by Marjorie M Liu, fantasy (2008)
Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01606-8
Meet Maxine Kiss. She's a Warden and a Hunter. The Warden part comes from the fact that her body is the daytime home to five demons. These demons exist as tattoos on her body until the sun sets, upon which they leave her body to become her allies in her quest to destroy demons (that is where the Hunter part comes into the equation). In The Iron Hunt, we will learn that she is a very important weapon - or is that pawn? - as a new threat to the world arises.
That is pretty much the basic premise of The Iron Hunt. This is not a romance so you really shouldn't be reading this while expecting soulmate concepts and magic sex to show up. This is Maxine's story. She has a relationship with a former priest Grant, who currently rehabilitates zombies (which are demons residing in a human host in this story) to behave and act like decent members of society, but don't expect any torrid "You're my soulmate, baby! The joining of our bodies will cause pink-tinted laser beams to shoot out from my magic hoo-hah to destroy the ugly bad guys!" romance here. This is Maxine's story first and foremost as she learns more about her legacy, her mother and grandmother, and the enemies and possible allies that she is about to face.
This story isn't that bad at first. When I first read this book, I have not read the short story where Maxine was first introduced (Hunter's Kiss in the anthology Wild Things), but I find it surprisingly easy to fill in the blanks and catch up. In fact, I'm actually happy to read an urban fantasy story that isn't bogged down by ridiculously overplayed love triangles but instead allows the heroine to do her thing without going, "Oh! Ranger or Joe? What shall I do? Oh!" This story is full of choppy sentences, but it fits the story well as the choppy sentences complement the urgent brisk pacing of the story and get my adrenaline pumping along with Maxine's. The adapted Sumerian mythology that Ms Liu has woven into the story comes together to present a great canon. Plus, I love the tattoo demons, they are so cute. If Ms Liu ever makes chibi plushies of those demons on sale, I'm definitely buying them without hesitation.
Also, I love the poetic darkness of the story - one day, Maxine will bear a daughter who will inherit the tattoos when the daughter proves herself capable of becoming a Warden and Hunter. When that happens, Maxine will be vulnerable and will definitely fall prey to her enemies - just like how her mother died shortly after Maxine inherited the tattoos, just like how Maxine's grandmother died after Maxine's mother inherited the tattoos. Maxine doesn't expect a happily ever after with the more optimistic Grant. Grant and Maxine don't burn up the pages with breathless passion, but I appreciate that, actually, because I like how Maxine does her thing here without being bogged down or held back by more stereotypical baggages of a paranormal romance. Besides, it's nice to see how the more optimistic Grant balances Maxine's darker nature well here.
The story is going so well until Ms Liu introduces a character that makes me want to perform a Mortal Kombat fatality on that creature - Jack Meddle, who seems to be the designated Rupert Giles character to Maxine's Buffy in future books in the series. Jack is the most irritating character since the Architect in those The Matrix movies because this man cannot answer a question directly. He's not the only one to do this, as this book is filled with characters who love to answer Maxine's questions with very vague and evasive answers, but Jack is the worst if only because by the end of the book he doesn't get at least both his legs amputated and the rest of him thrown into a deep garbage collection bin so that he will have a merry time trying to pull himself out. Instead, he gets to live and a hug from Maxine despite having done nothing significant to help her at all in this story!
And oh my goodness, those characters. If Maxine asks them what color the sky is, they will answer by telling her to come see them the next morning even if they know that the fate of the world is on the balance because they want to be so mysterious that way. They answer things vaguely, or when they have run out of cryptic rubbish to say, insist that they can't tell Maxine because they have made some kind of vow in the past to never blab. And they will do this even when it's clear that the world will go ka-boom in five seconds because they are so annoying that way. If I were Maxine, I'd have happily taken out two knives and stabbed these bastards happily, one knife jammed down each eye socket, because I come this close to throwing this book across the room. All those annoying characters who cannot give a straight answer and yet keep talking on and on - my goodness! If they can't say anything, why can't they just keep quiet and go sit in a corner?
I like The Iron Hunt, but I spend so much of the second half of the book wishing that I can find a way to jam a few boots down the throats of all those babbling and useless wretches in the story to the point that it's pretty much a lost cause to try to love this book. I love the concept of Maxine Kiss, I love the setting, I want to know more about the developing storyline, and I beg Ms Liu not to turn the Tracker into Maxine's Ranger because I am so sick and tired of my favorite series eventually mutating into a fanservice soap-opera. But I also wish that somebody will just shut those horribly irritating characters up as well.
Be a dear, Ms Liu, and banish my demons - just make those contrived attempts at making the story cryptic go away in the next book. Please.
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