Title: Salt and Iron
Author: Tam MacNeil
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages
At a Glance: From the premise of the story to its characters to the fluidity of its prose, this novel was so much fun to spend time in.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: James van Helsing is the youngest son of the famous monster-hunting family—and the family’s big disappointment. He’s falling in love with Gabe Marquez, his oldest friend and son of the family the van Helsings have worked alongside for years. Things get even harder for James when he becomes what he and everyone else despises most—a magic user.
He didn’t mean to evolve into such a despicable person, and he knows using magic is illegal, but there’s nothing James can do about it, no more than he can stop himself from loving Gabe. Just when things can’t seem to get worse, he and Gabe are called to help nab a network of magicians who are changing destiny. Not just any destiny, but the destinies of the van Helsing and Marquez families. James foresees a terrible fate, one in which monsters emerge from the cracks, along with his dark secret. And that’s when people start to die.
Review: James van Helsing has a rather hefty family legacy to bear, being a descendant of history’s most legendary vampire hunter, Abraham van Helsing. With great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes, and the van Helsing clan have made it their life’s work to hunt the sidhe. They, in fact, have created a corporate empire they call the Firm, with both the van Helsing and Marquez families at the helm—which is where James and his best friend, Gabe, come into play.
James is the black sheep of the empire, the weak link, the sometimes useless drunk who routinely makes a fool of himself and lives in the broad shadow cast by the perfect van Helsing son, his brother Abe. When James is introduced, and for a long time after, it’s hard not to agree he’s as pathetic as he, and everyone else, believes him to be. What’s revealed along the way, though, is the author’s purposeful crafting of this character to contrast the feelings we develop for him at the novel’s outset. Don’t get me wrong, James is a complete lush—to the point where alcohol poisoning doesn’t seem out of the realms of possibility—but it’s the reason he drinks that redeems him, and the irony in that was not at all lost on me. It was an odd sort of juxtaposition to want James not to take that next drink and yet, at the same time, forgive him for that weakness as his way of coping with his life and what he eventually learns about himself.
James’s talent lies in divination, which is of use to the Firm when he’s not drunk and/or too hungover to use it. But James is also harboring a secret—a dangerous secret that he’s kept to himself for decades. A dark secret that exists within a twisted sort of cosmic joke, an extra ability that could very well call to him the sort of trouble he needs, at all costs, to avoid if he’s going to remain even on the outermost fringes of his family’s good grace. It’s another bit of cruel irony, in a “he who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster” sort of way, that James must reconsider who the monsters truly are in his world. And, the betrayal that comes along with it.
The relationship that develops between James and Gabe, apart from their friendship, is really a secondary storyline when compared to the Urban Fantasy that Salt and Iron is built on. This book isn’t at all a romance in terms of the usual definition of the word, but there is no doubt a romantic element to the unconditional love James feels for Gabe, even after James sees what Gabe has become. MacNeil’s talent for descriptive writing does everything to provide all the action and drama and suspense, not to mention the beautiful imagery of the seelie and unseelie and James’s additional talent that exist together in this impossible place—it’s all laced with both touching and frightening and twisted mind-bending moments.
What a fantastical world Tam MacNeil has constructed in Salt and Iron. From the premise of the story to its characters to the fluidity of its prose, this novel was so much fun to spend time in. Murder, disloyalty, corporate intrigue and dangerous secrets all serve in their own way to bring our heroes together. I have to say I wouldn’t mind reading much more about James and Gabe and the world they inhabit. This book put a significant dent in my own reality too–I spent an entire day lost in New Glamis, and I was so glad to be there.
You can buy Salt and Iron here: