Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews (The Iron Covenant #1)

The first in a new trilogy, set after Magic Binds, book 9 in the Kate Daniels series, Iron and Magic is wonderfully, brilliantly, finally…. all about Hugh. Hugh d’Ambray, Roland’s former Warlord and all round murder boy. First introduced during Magic Strikes and responsible for all kinds of bad things in the Kate Daniels series, he was sidelined (by spoilery events I won’t recount here) until Ilona Andrews jokingly put out the idea of his story on her blog and everyone lost their damn minds. Until recently, I thought it really was some kind of mean jest, a tantalising dream, a piece of wishful thinking. You get the idea. But lo…some prayers are answered. Of course, there was the not so insignificant problem of a main character who was a serious player for Team Evil, but what must have become increasingly clear to Ilona and Gordon is that a good deal of their readership did not give two shits about any of that. Yes, he’s slaughtered thousands, hundreds of thousands maybe, and was directly or indirectly responsible for some main character deaths, kidnappings, torture, maiming, and more, but… he’s just so goddamn hot. In case you hadn’t guessed it by now, I am one of the many Hugh Fangirls and this book delivers everything we could have wanted and more. So below is my review, which I put together with absolutely no impartiality whatsoever. 

To say that Hugh starts out at rock bottom hardly does justice to his current existence- determinedly lost in alcoholic stupor, desperately trying to keep the emptiness of his severed bond with Roland at bay, his whole reason for being destroyed, everything gone. Or almost everything. His Iron Dogs remain, their loyalty to him and each other safeguarding the brotherhood, but his fall from grace has left them scattered and unprotected, easier pickings for the Legate of the Golden Legion, Landon Nez, Roland’s remaining right-hand man. His Dogs need Hugh to lead and defend them, he needs the reason they give him, a cause to hold himself together and prevent his downward spiral into the void created the absence of a man that was father, teacher, God to him over lifetimes. Enter Elara Harper, a beacon of hope in multiple forms, offering a physical base in exchange for a promise of protection, as well as something of which he is initially completely unaware, the possibility of a true ally. Both have pasts that have singled them out for fear and hated. It allows them a kind of warped equality, a shared foundation on which they could build something more than just a convenient alliance. His separation from Roland starts the process of Hugh’s increasing self-awareness, but it is his and Elara’s compact and their need to rely on each other that paves the way for real understanding- she offers a fresh perspective, a new way of looking at himself and others that allows so much of what we saw in past books to be redefined. It’s done exceptionally well, never shying from or trying to explain away Hugh’s actions, instead reframing the way the reader comprehends the world he lived in. When you are found a scared child, trained to obey one man, to follow his word as that of a God, to be bathed in his magic, and to live for his praise, what other way is open to you but to follow? Do you have a choice when your will is influenced by powerful magic? Indeed, his recently developed perception of Roland’s mistakes and his newfound ability to criticise his old master is almost childlike in its wonder. Don't get me wrong, Hugh is not de-fanged, there’s no softening, but it’s a question of choice. Whatever comes from here is truly of his own making, and it’s a point that hits hard. Of course, in this instalment the focus is squarely on Hugh since he’s the one most needing a bit of a spit and polish, whereas Elara’s powers are selectively revealed and her past that much more mysterious. The story teases with a few reveals but holds enough back that we are left seriously wanting. I can't wait to see what she's got hidden. Warn the cows. 

As always, the action scenes are top quality, full of blood and magic. The Andrews writing team have a talent for imaginative monster making as well as utilising creatures from the mythic past to great effect, whether for comic or murderous means. I wondered if this being a redemption story would negatively impact the humour so beloved in the Kate Daniels books, but it really doesn’t. Not only does Elara have some real snark, Hugh shows a capacity for attitude beyond superior self-congratulation. Their hate-hate relationship is hugely reminiscent of the early Curran-Kate one, heated exchanges full of spiked insults and sexual tension. And just when you thought you couldn’t love him anymore, the sexy time stuff proves him capable in every sense. Phew. I’m blushing and everything. The switch in perspective, away from Atlanta and the Pack, gives the entire world a novel feel, familiar yet wildly different. There are some fun appearances from well-known faces, meetings that go exactly as you’d expect, until they don’t, but the new characters do more than just hold their own. It’s all really well balanced, but leaves room for so much more. 

This book isn’t just for Hugh fans, there’s enough here to reveal another side to him, to offer reasons, and not simply empty justifications, for his past actions, as well as suggesting a future in which him and Kate might even, one day, be on the same side. Unthinkable, right?? Wrong. The climax certainly provides such tantalising possibilities for Magic Triumphs, out in August, as well as setting up dramatic and thrilling things for the next two Iron Covenant books. Yes, this could technically be read as a standalone trilogy, but why would you deny yourself the experience of two great linked series? Once again, Ilona and Gordon Andrews prove they are at the very top of the UF game, writing stories that you’ll want to read again and again.

10/10 Once again, Ilona and Gordon Andrews prove they are at the very top of the urban fantasy game, writing stories that you’ll want to read again and again.

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