Iron Cast is, quite simply, a glorious novel. I’ve seen it recommended about the place, and knew I should read it, and I really liked it. It’s a story of magic and friendship and just so well woven together. It was a bit of a chore to read, because I was reading a light contemporary romance which was a bit ‘easier’ at the same time. This meant, however, that Iron Cast has time to, well, cast its sticky golden threads over me and pull me down, so I was completely immersed.
In 1919, Ada Navarra—the intrepid daughter of immigrants—and Corinne Wells—a spunky, devil-may-care heiress—make an unlikely pair. But at the Cast Iron nightclub in Boston, anything and everything is possible. At night, on stage together, the two best friends, whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art, weave magic under the employ of Johnny Dervish, the club’s owner and a notorious gangster. By day, Ada and Corinne use these same skills to con the city’s elite in an attempt to keep the club afloat.
When a “job” goes awry and Ada is imprisoned, she realizes they’re on the precipice of danger. Only Corinne—her partner in crime—can break her out of Haversham Asylum. But once Ada is out, they face betrayal at every turn. (synopsis from goodreads)
At the heart of Iron Cast are the main characters, the girl on the front cover and the girl on the back. Ada is gentle and determined, cautious and courageous. She is a mixed up brown girl in a world tuned to whiteness, but when she plays her despair and anger through her violin, there is no choice but to listen. Corinne is a rich girl who doesn’t want the safety and cushiness of the life she’s been promised. She wants the exhilaration of poetry and the visions she can bequeath with it. She wants to be a heroine, and her powers are a means of escape. Together, they are an indomitable team. They rely on each other completely. They are a pair. They rescue each other and suffer for each other and protect each other. I loved both characters, especially Corinne, who was the more dynamic of the two (as in, she changed more. She didn’t do more). There are not enough urban fantasy books centred on female friendship (take away ‘urban fantasy’ and the statement is still true). The friendship is not perfect, but it is resilient.
The other characters are also well written. There are Corinne’s mother and brother, seemingly so tidy. There is Charlie, Ada’s ‘beau’, who she loves, but is afraid of committing to. There is Gabriel, a bodyguard for Ada and Corinne, with a nuanced past. And then there’s Saint, whose talents are hard to box and maybe not quite enough Each of these characters has a place in the story, and they fit perfectly there.
Iron Cast is set after The Great War, in 1919. America, at the brink of Prohibition. Survival, joyful. Fashions, daring. Wealth, billowing. Air, shimmering with possibility. Soria does an excellent job of capturing this sense of freedom that marked the first decade of the inter war period. There were riches, sure, but there was also so much freedom. This doesn’t just mean magic, new musical styles, less rigid relationships and shorter dresses. Soria combines these elements. She pulls them apart and examines them: what sort of relationships formed between musicians? How is music and art part of magic? What sort of dances are possible in shorter dresses? In James and Saint’s relationship, Madeliene and James’s theatre, Charlie and Ada’s escapades, Gabriel and Corinne’s poetry, there are the elements that so characterize the era (that said, this is more my impression because I don’t know very much about anything at all, including the inter war period).
Iron Cast is a novel about trust. As the plot careens, as magic boils over, as the iron wielders encroach, Ada and Corinne must trust each other. They’re good at that. They don’t know any other way to exist. It is more difficult, however, to trust Johnny, with his plans and disappearances; Charlie, so loyal, yet rule abiding; and the system of the world they live in, where they are beckoned close for their talents and then roundly rejected for their differences. Some of the trust is warranted, some is betrayed, some is pleaded for. All is essential, and gives the novel its pulse and brightness, even in the darkness of the underworld. I loved how the theme of trust as vital for survival played through the novel, aided by the powerful images of blood and iron.
There is a lot of darkness in Iron Cast, but it’s a powerful story, and one I adored. The plot is scintillating, the characters wonderful, the setting vivid, and the ideas alive. Reading it was like hearing an aria and seeing a vision: something lavish, soulful, and altogether transporting.
Have you read this book? Is there any historical fiction with magic in it that you’ve enjoyed recently? would you be willing to sacrifice ability to withstand iron for magic powers? tell me in the comments!