Book Reviews

Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall (2013)

Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall (2013)Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane Paranormal Investigator #1)
on 2013, eBook, 252 pages
Purchase a copy: Amazon
Add to: Goodreads

"First rule in this line of business: don't sleep with the client." My name's Kate Kane, and when an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince came to me with a case, I should have told her no. But I've always been a sucker for a femme fatale.
It always goes the same way. You move too fast, you get in too deep, and before you know it, someone winds up dead. Last time it was my partner. This time it could be me. Yesterday a werewolf was murdered outside the Velvet, the night-time playground of one of the most powerful vampires in England. Now half the monsters in London are at each other's throats, and the other half are trying to get in my pants. The Witch Queen will protect her own, the wolves are out for vengeance, and the vampires are out for, y'know, blood.
I've got a killer on the loose, a war on the horizon, and a scotch on the rocks. It's going to be an interesting day.

As you know, I am a huge fan of Alexis Hall’s Prosperity series, which is a steampunk historical romance horror thing with amazing characters and a fantastic setting. Her Kate Kane series, meanwhile, is an urban paranormal mystery series with romance elements set in modern day London. I burnt out on urban paranormal mystery romances some years ago, but I had faith that AH wouldn’t just regurgitate the same old tropes that originally turned me off the genre.
And he didn’t! A lot of the story elements ARE the same as other urban fantasy series– there are werewolves and vampires and witches, the protagonist is a half-faerie princess PI with a dark past, etc.– but AH takes them and moves them into slightly different shapes.
For example, Kate has an ex-boyfriend who’s basically a vampire cop. He’s broody, he loves her SO MUCH he has to protect her from himself, he…watches her sleep and sparkles in the sunlight. He’s also a stalker, a liar, and a SUPER CREEP with basically no redeeming qualities. His character almost borders on satire, except he’s a legit problem for Kate and gets in her way at inopportune moments.
Unfortunately it was Kate’s history with Patrick and how it was handled in the story that frustrated me the most out of everything. Every time Kate talked about her past it kinda felt like I’d missed a whole other series, a YA series with teenage!Kate and her tragically creepy boyfriend. It wasn’t just backstory; it felt more like references to an actual book that I hadn’t read and which doesn’t exist. I hate that kind of backstory because it makes me feel stupid and it’s confusing to always feel like I’d missed a step on the plot staircase.
But I liked everything else! I was totally into Kate and her multiple girlfriends/potential girlfriends/ex-girlfriends. She’s basically got a whole set (vampire, werewolf and witch) which, again, happens in so many other urban fantasy books that it’s almost boring. However, Kate and her many love interests are fantastically intriguing.
Her girlfriend is an vampire-hunting ninja nun from the 12th century turned vampire prince. She’s deadly, but also kinda cuddly(?), and she really liked it when Kate eats pudding. Kate’s werewolf girlfriend is (I think?) a satire-ish character based on British nobility (the kind who likes to ride around hunting foxes and wearing big hats at horse races). And Kate’s witch (ex)girlfriend is basically Nimue from the Arthurian legends; she’s quiet and powerful and runs a community center. Kate has chemistry with all of them, and while maybe a more traditional urban fantasy series would spread out love interests across multiple books, I thought it was great fun having them all in one place, causing Kate trouble.
Besides her girlfriends, Kate has multiple interesting friends! Or, well, acquaintances, because unfortunately Kate is the kind of PI who doesn’t have friends[1. too grumpy/burned by past friendships which ended in death.]. But they COULD be friends, given enough chapters and adventures together! Her newest friend-acquaintance is a statue brought to life, for instance, and she has another friend who is basically a group of rats who pretends to be a human so he can sell jewelry at farmer’s markets.
It’s fun stuff like that which keeps me invested in a world over the course of multiple books. That, and little worldbuilding details like whether people use cell phones or not. I get kinda irritated at all the urban fantasy books where people barely have iPhones, let alone those that completely ignore technology because magic messes with it or something. It’s a fidgety way to get out of having to deal with people being able to call for help whenever they want, or for being able to track down their suspects through Twitter updates, as Kate did.
I LOVE IT when urban fantasies use technology in smart ways! It gives the world so much more depth when characters use Instagram or Grindr or something. And how much more realistic are characters when they’re NOT Luddites and are capable of texting someone like an actual person? Right? More technology in urban fantasy! Yes!
Okay, so I liked the characters and the world they live in. What about the mystery?
Well, that part was less satisfying. It does that thing where you think it’s all wrapped up in the first 50 pages but then something happens and it turns out that actually there’s about 200 more pages of plot to get through before the real solution happens. I don’t like that sort of plot structure– it feels like somebody’s trying to trick me, which is annoying.
But it’s pretty comparable to other urban fantasy mysteries I’ve read; it kind of reminded me of the early Dresden Files books in length of mystery + paranormal schenanigns + ends in a big fight, if you catch my drift.
To be honest, though, I was so enamoured with the rest of the book that I wasn’t even paying that much attention to whether I thought the mystery was good or not. I just wanted more character interactions and world building and such!
Definitely recommend Iron & Velvet to anybody who likes urban fantasy mystery-romances, or if you haven’t read any before but want to try the genre out. And especially if you’d previously been a big fan of urban fantasy but got bored with the same-ness of every series (*cough*) and gave it up. Here’s a reason to pick it back up again!
Read: April 9, 2015

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