Usually it was the same old crowd – rich, bored regs who found hemopaths to be novelties or magicians or misunderstood souls, rather than diseased in the blood…[Ada] didn’t believe in dreaming for the impossible, but the illusions and emotions that she and Corinne could weave together—those were more real to her than the heat of the spotlight, than the gushing of the crowd.
In 1919 Boston, there exist hemopaths: people with powers to create illusions, manipulate memories, and various other abilities based on the art they perform, be it poetry, music, painting, or acting. But performing with these powers is outlawed, and hemopaths in Boston must hide their status from anyone untrustworthy or risk being locked up in Haversham Asylum.
Our two plucky protagonists, Corinne (from wealthy stock and hating it) and Ada (the mixed-race daughter of immigrants), work at the Cast Iron, a nightclub and cover for a notorious gang, and the only safe place for this hemopath pair. When a con job goes awry, things begin to fall apart for the best friends, as their only home is invaded, and the risk of ending up at the Asylum becomes more imminent. They must rely on their wit, talents, and their friends escape capture – but who can they truly trust beyond each other?
Iron Cast is not the sort of book that comes along often. Historical fantasy with strong female leads, racial diversity, and a homosexual relationship, all across a web of intrigue, betrayal, and an oppressive government. It even explores the war against art and artists, treated as unimportant and lesser in society (how many art or English majors have heard that it’s a “waste of a degree”?). The understated romance is enough to please readers who prefer it in their fiction, but in no way permeates or influences the plot into a “love story.”
Destiny Soria weaves in parallels to Prohibition-era speakeasies of the 1920s, Japanese-American internment camps of the 1940s, and AIDS scare of the 1980s like a Wordsmith herself. She never flinches from portraying post-Civil War racism in the North, or the sexist double standards that women faced (and still do) when participating in something ‘unladylike’ (such as swindling people out of their money):
“Have you asked Johnny if he feels guilty? Or Jackson? … I’m a girl, so my tender, feminine feelings ought to make me feel sorry for marks that Johnny gives us?”
This book is X-Men meets Gangs of New York right before prohibition. It’s an early 20th century Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones, complete with con artists and unexplainable abilities. What sets Iron Cast apart is the distinguishing and inspired approach to hemopathy, the abilities and how they are applied through the beauty of art, not just the will of the individual. It’s a premise familiar enough to not make the reader feel out of their depth, but unique enough to not be something you’ve already read before.
This one is definitely worth your time if you love a great story that keeps you guessing who to trust, witty and realistic characters that you want to be best friends with, and compelling writing with worldbuilding that you won’t be able to put down.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Amber Neva Brown is Inventory Manager at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC and a Masters graduate in Publishing at Rosemont College. She grew up on the Outer Banks, and her ultimate fandoms are Harry Potter and Doctor Who. She could recommend a book to probably anyone. Find her on Twitter at @ambernevabrown and on Instagram at @isnotacrayon.