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Iron Angel is Alan Campbell's second book in his Deepgate Trilogy, following Scar Night and coming before newly released God of Clocks. You can check out my review of Scar Night, but to quickly recap it, I thought the book had potential but never really reached its potential in terms of story, character, or richness of detail/imagination. It had enough to keep my interest piqued in the series, but I can't say I was holding my breath for book two.
Iron Angel picks up slightly after the events of Scar Night and continues the major story arc. A long-ago war in Heaven ended up with Heaven sealed, the god Iril shattered into pieces (which retain power) in the Maze of Hell, and his sons scattered and imprisoned, though most manage to free themselves and plot a return to heaven. Meanwhile, they must deal with King Menoa of Hell, who is attempting to lead his Mesmerists out of Hell into this world. The book opens with one of Iril's sons, Cospinol joined by his brothers on his great skyship of the dead (his prison), pulled (yes, pulled) by John Anchor, a great character. Cospinol is told by his brother Rhys that he's needed to stop Menoa by sealing the portal to Hell under Deepgate, which is where he'll also find the mad demigod/angel Carnival (from book one) whom he can kill and then "drink" to attain enough power to free himself. From there the book goes into multiple strands:
a) In part 1, the young angel Dill from Scar Night and his companion, the Spine assassin Rachael, are hiding out from the Spine-declared martial law. After some action they are separated and Rachael leaves Deepgate with Dill's possessed body (his soul is in hell), eventually meeting up with Carnival. Also in part 1, John Anchor, pulling the huge skyship behind him (all one can see his the rope trailing down from the sky--Cospinol's ship brings its own concealing fog with it), seeking Carnival, joins up with Jack Caulker, a thief/scammer looking out for himself.
b) Part 2 takes place in the Maze of Hell and also follows two strands. One focus is on Dill, whose soul, upon his body's possession, was transferred to Hell. Here he is prime prey for Menoa so he must avoid capture, helped by Hasp, another of Iril's sons, as well as Mina Greene, a thaumaturge introduced in part one. The other focus is Alice Harper, a human who traveled to Hell for reasons of her own and is now working for Menoa (though with mixed feelings) and thus is tasked with finding Dill.
c) Part 3 takes place in the land of Pandemeria (much of it on a train actually), and we see many of the same characters here in this section, although many are greatly transformed, some physically, some emotionally, some motivationally. We also get a big battle scene here.

So how does Iron Angel measure up to its so-so precursor? In many ways, Iron Angel is exponentially better, so much so that were it not for the obviousness of the continued plot and characters, I would have never have guessed this was the same author. Unfortunately, eventually some of Campbell's flaws from Scar Night reasserted themselves, but more on those later--let's start with the good stuff.
Actually, let's start with the great stuff because there is lots of it here. First, the richness of imagination that was hinted at but not fully realized in Scar Night--perhaps he was just saving it up for book two, because it's all here: a poisonous forest, an odd little dog, the Soft Men, The White and Black Swords, mixes of magic and technology, strange forms, shapeshifting. Hell is especially vivid and original. Here nothing is permanent--it's all a matter of will, and so things can be changed at will (Menoa, for instance, transforms Harper into whatever form best suits his purpose). Also, the walls, houses, etc. are made up of the souls of those in hell and one's souls take the forms of rooms or, in the case say of Hasp, entire castles (making for a highly original battle scene in Hell).
Beyond the vivid setting, Hell is also without a doubt the best part of the book--the most taut and compelling writing, the most moving. Part 1 is solid if a bit slow to start. And the scenes with Rachael get better toward the end--more interesting and humorous if not more compelling. The humor flares up especially nicely in Part 3 and the book closes well with a strong ending, though fair warning--it's a kicker of a cliffhanger.
What flaws reemerge from book one? Pacing becomes an issue in Part 3--the whole first half feels unnecessarily long. And while Campbell presents us with some wonderful characters--especially Anchor and Mina Greene (any scene w/ Anchor is a winner), they're great characters in terms of whimsy or dialogue or action but we don't know much about them. Other characters are weaker--Rachael, Dill, Harper, Menoa--none of them really come alive or compel any emotional tie, for good or bad.
But while I would have wished for stronger characterization more consistently, the flaws were really drowned out by the sheer originality of the scenes in Hell and the book was a vast improvement on Scar Night. Book Three--God of Clocks--is not as good, so we end up with that rarity in the fantasy trilogy world--a second or "bridge" book that is the best of the three (shades of Empire Strikes Back--though God of Clocks is nowhere near as bad as Return of the Jedi--no damn Ewoks for one). I'll review Clocks separately, but I'd say based on the solid Scar Night, the very strong Iron Angel, and the bit of a letdown though still decent God of Clocks, the Deepgate Trilogy is a recommended read. It has many flaws, maybe even more flaws than strengths, but there are enough good moments to earn it a read, even if it shouldn't go to the top of the To-Read-List.
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on December 11, 2012
I spent a good part of the predecessor, Scar Night, trying to decide whether the book was fantasy, or SF disguised as fantasy. There were indications of the latter, with 'angels' having fallen from 'heaven' in a technologically advanced vehicle ('the Tooth'). This book, however, steams ahead with straightforward fantasy approach, if with more engineering than usual.

