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Irons in the Fire
Juliet E. McKenna
Solaris, 517 pages

Irons in the Fire
Juliet E. McKenna
Juliet E. McKenna was born in Lincolnshire in 1965 and later moved to Dorset. She went to St Hilda's College, Oxford where she studied Greek and Roman history and literature. After graduating, She went into recruitment and personnel work, writing whenever time was available. After the birth of her first child, she took a part-time job in a bookstore. Another child and more pitches to publishers resulted in a deal with Orbit for The Swordsman's Oath. She now lives in West Oxfordshire with her family.

Juliet E. McKenna Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tammy Moore

For generations the common folk have fled Lescar in search of a better life outside fractious borders contested by ambitious dukes. If the family could not flee then they sent their children away, to protect them from the rapacious nobles who would steal away daughters for their beds and sons for their militia or for the gallows.

Tathrin was one of those exiled sons, sent to study in the City of Vanam by his inn-keeper father. The plan was for him to do what other Lescari exiles had done, find a position, establish himself and send coin home to help his relatives meet the dukes punitive taxes.

Instead, the fellow-feeling of exiles drew Tathrin into the employ of the crippled nobleman Aremil and together they dreamt of rebellion.

But sheltered noble scholars and poor idealistic students make poor tacticians, and dreams make even poorer shields against the swords of the mercenary companies in the Duke's employ. They find little support among their Lescari fellows, who are concerned more with not making things worse for their kin back home. It is only when the pragmatic merchant Gruit and the dangerous Lady Charoleia add their skills to the mix that the rebellion starts to take form.

Although perhaps not the form that Tathrin and Aremil hoped; for Lescar's freedom will not be bought with bloodless coin. The Dukes of Lescar have held power for generations and they will not give an inch they do not have to surrender. Nor are they without means or wiles of their own, and in the Lescari kinfolk left behind by the exiles they have a bargaining chip they won't hesitate to abuse.

Irons in the Fire is a wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Thank goodness it was written by Juliet E. McKenna, otherwise I might not have picked it up. In fact, for years I didn't read any of her books because they didn't appeal to me -- or rather the blurb on the back didn't. I bought my first novel by her after hearing her talk about it at a convention and being impressed by the idea of the world. I'd finished the novel by the time I got home and ordered the rest online.

She is a masterful craftsman, turning seemingly unexceptional plots into a tapestry of conflict and complications that you can't bring yourself to put down. The worlds she builds are cohesive, fully realized societies with their own internal fault-lines and tripwires and her plots are vast, intricate and flawlessly executed things. There's a sparse elegance to her writing that I envy. It isn't as lush or intrinsically beautiful in and off itself as some writers prose, but it tells the story in the most effective way possible. In a book that contains multiple viewpoints, a large cast of characters and the sprawling, essential dukedoms of Lescar -- I was never lost as to what just happened. I never had to flick back pages to remind myself who the Artificer Kerith was or what his role was. Each character is neatly penned, distinct and unique, and wholly believable. The clarity of her writing is impressive.

As is the subtlety. Some of the problems Tathrin, Branca -- oh, how I loved Branca -- Aremil and their allies will face in the upcoming novels are obvious, but others are less so. We, the reader, can just glimpse the forming, hairline cracks of distrust as old alliances suffer, new ones are formed and we can see the future where the conspirators common cause will falter.

I can't wait.

Copyright © 2009 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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