Title: Iron Cast
Author: Destiny Soria
Genre: Historical Fiction / Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: October 11th
Kindle Edition: 384 Pages
It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.
“I’m not a nice person… so the sooner you wrap your head around that, the better. I don’t like people expecting me to be something I’m not.”
I received an advance review copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Ada is a songsmith; through her music, she can evoke from the listener the keenest loss or sharpest pain, sending them through their deepest memories in the space of a few bars. Corrine is a wordsmith; with a few lines of poetry, she can create illusions so real, they can fool a bridge full of people and press. In post World War 1 Boston, the threat of Prohibition looms over their heads, and the stage of their adopted home, the Cast Iron Club, like the Grim Reaper’s scythe, promising death to their way of life and income. Already, they and the other club performers are targets of the Hemopath Protection Agency, an agency dedicated to identifying those “afflicted” with hemopathy and removing them from the public sphere, and the more violent Ironmonger, vigilantes who will would rather see all hemopaths dead. To practice their arts is criminal. To not practice, unthinkable. Cast Iron owner Johnny Dervish gave them a safe place to live, and to perform. That he asks them to help supplement the failing club’s income through less legal means is merely the price they pay for safety. When that protection fails, and Johnny is killed, Ada and Corrine are determined to do what they can to save the Cast Iron, themselves, and their friends.
Ironcast is Soria’s debut novel, and what a debut it is! This book reads like classic Urban Fantasy of which I am so fond, evoking the same feel as authors who excelled in the format, such as Emma Bull or Charles de Lint. That said, while Ironcast certainly has the feel of Urban Fantasy, don’t go into it expecting magic, or high fantasy elements, like elves or wizards. This book reads more as historical fiction, with a paranormal/fantasy twist. Hemopaths, like our main characters Ada and Corrine, have a sensitivity to iron. It’s painful for them to hold or touch in the extreme, burning their skin like a brand. The presence of iron around them can cause extreme discomfort, depending on the amount; iron-free buildings, such as the Cast Iron club, are safe spaces for hemopaths, but those places are few and far between. Hemopaths can be thespians, artists, wordsmiths, or songsmiths- performers that can trick the mind, the body, and the heart, and make real the imagined. The use of hemopathic talent is outlawed in Boston, but, just as we see during Prohibition, people will still pay a high price for the forbidden. Soria’s world is rich and developed, and as a fan of this historical era, I can’t quite sing its praises enough.
The main characters of Ada and Corrine are well-developed. Their strong and enduring friendship is very believable, and they really are the driving force for the story. Soria manages to weave their histories and backgrounds into the telling of their present with almost seamless grace. Ada, as a biracial teen in this era, is already a target for prejudice; that she is a hemopath makes her an outcast among outcasts. Corrine comes from high society, a place where she never fit, and is hiding from her family’s eyes and name; if her affliction was known, it would bring ruin upon them. My only real complaint about the two of them is that Corrine’s personality overshadows Ada’s at times, almost, but not quite, to the detriment of their equal importance in the narrative. Otherwise, they are main characters that truly balance each other well. The primary supporting characters, Gabriel, Charlie, and Saint, are equally as developed as
the main, sketched quickly but fully, and our villains, who truly do get very little screen time, still feel real and powerful.
Throughout the narrative, Soria touches on social issues and prejudices that, while certainly period, also parallel modern issues. We see racial tensions, post-war immigration disputes, and the Socialism versus Democracy debate, all tied into the very real human fear of the Strange and Different. We also see a LGBTQ relationship portrayed both as a normal occurrence, and as something to be wary of publicizing. Ironcast tackles these topics in ways that are almost vital to the narrative, little nods here and there that may not seem important at the time, but in the final chapters weave together to lock the answers in place.
Now, all of that said, I did have a couple of issues of note, aside from my previous comment about Corrine overshadowing Ada. Ironcast starts off with a lot of action in the first fifty or so pages, then lags a bit for the next fifty or so. Once I got past that lag, however, I had difficulty putting the book down. I was truly invested in Ada and Corrine’s story. That Soria wove a mystery element into the plot likely helped with that; I do so love a good mystery. I also felt that the last chapter was truly unnecessary. It’s only in that chapter that I was reminded that this is Soria’s debut. The story could have ended with Chapter 22, and I would have been perfectly happy. The last chapter just didn’t mesh with the rest of the narrative; I feel as if it were an add-on because someone felt that we needed a “wrap-up” at the end to make things neat and tidy.
Still, I very much recommend this book. Despite receiving and electronic copy as an ARC, I will be purchasing it when it releases it in October, because I need to be able to see this book on my shelf. Iron Cast is a standalone story; as of this review, there is no indication of additional books to indicate a series. If you’re a fan of the Prohibition era, or subtle urban fantasy, or strong standalone stories, I really do suggest you give Iron Cast a shot when it releases. I sincerely doubt you’ll regret it.