Scar Night was very much about the hanging city of Deepgate, and one of my criticisms was that the city, while intriguing, was poorly described. I felt the story was intriguing despite that flaw. This second book is very much about hell/the Maze/Iril, and the politics of both hell and earth. Unfortunately, all of this is again poorly described. It's generally easy to follow what's happening in the main plotline, but hard to follow the geography of both the Maze and its connection with the earth. There's a similar problem with exactly how the whole soul mechanism works, though this is a key element of the story. The politics of the various infernal and earthly factions I found equally vague, though again it was easy enough to keep track of 'good' and 'bad'. Finally, there were a couple of jarring temporal shifts, though they were well marked with section breaks. All in all, unfortunate flaws that mar a quite interesting story.

All of the structural issues aside, Iron Angel fulfills much of the promise of Scar Night, if in unexpected ways. The focus shifts from Deepgate to Dill and some other characters, as they become enmeshed between gods (Ulcis' brothers) and darker forces. I personally found the story less interesting, not being a fan of military campaign fiction, but it was well laid out, and there's more than enough human, personal matter to keep character-oriented audiences going. It's unclear where the story will go next, which I count as a good thing, and I look forward to a lot of solved mysteries and tied ends in the last book of the trilogy.

All in all, a reasonable if not stellar steampunk fantasy, and one that gets points for an original environment and story. Worth continuing from book one, if you can put up with a little vagueness. I'd give it 2.5 stars, where Scar Night was a solid 3.
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on August 29, 2008
I am continuously impressed by this author and really can't believe he is a new writer. The best way I can describe this series is gothic, industrial fantasy complete with demons, gods, and assassins. I was a little concerned after reading the reviews that this is a typical middle novel whose main purpose was to set up the finale, but I was pleasantly surprised. The author did a great job of pacing a lot of action without sacrificing character development, and I loved the cliff-hanger ending. If you are one of the many George RR Martin fans not-so-patiently waiting for his next book, check out this series for a fresh voice in well-written, character-driven, action-packed fantasy that goes beyond the normal hack-and-slash formula.
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on May 21, 2011
This book is the sequel to Scar Night by Alan Campbell and as such this review will contain some spoilers to that book.

Characters

The two primary returning characters from the first book are Dill and Rachel. We are also introduced to Hasp (another god, brother to Ulcis from the first book) who teaches Dill how to fight in this book, which helps Dill to not be the whiny little brat he was in the first book. One of the coolest new characters is John Anchor, who is a servant of Cospinol, the god of Brine and Fog. Anchor is literally an anchor, he tows Cospinol's ship around through a harness he wears with a rope extending into the air leading to Cospinol's flying ship. Another character who has a large viewpoint is Alice Harper, who is dead and serves King Minoa as an engineer in Hell. Overall the characters just didn't impress me much in this book, they seem to be just along for the ride as the plot moves forward.

