But none of them are with him when he breaks his journey home for the holidays in an inn. None of them step in to help when a young woman is thrown off a passing stage coach into the deep snow at the side of the road. And none of them are drawn into a fight to protect her. A powerful story about beginnings, coming of age, and the way choosing to take one step towards violence can lead to a slippery and dangerous slope, this is an accomplished fantasy series driven by strong characters and fast-paced action.
So where does this book get it right? From the start, it is clear that the author is an experienced writer with a considerable amount of knowledge used to enhance the novel. The prose is tight, precise and skilfully developed, with few of the common errors often seen in less-accomplished work. Things develop smoothly and logically, and details are dropped into the plot carefully without massive info-dumping.
The world is medieval-esque, but with touches of other cultures and ideas that are combined to make a world that seems to work. The city feels like a huge Mediterranean-style urban area, and the society a combination of Renaissance and Roman Italy. Secondly, the characterisation is excellent. Aranthur is charming, polite and blithely-unaware of his effect on other people.
He often seems to go where he feels he should, unknowing of his own limits. We do not have young characters able to achieve magical things within hours, without a logical and reasonable explanation for it. The story takes its time to unfold and does not make massive leaps of faith or coincidence. On the other side of the tomb.
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The hair on the back of her neck rose. I just need air. There was nothing to fear underground. She tried to tell herself that the breath on her neck, the hand at her breast, had been air currents. Or Frank messing with her. Frank smirked. With all that talk about fairy mounds and the bowls of milk and honey they leave outside their doors. Maps would do, even crudely drawn ones. All she needed was an idea where to look.
Cold Iron by Miles Cameron
Folklore always pointed the way. When a village said the nearby hill was a fairy mound or the clearing in the woods was a Druid circle, Beth could touch the spot on the map and know. A shudder would pass through her and something low in her belly would clench. It was why Frank—handsome, sought-after Frank—had courted and married her. We signed strict agreements with the Irish government before we started digging.
He was caught last year in Mexico City trying to board a plane with his pockets stuffed full of Mayan seals. Naturally the university had pulled strings to smooth the whole thing over. She would have to watch him.
See a Problem?
Catalog the mound as quickly and thoroughly as possible before anything went missing. The digging woke him. He sent his mind out through the roots and the soil, to the west slope of the hill, where sometimes a sheep wandered and a shepherd followed, though not for many years now. The locals knew better than to disturb his sleep. They preferred the Good Neighbors quiet beneath their hills. Conn knew he was all three, his humanity worn away long ago, because immortality bred contempt for life. He knew it when he felt the girl. He could sense that. But she had the old blood, dancing hot beneath moon-pale skin.
His cock stirred. He would have her. They had to. There was no one to gainsay him. Their new priests had no power over the earth or the trees, no power over the Fae. He liked her hair. Her curves, soft like the hills. And her eyes, bright, brown, cow-like. He had not encountered a woman so appealing to him in decades. Her beauty was not the passing flower of youth, but the enduring elegance of classical proportions.
Full breasts, a defined waist, and lush hips. She had a man with her, another foreigner—slender, almost pretty, but not of the blood, and weak. Unlikely to fight for her, but easy to kill if he did. He smiled at the thought. Firm, warm, living flesh beneath him, engulfing him. Digging through the sweet green grass to reach him. Her eagerness was touchingly human. He would enjoy spreading her, drinking in her pleasure and her release. If she pleased him as much as he hoped, he would keep her for a time. Ancient, cold, tethered to the world only through the vicarious pleasure and pain—the one had no savor without the other—of humans.
Yes, he would have her, but he must satisfy more basic appetites first. He took his spear and his knife and passed through the hill—earth, wood, water, grass—changing from one thing to another, channeling his essence through each living particle, because all living things were one with his kind, to emerge in the wood at the other side of the village, and hunt. She tried to tell herself that her concerns were real and mundane: Frank and the gold. The pub attracted a rough crowd at night.
She wanted lights and people. But not company. Now he was nursing his drink and his resentment at the bar. When Beth and Frank were married, he was more discreet with his graduate-student hookups. He never picked the youngest or the prettiest ones, and at least maintained the pretense of evaluating their credentials. But no longer. She was whip thin and, Beth suspected, starved herself to stay that way.
It had been a remarkable find, a hill fort that had at one time contained at least thirty houses. Wind and weather had so changed the topography that the outline was no longer visible, even in aerial photography, but Beth had felt it there when her fingers brushed the site on the map. She had known. Frank had convinced her that the university would never fund them if she led the dig, never publish their findings if she authored their paper.
Her hill fort had made his career. He knew so much about their field, had met so many of the heroes in her professional pantheon, traveled to so many of the places she longed to go. Just being with him, she could feel a little of his personal glamour wear off on her. By the time of their third major discovery they were married, and from the outside their partnership appeared perfect. They were a globe-trotting academic couple, invited to lecture at cultural institutions around the world.
When she insisted on an equal share of the credit, he began sleeping with his students again, and she refused to identify any more sites for him. Then he betrayed her in an act that still turned her stomach whenever she thought about it. After the divorce, she found herself shut out of grants to dig unless she partnered with her ex-husband.
Beth almost felt sorry for Christie Kelley, nestled in a corner table at the other side of the taproom with Frank, sipping her half pint and staring up at him with starry-eyed adoration. She could remember feeling like that about him. Her teachers and classmates, oblivious to her defection, had continued on to the Greek and Roman galleries. Though the brooch had been snatched away and hidden, Beth had always continued to be aware of its location. There were similar brooches in the case.
