"Bronze Gods," A.A. Aguirre

Pros: Fantastic character interplay; gorgeous world-building. I think I’m falling in love with Ritsuko and Mikani.
Cons: Occasional difficulty telling which of the partners is speaking
Rating: 5 out of 5

Release date: April 30, 2013
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Celeste Ritsuko and Janus Mikani solve murders for the Criminal Investigation Division. She’s the division’s first female inspector, and an orderly, meticulous detective. He’s a sloppy, charming pain-in-the-ass with an extremely useful—and very debilitating—sixth sense. The two of them have forged an unlikely and delightfully symbiotic partnership as they work to protect people from harm.

Then a daughter of one of the great Houses goes missing, and they’re under the gun to find her—or else. When she turns up murdered in a particularly unusual and gruesome fashion, traces of magic polluting the scene, Ritsuko and Mikani realize they’re hunting a madman. And if they don’t find him soon, losing their jobs will be the least of their worries.


 

Confession time: in the abstract I really love steampunk, but in practice little of it truly catches my heart. I love certain portions of the atmosphere, but I don’t particularly enjoy some aspects of the Victorian milieu that so often accompanies it. So when I run across a book like Bronze Gods (An Apparatus Infernum Novel) by A.A. Aguirre (A.A. stands for Ann and Andres, a husband-and-wife writing team), that blends steampunk with fantasy and only a touch of the Victorian style, I’m thrilled.

Aguirre’s steampunk world has a gorgeous backstory that’s revealed in flashes of dream and tidbits of story detail. To boil it down to an overly simplistic premise, ships carrying humans long ago washed up on the shores of a land ruled by the Summer Court and the Winter Court, the Ferishers—essentially, the Fey Folk. The Iron War threatened to decimate both races, until an accord was reached. In order to seal it, the royalty of the Ferishers took humans to wed. Thus was born the first ten great Houses. This happened a long time ago, and only a handful of people can still claim enough Ferisher blood to exhibit certain unusual abilities; most of those live within the Houses, which also retain control of most technology. After all, it’s their ability to bind elementals into tech that allows steam engines and many other devices to function.

Inspector Mikani inherited enough Ferisher blood to gift him with an unusual ability to read emotions and scraps of information from people and objects, a gift which helps him immensely in his work. Most ordinary people would shy away from someone with gifts like his, so he hides the obvious deleterious effects behind a penchant for drink and seemingly erratic behavior, and with the help of his partner, Ritsuko, who draws attention away from him when he uses his gift. The partners have developed a remarkable symbiotic relationship, with signals and shorthand speech that allow them to function as a fantastic team. Mikani steps forward when Ritsuko judges that someone would deal with her poorly due to her gender, and Ritsuko steps forward to allow Mikani to linger in the background and use his gifts—not to mention to smooth over ruffled feathers when his lack of tact gets them into trouble. They’re wildly different people linked by a love of their work, a sharp sense of humor, and mutual respect. They also gradually find themselves dancing around the issue of how exactly they feel about each other. It’s a relationship that would all too easily drift into stereotype (Mulder and Scully provide the obvious example), but the authors deftly avoid that pitfall. The complex and supportive relationship they’ve developed, as well as their mutual sense of humor and the confusion with which they approach their feelings, make the relationship and characters beautiful, fresh, and delightful.

As for the plot, it speeds along with plenty of action, tension, surprises, heart-stopping moments, additional delightful supporting cast, and fantastic attention to detail. I became completely engrossed in the tale, turning pages quickly to find out what would happen next. I absolutely loved the manner in which details unfolded. Bronze Gods is the first in a new series, and it ended in my favorite manner for series books: by bringing the current plot to a satisfactory conclusion, but leaving plenty of unanswered questions to lead into the next novel.

I only have two, small negatives. One is that I sometimes became confused as to which partner was talking when. The other is that I’m now very impatiently waiting for the next book! (Okay, that last one is really a positive, but hey.) If you enjoy steampunk, fantasy, mysteries, or thrillers, I think you’ll find plenty in here to enthrall you. And I, for one, definitely want to see more of these characters and this world!

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