I saw this book sitting on the shelf at my local library and thought, why not? The cover is beautiful, the title sounded interesting, and I needed a new book. Then, when I read the synopsis and learned that this was a combo of historical fiction and fantasy, I knew I needed to read it ASAP.
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.
I think all of us at some point have been in love with the idea of the 1920s: gangsters, hazy nightclubs, new fashion, and social and political upheaval. This book includes components of all of these 1920s staples. These combined with the fantasy elements made the premise of this book really interesting.
The book’s main conflict revolves around the issue of hemopaths in society. Hemopaths are humans with special abilities such as changing their appearance to look like another human (thespians), evoking and projecting emotions onto others through melodies (songsmiths), and creating illusions that are 100% real in the viewer’s mind (wordsmiths). As awesome as that sounds, these people are seen as dangerous and afflicted in the public’s eye, leading to discrimination and political movements. I really loved how the author decided to place this fantasy element in a familiar setting because it allowed us to start the plot right away without focusing on complex worldbuilding.
The plot had a lot of great twists and surprises that I didn’t see coming. The synopsis is kind of strange because it makes it sound the the majority of the plot is about the job actively going awry and Ada being taken to prison, but the book actually starts with her in the asylum and focuses more on the betrayals after she escapes. The plot is very character-driven, and since most of the characters are part of Boston’s shady underbelly, it makes for a very interesting plot that I can’t say more about without spoiling anything.
The characters are what made my rating go from 5 stars to 4. I like all of the characters and how they make the plot progress, but at times I felt like they got too repetitive and one-dimensional. I admire Corinne’s tenacity and Ada’s level-headedness, but there isn’t really a lot of major character development. There are issues they both deal with, like loss, betrayal, and acceptance, but I feel like the plot is definitely more obvious and developed than the characters. Despite this, I didn’t have any issues with the characters themselves. They have admirable qualities that are tempered by relatable flaws, and the betrayals and plot twists do keep you on your toes around the characters. I just wish there had been more consistency throughout the book with developing the characters.
Here are a few of the specific things I really liked:
- Ada and Charlie: Ada and Charlie were a really cute couple. They definitely fulfilled the romantic aspects of the 1920s ideal, and they faced some very real relationship bumps. I liked that their characters were independent of one another, and they both had lives outside of one another. Ada doesn’t abandon her beliefs or friends for her boyfriend, and Charlie is genuinely a good guy who helps Ada grow at her own pace.
- The Cast Iron: This mysterious and enchanting nightclub really contributed to the atmosphere of the book. The whole book has an air of mystery and nostalgia that is created by the time period, and the Cast Iron nightclub really embodies that. I love the smoke in the air, the bartender polishing his glasses, the live band playing music throughout the night, and the shady dealing of secrets.
- Hemopaths: The concepts of hemopaths is really interesting to me. Not only are their abilities really interesting and original, but the way they are represented in their society is very poignant and is a theme all throughout history. The book takes place during a time where taxis and businesses still publicly display signs banning blacks from their enterprise, and hemopaths are attached to that ban. Hemopaths, because of their ability to control what people perceive, are used as a political platform: vote for me and I’ll make sure all hemopaths are properly dealt with to ensure your safety! The hatred people have toward hemopaths really drives the plot and parallels society’s actual history regarding discrimination.
- The bonds: The relationships the characters have in this book are tested and changed with each plot twist. Ada and Corrine’s bond is the most obvious and the strongest, but I also loved the bonds between Ada and Charlie, Corrine and her family, and the family at the Cast Iron. A major component of the book is questioning one’s relationships and bonds and evaluating how that impacts each individual character. Some relationships hold steady while others change, for better or worse. The characters might be individually lacking in some respects, but the way their relationships fluctuate in relation to the plot helps redeem that.
Iron Cast is a plot-driven historical/fantasy/mystery book that sucks you right into the romanticized underbelly of 1920s Boston. The parallels to our society, the strong friendships, and the plot twists make for a very entertaining and pertinent read. It is definitely a good book for someone wanting to gradually get into reading more fantasy or mystery as well as historical fiction lovers. If you’ve read this, or a similar book, let me know in the comments!