(2008) Chris Evans, Simon & Schuster, £12.99, pbk, 419pp, ISBN 978-1-847-37362-5
I would normally start a review with a bit about the author, especially for a new writer, hoping to get a feel for where the book comes from but, unfortunately, we get very little detail about Chris Evans himself. My first reaction on reading the title was, 'Elves and Iron? Surely they don't mix,' and, true enough, most of the elves in this world are your typical faerie folk who won't touch the stuff. However, a shadow queen has tainted some of the race, and many elvish children are born with a nasty birthmark and an affinity for iron, but are unable to use their inate elvish abilities.
The story takes place in a large colony, Elfkyna, of an empire that closely resembles a typical European empire from the late 18th century (round shot and blackpowder), with all its ignorance and contempt for the native inhabitants and their culture. There is a good chunk of backstory to this book, in which the colony's previous viceroy is deliberately killed by his own troops when it becomes obvious he is working for the shadow monarch. As a consequence of this, the iron elves are disbanded and their commander, Konowa Swift Dragon, is exiled to the jungles of Elfkyna for the murder of the viceroy. The story picks up a year on, with the arrival of the new viceroy (a typically nasty piece of work), amid rumours that a fallen star has crashed in Elfkyna, a powerful artefact that everyone wants to get their hands on. A royal prince is also pursuing the fallen star and decides to re-form the iron elves. Unfortunately they are all hundreds of miles away, except for their former, disgraced commanding officer. So the regiment is raised from the scum from other units and sets off on what is, seemingly, a suicide mission under the command of the prince and Konowa.
The cover carries a quote that describes this book as a 'literary love child of Tolkien and Bernard Cornwall' (Sharp series), but the child has turned out to be a very ugly one. Most of the characters are fairly typical stereotypes, the command structure of the regiment is non-existent, with no one between RSM and Major, and even the arrogant, half-witted prince appears to have no staff... I've tried to keep this review civil, and I know the background of empire, jingoism and blind ignorance of colonisers really gets under my skin in particular but, even accepting my own prejudices, I enjoy reading for the escape from the ugliness of the 'real world', and I feel that Chris Evans writing is not yet up to distracting me.
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