell’s characters are dark, sinister, frequently grotesque, and always complex. For example, Alice Harper would seem to be nothing more than Menoa’s faithful, if reluctant servant, but the author shows us that Alice’s reasons for obeying Menoa are multi-layered and completely human, no matter what monstrous form he has currently forced her into. Cospinol is a very human god: capable of human emotions, such as fear. Ultimately, everyone in Campbell’s world is flawed.

The plot tears along, teeming with infernal machines, grotesque experimental creatures, warped humans and tattered angels. The author brings his world vividly to life; at once squalid and magnificent in its decay.

Despite the undoubted darkness and repellent nature of much of his creation, he succeeds in making us really care about what happens to his characters: from Dill, the young and damaged angel; to Carnival, the scarred angel who is just as much a victim of others’ machinations as Dill is. No one in Campbell’s world can ever really be labeled absolutely good or utterly evil, and that is, in part, what keeps his writing so gripping: it is almost impossible to predict what will happen next, or how a character will evolve.

A beautifully written, darkly realized, mesmerising read. The wait for God of Clocks will be unbearable!

Very highly recommended. Not a typical fantasy, Iron Angel is a must-read for absolutely everyone.

Series Chronology: Scar Night, Iron Angel, God of Clocks (Already available in the US, it is released July 3rd, 2009 in the UK)

For Fans of: Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Mark Charan Newton, Nick Harkaway, China Mieville

Reviewed by Emma

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