INK, IRON, AND GLASS is magical steampunk fantasy with a lot going on, but plenty of potential.
Steampunk collides with original fantasy concepts in Gwendolyn Clare’s debut feature length novel, Ink, Iron, and Glass!
Elsa is from Veldana, a world created entirely through the power to craft real things from written word– an ability known as scriptology. Veldana is the first written world with its own sentient humans and on top of that, the citizens live autonomously. Elsa’s mother Jumi is the in-world scriptologist, slowly expanding their idyllic landscape and teaching her daughter how to use their shared powers… until the day Jumi is kidnapped.
Now Elsa must leave her world and travel to the REAL world, Earth, to save her mother. Along the way, she has her first real encounters with other young people with abilities, known as pazzerellones. Some are scriptologists like her, others skillful alchemists or mechanists. For all her skills and knowledge, Elsa will need their help if she ever wants to find her mother and free her from the evil sect she believes is holding Jumi captive.
Ink, Iron, and Glass is pretty heavy on the worldbuilding, so it does take a while to get into. Scriptology has a lot of rules, as do pazzerellone abilities, then we have to get Elsa to Italy for the adventure to really begin, at which point there are lots of characters to get used to. The beginning is pretty bogged down, but the action picks up and I became attached to the characters as the story went on.
Surrounded by intriguing secondary characters, Elsa may be the hardest character to like. To put it plainly, she’s a bit of a Mary Sue. There are a few plot devices that make her superior to her peers, she tries to isolate everyone but they all want to know her despite that, and while it’s not explicitly stated, there are suggestions that she’s special. While she can’t solve everything and does face a modicum of danger, you never really worry about her or feel for her. This dissipates some as time goes on, but never fully disappears. However, I was really into Elsa’s group of friends, Porzia, Leo, and Faraz. You learn to cheer for and respect each of them in their own time, and they all add something interesting to the story.
If you’re looking for romance, Gwendolyn Clare developed a relationship juuuust enough to effectively tug at your heartstrings. The tension is palpable, but it isn’t too cutesy and doesn’t take over the whole story. It definitely worked for me in the context.
Here’s the rub: Ink, Iron, and Glass has a bit of a tonal problem. It’s set in 19th century Italy, but the story doesn’t feel like it is. The dialogue is often very modern, there’s no strict adherence to societal standards of the time, and steampunk elements are used so liberally that it doesn’t really feel like steampunk anymore. Certainly stories can play with historical elements, but in this case, it seemed to be forgetting them. For a fantasy, it also lacked a certain sense of flair. I don’t want or particularly enjoy purple prose, but there’s not a lot of rich description that builds the world in the reader’s mind. Even when talking about wild abilities and new worlds, everything came off as very matter-of-fact.
On a very nitpicky note, I struggled a lot with a very small plot element. There’s a character named Simo who’s just barely introduced. He’s mentally handicapped and only can say his own name (Think Hodor). This in itself would be a generally negligible thing, except he’s brought up again in connection to scriptology: If scriptological work is done poorly, people could end up “like Simo.” Given that scriptology is in many ways a metaphor for divine creation, this made me incredibly uncomfortable and I don’t like the (likely unintentional) implication at all.
The novel finds itself by the end of the adventure and there’s definitely potential for improvement as the series goes on. We’ll be interested to see where things head in Book 2!
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS
Can she write a world gone wrong?
A certain pen, a certain book, and a certain person can craft entirely new worlds through a branch of science called scriptology. Elsa comes from one such world that was written into creation by her mother—a noted scriptologist.
But when her home is attacked and her mother abducted, Elsa must cross into the real world and use her own scriptology gifts to find her. In an alternative 19th-century Italy, Elsa finds a secret society of pazzerellones—young people with a gift for mechanics, alchemy or scriptology—and meets Leo, a gorgeous mechanist with a smart mouth and a tragic past. She recruits the help of these fellow geniuses just as an assassin arrives on their doorstep.