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Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Steelhands" by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Jones&Bennett Website
Order Steelhands HERE
Read FBC Review of Havemercy HERE
Read FBC review of Shadow Magic HERE
Read FBC Review of Dragon Soul HERE
Read Jaida and Danielle's Post on Collaboration

INTRODUCTION: After taking a bit of a gamble in following "Havemercy" with "Shadow Magic" that kept the four narrator structure but changed all narrators, the location from Volstov to Ke Han, the theme from metal dragons and war to diplomacy and treachery and alternated the perspective of the "good guys" from the series debut with the one of their long time enemies, in the third series book Dragon Soul the authors returned to the magical dragons and the odd duo of Thom and Rook while expanding the universe to a desert scape and its people, as well as continuing to diversify the cast to include a Volkov magician and a Ke-Han treasure hunter who also were the first female narrators of the series.

Steelhands picks up where Dragon Soul ends but it returns to Volstov's capital, its main college - the Versity - and the Esar's palace while featuring all new narrators to bring the total to 14 in four books, though in this case two are old friends from earlier installments.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After visiting the desert and finding some startling facts, Rook decided he loves the clan life there and stayed with his new chieftain friend from Dragon Soul, while Thom obediently though not particularly excitedly, followed his brother's lead. However they needed to inform someone of the unexpected and potentially very dangerous things they had discovered, so who better than their former comrades in the Dragon Corps, most notably their chief, the steady Sergeant Adamo.

So we have the natural narrator choices of Adamo, now professor of strategy at the Versity and the biggest statue in the heroic monument commissioned by the Esar to mark Volstov's triumph in the war, and Balfour who has the steelhands of the title - a fusion of magic and technology that replaced the hands he lost in the climax of the war with Ke Han in the first volume.

As main non-pov characters we also see margrave aka magician Royston and his live-in boyfriend Hal who were the other two original pov's in Havemercy in addition to Thom and Rook, with Royston bobbing in and out of the Esar's favor, though now he is "settled" and stays away from the unconventional behavior that led to his exile in that book, while Hal has been appointed assistant professor of magic at the Versity.

But there is the new too, namely the country youngsters pov's: Laure(nce), a tomboyish girl with a boy's name and her "fiance", Toverre, a girlish boy with a crush on Hal, both just arriving from the sticks on the Esar's new scholarships that have been instituted to bring "new country blood" to the capital, a sensible choice on its face considering how Hal, another boy from the middle of nowhere, saved everyone's bacon in Havemercy.

Steelhands starts with Adamo receiving Thom's letter informing him about the events in Dragon Soul; since that is something that has huge possible implications, he starts getting in touch with the survivors of the Dragon Corps, Roy and Hal to discuss how to deal with the possible issues, while being clearly aware of the danger this entails.

In the meantime, Laure and Toverre get used to the capital and college life, make friends with their classmates, while quite unexpectedly Laure finds Adamo's unconventional teaching style very appealing, so she brings herself quite forcefully to his attention - as "an immortalized in stone" hero of the war, Adamo is untouchable by the Versity staid faculty who can only saddle him with a bumbling "graduate assistant", so these scenes offer both comic relief and a wry commentary on academia.

Of course soon things start happening with disappearances and discoveries and the two threads connect, though I have to say that happens in quite predictable ways and I was not really surprised by most of the later occurrences. However the POV's more than made for that since they were fresh and very well realized, while the writing style remained the same flowing and engaging one of the earlier three novels.

The strength of this series is in first and foremost in the "human interest" part, since the authors keep creating convincing and *very different* character voices each book and make us the readers really care for them; sure there is magic and a good world building and a fair amount of action, but getting to see the world from fresh perspectives and caring for the fates of Laure, Adamo and the rest is what makes this book stand out.

The ending is very good too, wrapping up the two converging threads though of course new vistas open and I am really curious where the two authors go from here since I definitely want more! I would also add that while the four books follow each other chronologically and their stories connect, each has its own resolution of its main thread or threads so they can be read as standalones with just a little brush-up on what's what.

As the other series novels, Steelhands (A+) was a book that once opened, it just took me in and I could not stop reading it until the end. There is something "magical" about these books, so despite their switching theme, location, narrators I need only to browse them to be entranced again and again...



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