Iron & Velvet
Riptide / December 16, 2013 / $16.99 print
First rule in this line of business: don’t sleep with the client.
My name’s Kate Kane, and when an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince came to me with a case, I should have told her no. But I’ve always been a sucker for a femme fatale.
It always goes the same way. You move too fast, you get in too deep, and before you know it, someone winds up dead. Last time it was my partner. This time it could be me. Yesterday a werewolf was murdered outside the Velvet, the night-time playground of one of the most powerful vampires in England. Now half the monsters in London are at each other’s throats, and the other half are trying to get in my pants. The Witch Queen will protect her own, the wolves are out for vengeance, and the vampires are out for, y’know, blood.
I’ve got a killer on the loose, a war on the horizon, and a scotch on the rocks.
It’s going to be an interesting day.
The tone of the cover copy makes it clear that this is a mystery written by someone who appreciates Dashiell Hammett.The materials for any standard murder mystery are present—a victim or two, and a few attempted murders, and Kate Kane is hired to find the killer. But Kate is more than a dame with a gat and a P.I. license. The victim was a werewolf, Kate’s client is a vampire, and Kate might look like an ordinary human, but her mother is the Queen of the Wild Hunt, some sort of fae, and she has some powers of her own.
Okay, so how to describe this book? It’s like a high quality fruitcake and if you like dense pastry with lots of ingredients, it’s perfect.
This is a glorious mishmash of hardboiled detective, fairy tale with tensions created by vampire vs werewolf vs mage, along with demons from hell and often set in the London sewers. Something that is probably Excalibur is thrown in too, pulled from the Thames.
Here’s an example of author Alexis Hall piling it high with just one character: the love interest—and client—is one of four dangerous and powerful vampire princes, a system that seems Tarot-based. She’s an eight hundred year old vampire named Julian, and was once a demon-hunting ninja nun who has a thing about pudding and now runs a night-club among other things.
Trying to pick out and identify the different elements, I found myself looking for familiar tropes or easter eggs:
A reference to the detective portion of the book:
Kate mentions Sam Spade. Her dead partner is named Archer. Kate says things like “I’ve known some loopy dames in my time but this one took the biscuit.”
A popular fictional vampire reference:
Kate’s ex-lover, Patrick, is a depressive stalker who went after her in high school and who glumly declares his devotion whenever he can and tries to keep her safe. (“He looked deeply pained. Or faintly constipated.” I read that and thought, hey, Edward! )
A Casablanca reference:
“Perhaps this was the start of a beautiful indifference.”
- You’ll even find a Chaucer reference in there, along with some Middle English.
Side characters include a scary alpha female, a scarier ex-alpha old lady, a succubus who’s moved out of the soul-sucking business, zombie nuns, and a gorgeous female who was a statue apparently created by a would-be Pygmalion—and who comes across as a version of Data from Star Trek. We have werewolves and vampires and mages running around London. My favorite unusual creations are the hive-minds. Jack and Nancy is a brother and sister pair who come across as slightly simple, but probably they’re distracted because, in fact, they’re composed of thousands of rats. There are other even more disgusting versions of hive-minders and also something Kate describes as a “blood sucking poo monster,”with mouths on its hands.
The creatures are interesting inventions and so is the landscape. For instance, the mages are hard to find, and seem to occupy a different plane of existence except when they park themselves in strange urban locations, like the local sportsclub. What’s clear is that this writer’s imagination works overtime coming up with variations on familiar themes.
There are a lot of entertaining bits—references to famous books or just fun stuff by the author. It’s the kind of story where if you go on a hunt for those sly lines you’ll discover a few per page.
The humor is dry, clever, often subtle (rather than slap-stick or self-congratulatory) and doesn’t get in the way of the story. The funny stuff certainly adds to the first person character of Kate.
Some of her shticks are over-the-top. Every time Kate is almost killed, the following words pop into her head: “Here lies Kate Kane, killed by (whatever situation or creature that is currently trying to off her). Beloved daughter. Sorely missed.” After a while I started to roll my eyes at it. But then it showed up so often I laughed at it again. Extravagant excess is the point of this book. By the last time, she just starts with “Here lies—“
It’s not erotic romance, but there is plenty of girl-on-girl sex. I haven’t read a lot of f/f books, but tension is tension, and two people lusting for each other and then going at it—when it’s described well, the heat carries over, no matter which genders are involved. Kate seems to be attracted to any number of characters, but she seems to like her women hot, dangerous and more than human. There is a bit of the standard for paranormals and other romances—almost everyone wants Kate and she does a lot of lusting as well.
With all of these ingredients does the book hold together? Yup, but following occasionally takes a bit of concentration. That makes sense, because we are introduced to a bunch of characters and an alternate world’s conventions and it’s fresh. That means the world might be familiar, but it’s not the same old thing. I occasionally had a sense that I was reading a book in a series, because past action is described quickly and not great detail—so I wasn’t sure if it was the first book set in this universe. I looked and Iron and Velvet is the first and, yes, it is going to be a series. Oh boy!
The last time I encountered a world with this much to figure out right out of the box, it was Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series, another tough female loner who solves crimes set in a wild alternate universe. And like that series, Iron & Velvet is worth the work.
Learn more about or order a copy of Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall, available December 16, 2013:
Kate Rothwell writes romance using her own name and the pseudonym Summer Devon. She lives in Connecticut with four men (three of whom are her sons). You can find out more about her at KateRothwell.com and SummerDevon.com.