Elizabeth Bear's first fantasy novel, Blood and Iron: A Novel of the Promethean Age, follows her well-received debut science fiction trilogy, Hammered, Scardown and Worldwired, released last year. Her latest work a distinct change of pace from her action-packed near-future trilogy is a complicated, immersive fantasy in which readers must hold back their questions and wait patiently for answers to appear later in the lengthy narrative. For the last 500 years, humanity, mostly through the workings of the mysterious Promethean Club, has been gaining the upper hand in a war against the faerie. A Merlin, a human who can not only practice magic but also embodies it, has been born a rare event that occurs once every few generations. The two faerie courts, the Seelie and the Unseelie, both equally slippery in their dealings, vie with one another (and the Promethean Club) to bring the Merlin to their side of an eternal low-level conflict. Mixed in with this struggle are the politics of succession within a werewolf clan; speaking trees; Morgan le Fey and King Arthur; and linking them all, a few half-human, half-faerie folk who must balance the two worlds they straddle. The story moves from midtown Manhattan to the Western Isles of Scotland, from palaces to penthouses, as the complex tale plays out.
Bear's knowledge and use of ballads, legends and fairy tales is impressive. Her rich style filled with double and triple metaphors and references that range from Yeats to Uncle Remus make the novel dense and a slower read than it might otherwise be. However, this complexity will be no bad thing for readers who enjoy the opulent fantasies of writers such as China MiÅ½ville and Hal Duncan.
Bear's confidence in both her writing and her readers shines through her ornate prose. From the looks of this knotty first fantasy, there will be more novels of the Promethean Age ahead to enjoy and learn from. Gavin J. Grant co-edits The Year's Best Fantasy &andamp; Horror for St. Martin's Press.