James McStravick reviews Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle
Is the Living Blade real or just a legend?
With it… Prince Bashan could win back his kingdom.
Master Telen Diaz can free himself of the burden from his past.
Owen Smith sees a once-in-a-lifetime chance to gain untold knowledge.
… but for Noraya Smith, the Living Blade will bring nothing but suffering and sorrow.
In today’s world of well-crafted fantasy books, with fantastical and in-depth magic systems, I sometimes think back to the great low fantasy books we have had over the years, such as The First Law trilogy, The Broken Empire trilogy and Conan The Barbarian. But wait! I hear you say. “I know these books as another genre!” You would be correct, as over the years these books in particular are now known as part of the fantasy sub-genre “grimdark”. It is with this mindset we delve into the dark, gritty and beautiful world in Touch of Iron.
During your first dive into this world, it may seem like you are reading an in-depth and intriguing historical fiction book, but within the first few chapters the veil is quickly lifted, and you are drawn into a dark and gritty world filled with blood, intrigue, mythical swords, and “monstrous” humans.
The world Timandra has created was a joy to read about and beautifully crafted. The way the world is spoken about and detailed can give you the perspective of a well-crafted historical fiction novel, that makes you see and feel the world the characters reside in. I think the world-building in Touch of Iron is well handled. Some worlds are created to such a fine level of detail and information that you start to become bogged down in detail and you can lose track of what’s going on, but I didn’t once experience this with Touch of Iron. I believe the great world-building stems from its delivery, as you see the world develop and grow as if you were experiencing it through the eyes of each character, and we are also given different views of the world due to a characters perspective of said world.
My favourite aspect of this book was the diverse characters that Timandra provides you with, that to me almost seem like they were jumping straight from a detailed D&D; these are characters that each have their own personalities, alignments and abilities. I sometimes find books will sideline certain characters in favour of the main protagonists and antagonists, but I never once found this with Touch of Iron. I believe each character is thoroughly developed during natural progression scenes rather than forcing them into unnecessary situations just for the sake of development, which some books can do. This not only leads to a great reading experience, but it always leaves you wanting more as certain scenes will not only answer questions but they will then open the door to more.
My favourite character of all is Master Telen Diaz himself, because at times you want to hate him for what he does but you soon come to realise that his reason for making certain choices are just – and if not, then he does them out of loyalty, which I find admirable despite all his wrong doings.
The story of the book is developed using POV characters. At the start we only initially experience the story from two perspectives but as it progresses this branches out further as certain secondary characters become primary. As the story develops it becomes more intriguing and in-depth as we discover more and more about what is going on. One aspect of the story I loved was how it handled combat, as the battle scenes felt very well constructed and they always gripped you. There aren’t too many battle scenes but when they came along they always left you with a satisfying feel and wanting more. The combat in Touch of Iron is made all the more enjoyable by seeing certain characters grow, because at the start, you can see certain characters are strong during certain combat situations and weak at others, but as the book progresses we certain characters become finely tuned warriors. The only aspect of the story that I disliked was that I felt certain scenes were slightly dragged out or unnecessary, which made the book feel somewhat slow at times, but these were few and far between.
With all of the above in mind I thoroughly enjoyed reading Touch of Iron and I found there were many occasions while reading this book that I lost all sense of time. If you are a fan of grimdark fantasy or fantasy in general then I would highly recommend you read this as I have no doubt you will enjoy it. I am greatly looking forward to see how Timandra progresses the story in book two and all of her future work.
Keep an eye out for my interview with Timandra, coming soon!