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Steelhands
Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Spectra, 448 pages

Steelhands
Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Jaida Jones is a student at Barnard College, majoring across the street at Columbia University in East Asian Languages & Cultures. Basically, she's spending most of her time trying to learn Japanese and research her undergraduate thesis, roughly titled "Very Long Paper About Japanese Monsters." She lives in New York City with two overgrown kittens and two underappreciated parents.

Danielle Bennett escaped the thrilling, dangerous life of a Starbucks barista in Victoria, BC to write stories about magicians and enormous metal dragons instead. Nevertheless, she still knows how to make a mean cup of coffee -- or a nice one, depending on what you're in the mood for. Her other talents include unflagging politeness (after all, she is Canadian) and being able to spot a snake from a mile away.

Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Jaida Jones
ISFDB Bibliography: Danielle Bennett
SF Site Review: Havemercy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'One of the magicians who'd fitted me for my prosthetics had told me I was suffering from phantom limb -- and he was right, though I was also suffering from phantom airman alongside it.'
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Every so often I like to jump into the middle of a series, just to see how a book stands up, and if I can make top or tail of what I'm reading. Steelhands is the fourth book in a series, coming behind Havemercy, Shadow Magic, and Dragon Soul. The writing team of Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett are presenting "magicpunk" -- a fusion of magic and technology -- delivered as first person narration. Although closely related to previous works, each book in the series is intended to be a stand-alone adventure, written -- according to the publishers -- in a unique collaborative style, which consists of passing the book from one to the other author whenever ideas run out. Never having knowingly read anything written in quite that fashion, I was keen to see what I'd find.

The plot begins to thicken like a good stock with the introduction of a former Chief Sergeant of the Dragon Corps, named Owen Adamo. Now a professor of strategy at the university of Volstov, Adamo learns that Esar, the ruler of the capital, has a covert agenda to bring back magically powered sentient robot dragons, despite the likelihood of this action starting a new war. Adamo's confederates, the gay magician Royston, and the former corpsman, Balfour, would like to stop Esar's risky ambitions, but have to watch their step. Royston has already been exiled once, and Balfour, the steelhands of the title, is hampered by the degree of control his has over his metallic hands; replacements that are powered by the same type of magic as the dragons that Esar is attempting to resurrect. Oblique assistance arrives in the form of two rather different students. Toverre is what the great Ray Davies called a dedicated follower of fashion, with a penchant for his fiancé's clothes, and Laurence, who is in fact a woman, has been brought up as the son her father truly wanted. So, not the usual slackers. It is when Laurence develops suspicions about a strange illness affecting the freshers, and brings this to the attention of Adamo, that major events are set in motion.

What Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett present here is a first person POV delivered by distinct, oddball characters, who by their very nature stand aside from the crowd. Best among these, at least for me, were the tomboy girl, Laurence, and here effeminate beau, Toverre, whom I found quite entertaining as they adapt to life at the university and the university adapts to them. But it is the harder edged, somewhat grizzled trio of Adamo, Royston and Balfour who move things along politically. As events unfold, the twin threads combine in ways that will surprise few. Although, having said that, this is the kind of book where how we get there is more important than the standard way-points along the journey. Considering that there are two writers, each taking the reins when the other has run dry, the plot flows nicely enough, and is well constructed. The key strength that Jones and Bennett exhibit is diverse and convincing characterisation, which goes a long way to make up for aspects of the story which are more run of the mill. It is the distinct and individual viewpoints of the main characters that helps Steelhands to peek above the battlements of its genre.

In summary, this is a refreshing work, with just enough of everything to make it worthwhile. It's not by any means a classic, but for readers who want something that is very readable, often witty, and can be enjoyed as a stand-alone title, Steelhands does the job.

Copyright © 2011 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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