What We're Reading

What We’re Reading: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

iron_hunt-1a_thumbI’m a little ashamed that it’s taken me this long to pick up The Iron Hunt. I’ve always thought Marjorie M. Liu’s Hunter Kiss series looked like just the kind of dark urban fantasy I love, with unique world-building and unusual characters. What finally got me to pull the trigger? The final book in the series (Labyrinth of Stars) just came out, and I saw this post on John Scalzi’s blog. It’s Ms. Liu’s contribution to his “Big Idea” series. (It’s short, and well worth a read.) She talks about the underlying themes of the series–the sacrifices mothers and daughters make for each other–and I was hooked. I went out and bought The Iron Hunt the next day.

For those who haven’t read the series, the premise is this. Maxine Kiss is a hunter, the last of her kind, tasked with protecting humanity from possessive evil spirits. She’s guarded by a set of living tattoos that make her completely invincible during the day, but peel from her body to become protective demons at night.

There’s so much to love about this first installment in the series. It’s definitely on the darker, grittier side of urban fantasy. Maxine is compassionate, but she’s also practical–even cruel at times. When it comes to fulfilling her duty, she can be merciless. It makes for a fascinating character.

The secondary characters are just as compelling. Grant, Maxine’s boyfriend, is a former priest who runs a homeless shelter. He has a limp and a flute. When was the last time you read about a UF hero with a limp and a flute? It’s not easy being a relationship with a woman as tough as Maxine, and Grant’s inner conflict over her nature and her strength is believable without once straying into contrived misunderstanding. Plus, Maxine’s protective demons are a delight. They’re dangerous–they can slice through concrete with their claws–but they also like to snack on bolts and screws and watch eighties movies. They’re the world’s most terrifying-but-charming pets.

Ms. Liu’s style is spare and evocative, and more than once, I went back and re-read passages just for the pleasure of it. Like this one:

I picked up the first knife, and the steel blended with the scales and spikes covering my palm and wrist, glinting like the silver embedded in my flesh.

Labyrinth_of_stars_cover1I remembered my mother also holding her knives, just so, and the memories grew stronger as I began to sharpen each blade–all twelve of them–against my arms.

There’s a richness to those two sentences–they hint at a buried storm of emotion and history, and give us a very intimate view of just how indestructible Maxine’s tattoos make her.

Like any good urban fantasy series, the threads of mystery run deep in this book. There are hints of a past not fully revealed to Maxine, and her relationship with her personal bodyguards makes both her past and her fate far more mysterious. There are things they don’t tell her about their time with her ancestors, and things she doesn’t seem to know about her own nature. This first book is the tip of the iceberg of this unique world, and it left me itching for more.

So, just how late am I to this particular party? Any other Hunter Kiss fans out there? What’s your favorite aspect of the series?


10 thoughts on “What We’re Reading: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

  1. I love Marjorie Liu’s other series, but I did not enjoy The Iron Hunt and after the second book in the series, I stopped reading it. I’m not sure why I couldn’t get it to this book as I love UF. I may have to try it again.

    • I don’t think it’s for everyone. The writing style is very distinct, and there are a lot of mysteries left unsolved. They don’t feel like cliffhangers, though–more like room for the sequels. In any case, I can see how the style won’t be to everyone’s taste.

      I’ve never read her PNR series, and now I’m curious to see how different it is.

  2. I read it a long time ago (probably five years or more). I remember loving the concept and the crazy demon-pet characters and the intricate relationship between the lead and her boyfriend. But, I didn’t continue the series because I think it was a bit too dark, too depressing. There was a lot of struggle and not enough happiness, I suppose. I guess I need my bubbly romance fix even if in small doses, and this didn’t have enough.

    But despite that, I remember the writing being excellent and though provoking. And the main character is one hard-core lady with very few but still distinct vulnerabilities.

    • Marlene, I think that’s a perfect description of the book. I like my UF dark, so it hit the mark for me, but I can definitely see it being too dark for some. I often don’t enjoy the lighter stuff quite as much. It’s a good thing there are so many books out there. 🙂

  3. I confess I tried to read this once and failed. I loved the world-building and the heroine was cool and dark and interesting, and the whole thing with the demon tattoos was awesome.

    But I just didn’t understand what was going on. It made me feel stupid. I was sad I didn’t want to finish it. But I’ll totally try other books of hers in future.

    • The ambiguous stuff hit me as mysterious rather than frustrating–like I was going to need to read the next book to figure some things out. Wow–this is clearly one of those books that either works for you or doesn’t! Kinda interesting.

      • Yeah, I guess maybe I should have persisted… but it was the weirdo mystical stuff that frustrated me, rather than mystery plot things. I just didn’t get what on earth she was on about half the time! Sigh…

  4. I have to agree with the other ladies. I read the first two books, and they are undoubtedly good, but after finishing them, I had no idea if I liked them or not. There is just no humor in them, to lighten things up a little. I had the same problem with her Dirk and Steele books. I loved the first few, for their originality I guess, but the last books are just not making me happy. Bad things keep happening to the characters, and I think there was one couple that did not even smile once in the whole book.

    If you really like dark stuff AJ, I have the same problem with Suzanne McLeod. It is good, but also very confusing and difficult. Perhaps too much to really enjoy everything that is happening. And I do have all the books from both authors … I keep buying them, thinking that one day I will try it again and start over.

    • Thanks for the rec, Aurian! I do believe we have perfectly opposite taste. I think this might be the third book I’ve discussed here that hasn’t been your style. lol Please do let me know all the books you’ve set aside for being too dark–I will probably love them! And I can send you all the books I’ve set aside for being too light. 😉

      • I love Yasmine Galenorn’s Sisters of the Otherworld very much. Even the lots of sex doesn’t bother me at all, one sister has three husbands (a dragon shifter, some kind of dark fae and a japanese fox shifter), one has both a male lover (vampire prince) and a wife (werepuma). I love the series. I love her writing style. But her Indigo Court series is way too much for me, so dark and scary. I’ve only read the first book.

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