Setting

The setting is the best part of this book, which is both good and bad. It's good because it's so far away from your traditional fantasy story that it seems fresh, it's bad because the characters and plot aren't done well enough to support the intricate setting. Along with the idea of John Anchor towing the boat of Cospinol, the god of Brine and Fog, there are other gods mentioned as well. Not in this book but mentioned in the world is the god of chains, and in this book there is also mention of the god of knives and flowers. This is close enough to what you're used to to be recognizable, but different enough to make it really cool. Also introduced in this book are shiftblades, weapons that can change form quickly which make for a couple of interesting combat scenes. There is also mention of an interesting society of swordsmen who study either the schools of Kiril or Yen and depending on the school they have a sword ranging from pure white to pure black, with the closer they are to the pure color indicating a higher rank of swordsmanship (while this is a great idea, it is very briefly and poorly used in the book). The representation of Hell in this book is also fascinating, with each person's soul creating their own private room in Hell.

Plot

The weakest point of the book to me, which again is sad because with a better story in this world it could be a fantastic piece of fiction. Rachel and Dill begin by trying to get away from Deepgate, and then are captured and brought back into the city and thus forced back into the plot. The book does explore the results of Dill being brought back from the dead. Unfortunately, Carnival, who was a really interesting character in the first book, is practically non-existant in this book. Her part is so quickly throne away that is seemed like the author just didn't want anything to do with her character in this book. The Soft Men from the first book actually appear in this book, but have nothing to do with the plot, which irritated me almost as much as the quickly glossed over swordsmen mentioned above. The overall story has to do with the ruler of Hell trying to overthrow Earth since Heaven has been closed off. Much much like the first book it just felt forced to me. The principal viewpoint characters never seem to make their own decisions, they just go where the plot needs them to.

Enjoyment

The setting shows so much potential, and the characters might not be as bad if they weren't just going where the plot needed them to go. Not the best book I've ever read, but I will at least finish the trilogy.

Overall Grade

The potential and the ideas of the book are better than the overall execution, but if you're looking for a fantasy book with a unique setting you can do worse than this book, but you can also do better with some other books.

5/10

This and all of my other reviews are available on my blog which can be found through my profile.
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on June 5, 2008
This second book in the "Deepgate Codex" expands on concepts introduced in the first and introduces great new characters and an intriguing new plotline. We get to meet the other sons of Ayen and learn more about their past. The history of the fallen gods is revealed and their present situation makes for an intriguing new story. Dill and Rachel are still front and center, and the character of John Anchor is a welcome addition to the cast. I only wish Carnival had more face time in this novel, but I'm sure she'll play a large part in novels to come.
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on September 9, 2010
"Iron Angel" is, I can say without hesitation, very different from any other fantasy novel I've ever read. Even Campbell's first book, Scar Night (Deepgate Codex, Book 1), doesn't really give you any preparation for what you'll encounter here. It is, first of all, a feast of awesome imagery. Virtually every chapter introduces a new type of setting and a host of characters and ideas that will knock your socks off. There's the ruins of deepgate, now buring and turned upside-down. There's the poisoned forest, a runied landscape that the Deepgate military used as a testing ground for toxins, where touching any leaf or branch will bring on a horrible death. And there's ... well, no point in denying you the pleasure of discovering it yourself. Suffice to say, unlike "Scar Night" this book does not stick with the grimness and griminess of Deepgate, but ranges all over. By far the most memorable part in a section set in "The Maze" (i.e. in Hell), and while Campbell's vision may not quite replace Dante's, it's still should be terrifying enough for anyone. The dominant theme is malleability. King Menoa has the power to shape anything into anything, including the tormented souls at his command.

