Kalima, an Earth-colony world with little iron ore and no fossil fuels, is entrenched in a peaceful feudal society. The Jundom of Mamalakah is ruled by the ambitious Hanna Zah-Hill, wife of the Jun First. Deep in debt, she wants technological progress. But Mistress Li, leader of the Xintou House, prefers to keep the status quo. And has the power to do so. When Alere Connor – failed xintou-telepath but skilled swordswoman – is sent by Xintou House to act as mistress to Jun First Radan Zah-Hill, she unwittingly triggers a revolution against the House and against the throne. On his deathbed, Radan reveals the existence of a hidden iron deposit. With several factions vying for political domination of the Jundom, control of the iron would tip the balance of power. Alere is accused of the Jun First’s murder and flees for her life. She must reach and warn the Jun Second, Rafi Koh-Lin, on whose lands the iron ore lies. If she fails, all-out war is inevitable – the first ever war in the seven hundred year history of Kalima. On the way, Alere will uncover the old and bloody secret of her own existence; the reason for her failure as a xintou-telepath; and unlock and even darker future for herself and her companions.
But only if she survives.
I picked up Iron as part of a monthly book club read for March. The world building of Kalima is fantastic. Seven hundred years after the arrival of the first colonists, humans have adapted to survive in a world without iron. This changes the way these people move about, and the weapons they use to fight. There are other metals in abundance, such as copper, but they haven’t allowed for the industrialisation which could have occurred if iron was present. An iron deposit is essentially a hidden treasure – a key to advancing technology and a source of wealth and power. Other technology is also explored, including the genetic engineering of babies alongside those who are kin-children – those born naturally. This is another aspect of the worldbuilding that is fascinating because these laws have affected the way in which this society works, and in who holds the power. The cultural aspects are a mix of asian/middle-eastern along with western, and this gives it a different flavour to most other fantasy I’ve read.
The main character of Alere is a fiesty allrounder who never fit in with her xintou-sisters. It is her determination and ability to adapt to whatever situation she finds herself in which makes her a great main character. The side characters are also interesting, especially Kett, who I suspected held secrets of his own and was glad to find he was more than I thought.
The plot stems naturally from the excellent worldbuilding and the characterisation. Alere has important decisions to make throughout the novel, which change the direction of the story. As the first in a series, this book doesn’t wrap up neatly, with plenty of questions still to be answered.
Iron is a fun read and regardless of its YA classification, makes a great fantasy story.