Several in iron, two in silver, one in gold. Pennanular, she later learned. Moon shaped. Her thesis was focused on the early Maya. His patronage could make or break her career. No wonder she stared up at him with such slavish adoration. He was looking straight across the room at Beth, smiling. He winked, then produced one of the glittering torques from the tomb out of his pocket.
A Mick Oberon Job 1: Hot Lead, Cold Iron
Beth had fallen for the same tricks when she was his student. Frank playing the great archaeologist, Schliemann, decking his wife in the jewels of Troy. They cataloged them, preserved them, wrote about them for the public. The torc belonged in the tomb. She contemplated getting up and retrieving it. Not here, in public.
She would look like a shrew. The jealous ex-wife snatching jewelry away from the pretty young girlfriend. The hairs on the back of her neck rose. There was something behind her. Something outside the window. She tried to tell herself that the inn was old and the windows drafty, but the danger was real, and she knew it in her bones. Whatever was out there, it had power over her. It intensified the low throb between her legs and made her breasts ache.
She had to get out of the bar, away from the window. She stood, jostling her table and sending beer slopping over the rim of her glass. The bartender darted a quick, worried glance her way. Of course he did. She was behaving like a drunk. But the couple at the next table was also staring at her as was the quarryman at the bar. Was her blouse unbuttoned? She looked down to check, felt even more foolish. Her nipples were pebbled, visible through the soft cotton of her blouse. She looked back up. Now the quarryman and his buddies were smirking, but the bartender and the old-timers near the fire were studiously looking the other way.
Was she imagining all this? She felt flushed, awkward, self-conscious. Except Frank and his floozy in the corner, too absorbed in themselves to notice. She edged out of the window seat and ran smack into the quarryman. And his friends. Five of them. She could smell whiskey on his breath. She darted a quick look at Frank, still absorbed in Christie Kelley. No help there. I was just leaving. And the thing outside the window, the danger her body could feel like an icy wind, was growing closer.
She had to get out of there. She grabbed the apron of the heavy wooden top and shoved. The bastard menacing her swore and jumped back, and she scrambled past him. She fled from the room, into the front hall, and straight into the neat, silver-haired landlady. McClaren was one of her best sources of local folklore, had talked for hours about the fairy mound when Beth had first visited last spring.
It was an ordinary enough statement, but Mrs. McClaren sounded as spooked as Beth felt. The old man sitting behind the desk was Mr. Until now. His eyes were wild and his smile was gleeful. You came here looking for them. You woke the worst of a bad lot. McClaren said, and turned to Beth. An iron latch and iron bands. Old as the inn. No decent woman goes searching for the likes of them. Beth bolted. Up the stairs, into her room with the brass doorknob, and the brass bolt, and the brass window latch.
She locked all three, then took a deep breath and rested her forehead against the cool glass of the window. I am mostly familiar with Cameron through his historical fiction works, having read and reviewed a couple of books in his Tyrant and Long War series early in my career. I particularly enjoyed the first book in his Long War series, Killer of Men , which set a young protagonist from Plataea on an adventure across ancient Greece and Persia.
So when I came across Cold Iron and recognised the author, I was deeply intrigued and thought it would be an interesting book to check out, especially as it had been receiving some great reviews. After mentioning it in one of my Top Ten lists, I decided to check out the audiobook version of this book a few weeks ago. Cold Iron follows Aranthur Timos, a young student at The Academy, a prestigious institute of magic, science and other scholarly pursuits that lies at the heart of a mighty empire. But fate has something special in store for Aranthur. Travelling back to his family farm for the holidays, Aranthur stops at a small inn.
When bandits attack the owners of the inn, Aranthur steps in to try and help, and in doing so sets a momentous series of events into play. But a series of chaotic events are occurring across the lands. The city surrounding The Academy is in turmoil, as factions and noble houses fight against each other. Worse, refugees are flooding in from lands to the east, driven out of their homes by a group known as the Disciples, followers of a shadowy figure known as the Master, who seek to return the world to an ancient status quo where only the nobles have access to magic.
All reviews for: Masters & Mages
Despite being a simple student, Aranthur keeps finding himself in the centre of the momentous events sweeping the city. Can Aranthur survive all the mysterious events occurring around him, and, if he does, what sort of person will he become? I absolutely loved this book; it gets a well-deserved five stars from me. Cold Iron is an extremely clever coming-of-age fantasy story set within an immensely detailed and inventive new world. It was reminiscent of some of the older classical fantasy stories, although with some more modern language.
This results in the book having a much more unique feel to it, which I found to be quite curious and actually helped draw me into the story. The overall story of Cold Iron is quite an intriguing fantasy read that places its protagonists and point-of-view character in the centre of a worldwide conspiracy.
There are so many elements to this story to enjoy, including an excellent coming-of-age focus. Throughout the course of the book, the protagonist, Aranthur, grows from a poor and insignificant student to a central figure in the fight for kingdoms and the freedom of magic. I really enjoyed how everything that happens to Aranthur throughout the book is the direct result of the one tavern fight at the start of the book, and he is drawn into the subsequent events or introduced to key characters through sheer coincidence.
All of these elements work together to produce an incredible overall narrative that I really enjoyed listening to. For this new series, Cameron has come up with a fun and detailed fantasy world. Only a small part of this world is explored within this first book, although there are quite a number of references to nations outside of the central settings, and events occurring in these locations impact on the main story.
This world appears to be in a post-medieval point of its history, with early firearms starting to be utilised, although older technologies such as crossbows are still in use. The setting comes across a bit like Italy or France during a similar time period, but with a magical edge to it that works quite well.
The main setting is a gigantic and rich city of canals and elaborate architecture that hosts The Academy, and this serves as a perfect location for the intriguing, conspiracy-laden fantasy story.