BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Someone or something is killing humans in a particularly gruesome way and it just happened to pick the wrong target – the roommate of Fortitude Scott. Fort, now being brought up to speed on the family business, pursues the killer with vengeance in mind, but he might have stumbled onto something far more dangerous than a common murderer.
PROS: Fortitude is really coming into his own; Suzume is as awesome as ever; the family dynamic is developing interestingly; the elves are 50 shades of creepy; and the plot itself is an improvement.
CONS: The final showdown was a little too short.
BOTTOM LINE: I haven’t been this excited about a series in a long time. This is urban fantasy at its best, with a strong focus on characters and relationships and an awesome take on established creatures.
M.L. Brennan’s debut novel, Generation V, turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Great characters and a unique vampire mythos made for a powerful read. The fact that Brennan was able to sell me on a vegetarian vampire is a testament to her talent. After reading Generation V I was immediately left wanting more of Fortitude Scott and Suzume Hollis. Fortunately I did not have to wait long as a review copy of the sequel, Iron Night, came in the mail a few weeks later. Despite a hectic school schedule I finished the novel in almost no time, staying awake way past my self mandated bedtime in order to get another chapter (or two) in. Generation V was an impressive debut but Iron Night is a standout sophomore effort – dodging the slump in order to deliver an even more compelling story.
Fortitude Scott is the most refreshing urban fantasy protagonist I have read in years (maybe ever to be completely honest). He’s not some grizzled, hard-boiled badass full of sarcasm and self-importance. He’s a college graduate from a family of vampires, trying to find his way in the world. I quickly grew attached to Fort in Generation V. He’s a decent guy with a useless degree in film theory who fears his very DNA. Reading Iron Night I was continually pleased at the level of character development from Fort. As the book opens he has been learning the ins and outs of the family trade from his brother Chivalry, keeping the supernatural peace and enforcing the laws of his mother, Madeline Scott. It’s the same lovable Fort from the first book with an added layer of responsibility – and protest it though he might, it’s a duty that fits him like a glove. Over the course of Iron Night Fort is forced to make difficult decisions and it’s a treat to watch how he handles each situation. Unlike many urban fantasy protagonists, Fort deploys a variety of tactics for mysteries. He doesn’t apply violence often but he also isn’t afraid to use it to get the desired results.
The family angle was a big selling point in Generation V, and it looks like it will be a major attraction of the entire series as it is only reinforced in Iron Night. There’s the Scott family, comprised of the matriarch Madeline, the sociopath enforcer Prudence, the more diplomatic Chivalry, and of course Fortitude, the runt of the litter. Madeline is a bit of an enigma. She is a serious power broker, the supernatural Godfather (or Godmother for that matter) of the East Coast. Her agenda is not readily apparent, but however cold and calculating she appears she is also a loving mother. Granted, a loving mother of a variety different to normal expectations, but still. Prudence is less of a mystery than her mother. Prudence wants power and she wants to be out from underneath the command of Madeline. She plays a much bigger role in Iron Night, further complicating her already complex relationship with Fortitude. Chivalry gets less screen time this go around in order to make room for Prudence. The trade is worth while, though I did miss Chivalry’s presence.
With Madeline Scott’s power waning in her old age it appears as though a battle may be brewing for control of the Scott dynasty. I suspect that while Chivalry may be preparing Fortitude to protect the family territory, Madeline has loftier plans for our underemployed hero. This is all speculation of course, but a truly good book will leave you considering possible directions that future entries in the series might take.
Continuing the family theme is of course Suzume’s family. Suzume, the kitsune that stole the show in Generation V, is back and devious as ever. Suze’s family comes more into the foreground with the introduction of her sister. One of my few issues with the first book was that Suzume tended to overshadow Fortitude with her charged personality. Brennan manages to solve this – not by dialing Suzume back, but by delivering an even more compelling character in Fort. The relationship between the two is even better this time around as unresolved conflicts crop up. Suzume treats Fort a little more gently in Iron Night, due to the loss of his roommate, but never fear as the trickster in her still surfaces from time to time. The inclusion of the half-elf Lilah spices things up. And that of course leads us to the elves.
Brennan’s elves are on par with her vampires. The elves of Iron Night are seriously twisted – more the product of Guillermo del Toro’s worst nightmare than Tolkien’s friendly fair folk. Between the incest and the sociopathy, the elves come across as truly terrifying creatures. It’s pretty cool, because I don’t think I’ve ever considered elves scary before but here it is. Despite a super gross family tree, not all of the elf kin are evil and Lilah is a welcome addition to the Fortitude/Suzume dynamic. She sweet and thoughtful halfsie is a wonderful foil to Suzume.
The plot of Iron Night is much stronger than Generation V, complete with really awesome moments (I’m particularly fond of the undercover speed dating). The villain(s) this time around are far better than the big bad in the first book. This can be chalked up to motivation, as villains with good justification for their crimes are the best villains of all. The romantic subplot is played up a bit more in this novel than the previous one, though it still continues to feel wholly organic. None of the characters lack agency, and I’m confident that whatever should develop will be believable and awesome. My only real complaint with Iron Night is that the final showdown is short-lived. All the buildup had me looking forward to a monumental knock-down-drag-out, and while it was fierce it was also over too quickly. To be fair, the rest of the book was so good I don’t really care, but there it is – my single criticism.
Iron Night is freaking awesome. Brennan has made vampires cool again, elves creepy, and urban fantasy feel fresh. In an over saturated genre this is no small feat. Fortitude Scott is a hero worth cheering for. He’s easy to empathize with, yet stands as a role model for justice (vigilante though it might be). This is truly a series with heart and I wish it a long run and Brennan many a success. I won’t be happy until this series is picked up for a crime procedural. I’ve actually given it a lot of thought and I think that the team behind USA Network’s Psych is the perfect group to make it happen. It would have the perfect mix of comedy and drama, lots of buddy-cop fun and great scripts. But I’ll return to my coffin and dream my sweet dreams of urban fantasy television glory until the sun sets…