The Self-Publishing Review – 41/2 stars out of 5
An epic, violent, and grimy urban steampunk tale with a hero to cheer for and original mythology that any science-fiction fantasy fan will run at.
In a world of godlike deities and electrifying science fantasy, mortal man is like an ant in the modern jungles of an oppressive regime of the ultra-powerful. For the common folk, survival is the only thing that matters, no matter the cost, and no matter the will of the disinterested elite towering above. It’s a lesson learned hard and fast by Jack Booker, an orphan who grew up in the ticking clockwork heart of the Primal Empire. In the steam-plumed, coal-smeared alleys of the city of Victorian, Booker ekes out his own little niche in the daily gang wars and power plays.
It might have lasted, too, if not for a dodgy new political landscape rising in shadows, splitting the desperate masses between the enigmatic rebel Freedom and the myriad forces that have drawn poor Booker into their games. Will Booker be just another pawn in a battle far bigger than he may ever know, or will he live long enough to become a king on the board? A new struggle dawns in Ironheart: The Primal Deception by Dakota Kemp.
Kemp returns with another enigmatic and unique fantasy tale after his previous novel, The Arrival. While The Arrival was a take on classical fantasy with its stone-and- mortar cities and magical dissidents, Ironheart turns to steampunk and science fantasy, erring on the lower-fantasy side of the scale despite it being a world of aloof yet potent gods. Much like The Arrival, political machinations are just as intriguing as the literal ones. It’s a character-oriented tale that relies on Booker’s wry charisma and wits that are our portal and touchstone in this unusual world, and the read is compelling as a result.
Jack serves as a good guide, and his story is a constant crescendo of danger and intrigue, a particularly shiny and involved cog in a very cool machine. Add in some gorgeous writing, Kemp’s style is polished to a gleaming and evocative standard. It’s definitely an improvement over the (very) slightly overwrought language habits demonstrated in his previous work. The whole thing has a strong focus and an involving story sure to catch the eye of any fantasy reader.
Admittedly, the book has its quirks that may be offputting for some; it’s got a bit of hokiness to it that you have to accept as part of the setting to get along with the read, as often comes with the stuffed-shirt, brass-and-bullet nature of a steampunk fantasy setting. The sociopolitical slant to the plot might be more than some may expect, not hitting the upper echelons of complexity reserved for the Song of Ice and Fires but still occasionally warranting a flip-back on the odd page. Ironheart is definitely a book poised to set the young adult readership ablaze with interest, as well as adult readers looking for the right mix of grime and gear-based adventure. – SPR
IndieReader – 3 out of 5 stars
A young man in a steampunk world discovers he has extraordinary fighting abilities, which elevate him from small-time gangster to revolutionary hero.
Eighteen-year-old Jack Booker, better known as Dull Jack, is one of the many orphaned commoners struggling to survive in the dark and crime-riddled city of Victorian, capital of the Grounded Realm. In addition to humans, this world contains handsome and powerful winged beings called Primals, who many worship as gods, and a few of those Primals rule as despotic Emperors. Others known as the “rogue Primals” are called evil by the state-sponsored Illuminati church.
Jack’s past is told in chapters back and forth with chapters of his present. Though he has had more than his fair share of tragedy, he stands out for his physical and mental tenacity and a sophistication beyond that of the rest of his thieving street gang, making him a likeable protagonist with sympathetic emotional depth. But in addition to poverty and the risks of his criminal lifestyle, he struggles with trust issues and a reluctance to open up to people. Then his life’s trajectory changes when he earns the attention of the rogue Primals and their allies in the Independent Army of Liberty, who variously view him as either an untrustworthy hoodlum with an oversized reputation or a unique, pivotal tool in their quest to liberate the humans of the realm.
An easy read, Kemp’s writing could use development, though, in areas such as “Show don’t tell,” complexity of description and diction, and pacing of the plot—there’s a little too much downtime with a lot of expository conversation. The Primal gods also feel a little too human at times, their awe reduced by underwhelming dialogue such as “You’re so melodramatic.” Yet the novel introduces readers to a satisfyingly steampunk world, which includes Victorian attire and issues of classism, mechanical horses, airships, and a bit of magic. Kemp’s story has action and combat, even some in midair with steam-powered jetpacks.
Moody, yet fun, THE PRIMAL DECEPTION opens the door to an entertaining new steampunk series.