From the back cover:
Silver smoke winds around my torso, peeling away from my ribs and back, stealing the dark mist covering my hands and lower extremities…tattoos dissolving into demon flesh, coalescing into small dark bodies. My boys. The only friends I have in this world. Demons.
I am a demon hunter. I am a demon. I am Hunter Kiss.
By day, her tattoos are her armor. By night, they unwind from her body to take on forms of their own. Demons of the flesh, turned into flesh. This is the only family demon hunter Maxine Kiss has ever known. The only way to live—and the very way she’ll die. For one day, her demons will abandon her for her daughter to assure their own survival—leaving Maxine helpless against her enemies
But such is the way of Earth’s last protector—the only one standing between humanity and the demons breaking out from behind the prison veils. It is a life lacking in love, reveling in death, until one moment—and one man—changes everything...
Well, it's been quite some time since I read this one, so bear with me. Initially, the premise put forth in that first little blip was enough to snag me. And then, of course - hello? - cover awesomeness. Tattoos that become demons . . . sweet. Then there was the fact that I read Ms. Liu's novella 'Minotaur in Stone' in the Hotter Than Hell anthology and was severely impressed. And I'm hard to impress. So, on to the Iron Hunt.
Unlike a few other reviewers I've read, I haven't read the Dirk and Steel series, so I didn't really have any expectations other than for the writing to stand out as it did in the anthology. From that aspect, Ms. Liu does not disappoint. What can I say? I'm a sucker for good writing and she is simply masterful with prose in a way that galls me to the bone with envy. I simply get lost in her words, her imaginative metaphors and the way she can evoke images and emotions like she's plucking heart strings if you let her. This was one of those rare books where I did not skip a word - not a single one, because I had never, ever read anything like it. An example of what I'm talking about, from page 70:
The demon tilted his head, just so, and his body twisted, flowing like the skim of a shark through water. He danced when he moved; on the city street, wrapped in shadows: a kiss on the eyes, a devil's ballet, and only his feet moved, only his cloak had arms; and his hair, rising and flowing as though lost in a storm. I heard thunder, and when his toes sliced spirals in the concrete, I listened to the wind bury winter; and when I tasted his grace, his grace had no name; only, night became something else in his presence, as though darkness had a soul, here, swaying to heartbeats roaring.Add to this hypnotic prose a story rooted in deep ancient myth, with references that - I'll admit - made me feel under-educated, but left me no less captivated, as well as a crew of characters that were refreshingly UNIQUE and I was a gonner for the day and a half it took me to devour it.
As far as the story goes, it followed no conventions, and that in and of itself is what I value. Much of that is due to the characters. Maxine is a reluctant but tough hero, determined to get some happiness of her gritty life, which she already pretty much knows is scrapped. Her journey takes her into the past (literally) and into other dimensions, where she hits rock-bottom (again, literally) and finds out what she's really made of. Her boyfriend Grant is softspoken and gentle, with a fascinating gift, able to charm those unfortunate souls being fed upon by demon parasites and in some cases even rehabilitate them by playing his pipe. And the boys . . . well, let me just say that I wish I had some of my own. Even though they barely spoke, they were ever-present, and well-loved by the time the story was through. Even Maxine's mother and grandmother managed to capture my attention and curiosity, simply through memories. Not to mention a demon with blades for feet, who you're not sure is good or bad, but he makes the hair on your arm stand up either way; and an intriguing, reluctant immortal protector (with a backstory I simply must find out more about) who makes his first appearance by pushing Maxine in front of a bus. (I know - you'll just have read it to get what I'm saying.)
In the end, it was time and money well-spent. I admire Ms. Lui's ability as a writer and storyteller greatly, and I'll definitely be reading this one again, reading the sequel, and checking out her other books. Four bleeding hearts.