Iron Night – M.L. Brennan
When I wrote my review of the first book in this series, Generation V, I praised its new approach to the genre and the fascinating narrative: this second installment proved even better than the first, and a quick, engrossing read that cost me several hours of (happily) missed sleep.
We left Fortitude Scott on an advanced phase of his transition from human to vampire and we find him, a few months later, more comfortably straddling the divide between both worlds: his brother Chivalry has been training him – physically, mentally and in more practical ways as well – to take on his future duties as the son of the powerful Madeleine Scott. Fort has not completely embraced his nature, but he’s more prone to make allowances for it, especially in light of the changes wrought on him by the transition itself. He’s still something of a loser, as testified by his new work environment where he manages to be the target of a crazy chef’s tantrums, but he seems to have grown into his skin, accepting this side of his personality with humorous, self-effacing flair. Part of it is due to his deepening friendship with Suzume the prankster kitsune, who finds ever new ways of tormenting him as a show of affection, and part to his new roommate Gage, a nice and wholesome person, a welcome change from the previous, girlfriend-stealing slob.
Gage’s brutal killing, clearly the work of non-human perpetrators, moves Fortitude to take once more the mantle of hero and at the same time to uncover new angles about himself, his past and his family. What starts as a murder investigation with very personal stakes becomes also the exploration of a parallel world co-existing with our own and populated by trolls, skinwalkers and even elves (who are NOT your Tolkien elves, trust me!). Brennan takes the readers into this colorful and dangerous world along with Fortitude: he learns as he goes on, and so do we, in a way that’s both organic and effortless and at the same time leaves quite a few stones unturned – probably for future discovery. This is one of the strengths of the book, that foundations laid in the first novel have been built upon, expanding and adding depth to both background and characters.
And characters are indeed the backbone of the story. Fortitude has changed a great deal in the few subjective months elapsed since the end of Generation V: the training his brother Chivalry insists on is building strength and resistance and heightens his senses, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The ongoing transition into a full vampire also works a transformation on his personality and his approach to people and situations: it’s clear that Fort enjoys this and is receiving a very positive feedback from this new aspect of himself. If on one side he remains attached to his humanity as a sort of anchor and counterbalance against the worst vampiric tendencies, he’s not averse to using both this newfound strength and the political power deriving from his family connections when the cause feels right. When we first met him, he was in total denial of his true nature – understandably so, considering the bloody price paid by his foster parents when they uncovered the truth – while now he looks more accepting and tries his best to walk the fine line between both worlds, even when it’s difficult or when it encroaches on precious friendship ties.
Suzume is also subtly different: of course she’s still the shameless prankster we all know and love, especially when she chooses to dine at the restaurant where Fort works as a waiter, for example, and enjoys taunting her friend in every possible way, or when she lays hands on his computer changing passwords and taking control of his email, but there is an undercurrent of seriousness as well – as if, like Fortitude, she were leaving behind the carelessness of youth to take on heavier responsibilities. A few glimpses into her family life seem to confirm this, also giving us more intriguing details about the kitsune, which I find absolutely fascinating. What has not changed in Suzume is her staunch support toward her friend, especially in dangerous situations: I recalled in several occasions the kitsune matriarch’s warning to Fort about her granddaughter’s unpredictability, and as before I wondered at the reasons for such a statement that seems to contain so little truth, at least where Suzume is concerned. I guess only the future will tell…
However, the two characters that come into sharper focus are Fortitude’s siblings: what we learn about their origins – and Fort’s – sheds more light on their personalities and the enormous differences among old Madeleine’s three children. Chivalry has always shown a greater attachment to his younger brother and now, while he’s teaching him the ropes about being a Scott, he also exhibits a great deal of indulgence and affection: the detail about Chivalry enduring long sessions with Fort’s favorite tv shows was both delightful and enlightening – not to mention that some of the titles on the list, like Babylon5 and Firefly, had me literally squeeing in glee and unreserved approval. Prudence, on the other hand, comes across as even more frightening than before, when she was simply labeled as a psychotic assassin: when Madeleine sends her eldest to “ride shotgun” beside Fort in a mission, Prudence’s endorsement of her young brother’s new assurance and ruthlessness, and her clear enjoyment in meting out bloody violence, are nothing short of chilling, as is the determination to shape Fort into a mold more similar to her own.
The dramatic confrontation on this subject that occurs at the end of the novel holds a few intriguing revelations about vampires in general and the Scott family in particular: it will be fascinating to see how they play out in the following book(s), more so because it’s clear that Fortitude’s inclination to consider both sides of the equation – vampire vs. human – is his main strength rather than a weakness and makes him unique among his kind.
I’m quite pleased to know there is another book in this series already there for my enjoyment, because I’m too invested in this world to be able to wait too long…
My Rating: 8,5/10