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Iron Jaw and Hummingbird
Chris Roberson
Viking, 368 pages

Iron Jaw and Hummingbird
Chris Roberson
Chris Roberson's short fiction can be found in the anthologies Live Without a Net (Roc, 2003), The Many Faces of Van Helsing (Ace, 2004), Tales of the Shadowmen (Black Coat Press, 2005), and FutureShocks (Roc, 2006). His story "O One" won the 2003 Sidewise Award for Best Short-Form Alternate History and was nominated for the 2004 World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction. With director Robert Rodriguez, he is the co-author of the Shark Boy and Lava Girl Adventures (Troublemaker Publishing, May 2005). In 2003, he launched the independent press MonkeyBrain Books, an publishing house specializing in genre fiction and non-fiction genre studies. His first novel is Here, There & Everywhere. He and his family reside in Austin, Texas.

Chris Roberson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Paragaea
SF Site Review: Here, There and Everywhere
SF Site Review: Here, There and Everywhere

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Enzinas

The Celestial Empire is an alternate world where Imperial China did not retreat within its borders in the 15th century but expanded until a thousand years later it had colonized and begun terraforming Mars. Iron Jaw and Hummingbird tells the tale of two young people who find themselves in a position to bring the corruption of the government to light and improve the fates the inhabitants of Fire Star.

The boy, Huang, is given a commission in the military by his parents but is captured by bandits on his first mission. Kept as a slave, he eventually wins their acceptance and they take him in. His influence and tactical skills slowly turn them from bandits to freedom fighters. Under his leadership they begin attacking the government more directly.

The girl, Gamine, was taken from her life as a street urchin by a noble lady who wished to train her in the skills of the upper class. However, after showing she had mastered everything she had been taught, she was of no further use to her former mistress and kicked to the curb where she falls in with an old con artist who helps her come to terms with her new situation. She ends up conning herself into the position of priestess in a newly formed religious movement.

In the third act of the book the two groups join forces against the governor.

The world is a inspired extrapolation of imperial China, but I was occasionally frustrated by the lack of technology by a culture that had mastered interplanetary space flight centuries before. Fortunately this did not detract from the story telling at all. Mr. Roberson has a strong sense of narrative and needed to use no tricks to keep my interest in the story. Huang and Gamine were both very sympathetic and compelling characters and I never once felt that they were only acting as a mouthpiece for the author.

As a work of young adult fiction I was delighted to see that the characters were given agency. They had opportunity to make the moral choices that drove their actions and they were not saved from the outcomes of bad choices. In what I think was the best part of the book they were even able to think about their actions and change their minds.

Mr. Roberson mentions in his end notes that much of the large scale conflict of the book was inspired by the Boxer Rebellion and its organizational structure. He also took inspiration from Kipling's Kim which I have not read, but am now inspired to (once I finish the stack of review books I have).

I would recommend Iron Jaw and Hummingbird for anyone interested in Chinese history or mythology.

Copyright © 2008 John Enzinas

John Enzinas reads frequently and passionately. In his spare time he plays with swords.

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