I’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.
I 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?