City of Iron and Dust by J.P. Oakes
Titan Books, £8.99, PB
Reviewed by Steve Dean
There was once a fair city, filled with all manner of fae beings, living in peace and harmony. Then the goblins came, as they often do, from the north. But this time, something was different; by some trick or deceit, the goblins actually won, slaughtering all the fae armies that stood in their way. The city is now a prison of iron, controlled by brutal goblin families and their allies. The fae are little more than slaves, an underclass ground beneath the boots of their conquerors. Many of the fae think about rebelling, but the few times they rose up in the past, it didn’t end well. The iron of the city suppresses their innate magical abilities, and the only thing that can set them free is Dust. A rare and expensive commodity, Dust gives the fae a tiny taste of magic, nowhere near enough to fight back against their oppressors.
All that’s about to change. There’s rebellion in the air, and the largest sack of Dust anyone has ever seen has arrived from beyond the city walls. Whoever controls the Dust decides the fate of them all.
I really don’t want to tell you too much about this book as I’d like you to experience it for yourself. From the first sentence, this story grabbed me and pulled me in. I was completely absorbed as the story followed each of the many characters, some good, some bad, some both, by turns. All of them are fully realised, four-dimensional and totally believable, each with their own agenda. The action is brutal and bloody and very convincing; the baddies can shoot straight, and the heroes can bleed.
The city itself is very well-realised, a hectic place filled with people trying to live their lives as best they can, fae and goblins both. There’s nothing here that jars, nothing that doesn’t make sense. The world outside the city is mentioned but never described, which helps maintain the sense of isolation and mystery.
Overall, this is storytelling at its best. I’ve read thousands of books literally, but this one has gone straight on to my favourites list. It’s dark, clever, funny, sarcastic, original and totally cool. And it’s a debut novel, which is startling in itself. It’s probably too early to be comparing the author to others, but imagine if Neal Asher wrote fantasy, it would be something like this. Don’t start reading this book unless you have time to finish it in one sitting or the discipline to put it down.