As far as plot, there's enough fighting and action to satisfy the most demanding customer. Just like "Scar Night", "Iron Angel" is packed with enormous action sequences. One particular battle sequence set in the Maze is awesome in its vividness and in the unique tactics employed by the two sides as they war with each other. There's really no author I know of who does fight scenes quite like Campbell. The cover reminds us that Campbell worked on the Grand Theft Auto game series before turning to writing. Hiring a gamer designer to do speculative fiction may sound like a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that works. Campbell's experience in computer graphics probably gave him a good understanding of what makes an impressive visual scene, and that serves him well as an author. Even though he can only provide words and the actual images are left to our imagination, the mere framework is enough to dazzle the eye and delight the senses.

So with all that good stuff, why doesn't the book deserve four stars? The characters are the weak point. There's a much larger cast here than in "Scar Night" and hence less time to give everybody a thorough background. Much of what takes place just doesn't seem to fit together all that well. The plot demands that certain characters arrive here or there at certain times, so those characters decide to go here or there, often without any coherent reason. That's a distraction, but not to the degree that it ruins the book.

One last thing that I would be remiss if I didn't mention is that this book is certainly not for children or the squeamish. The images are often gruesome as Campbell has quite an imagination for creative torments, particularly in the scenes set in Hell. So for those looking for a creative and well-written book more appropriate for the young I'd suggest The High House (Aspect Fantasy) or Prospero's Children.
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on July 6, 2009
A devastating conflict between the defenders of Deepgate and the Heshette tribes has left the city in a precarious position, but the Spine priest-assassins are reluctant to let the civilian population flee. Former Spine operative Rachel Hale and the temple archon Dill are on the run, whilst the fallen angel Carnival has vanished. But, from the pit under Deepgate, a strange mist is rising...

On the other side of the vast eastern ocean, the continent of Pandemeria has served as the battleground between the armies of Hell and those of the surface world, led by Ulcis' brothers. With their brother MIA, the rest of the family dispatches Cospinol, god of brine and fog, and his immortal champion John Anchor to investigate and seal the rent that Carnival and Dill accidentally created, before the world is destroyed.

In Iron Angel, the sequel to Scar Night and the middle volume of The Deepgate Codex trilogy, events take a turn for the Biblical. The armies of Hell are gathering and key characters from the first book are revealed to have major roles to play in the struggle to come. Characters from the first book, most notably Carnival, are unfortunately sidelined, but some of their replacements, like the superbly-realised John Anchor, more than make up for the lack.

The biggest difference between the two books, and Iron Angel's biggest weakness, is the lack of a milieu to rival Deepgate. A large chunk of the book is set in Hell and whilst it is vividly described, we are firmly in the traditional post-Dante vision of the underworld (with a dash of mid-1980s movie Labyrinth thrown in for good measure) more thoroughly explored by the likes of Gaiman (in the Sandman graphic novels) and it has to be said that there's a bit too much over-familiarity in this sequence. Also, whilst Dill grew a pair at the end of Scar Night and seemed to grow as a character, Iron Angel throws him back into ultra-nervous emo mode and he lost my sympathy and became a figure of pity before the halfway mark of the book. There's a notable lack of focus in the book as well, with the earlier sequence depicting John Anchor's mission, the central Hell section and the conclusion (which opens with an unexpected take on Murder on the Orient Express) not quite hanging together as a cohesive whole, although the three sections are individually compelling.

Things do come together at the end of the book, and Iron Angel's vast final battle redefines the meaning of 'epic', with events culminating with a powerful cliffhanger ending which redeems the weaker sections of the book and leaves the reader eager to press on to the final volume, God of Clocks.

Iron Angel (***½) is a mixed bag which eventually overcomes its problems to deliver a readable and entertaining tale, although the measured pace and rich worldbuilding of Scar Night is sadly missing. It is available now in the UK and USA.
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on April 18, 2009
On the strength of the fantastic "Scar Night" and "Lye Street", I bought "Iron Angel".

Ultimately, however, I was a little disappointed with "Iron Angel".

Where "Scar Night" was more focused, and filled with moments of human drama amidst the unrelenting grimness, "Iron Angel" is sprawling, occasionally disorienting, and, by favoring spectacle, lacks the personal feel that made me care about the cast in the original.

The amiably destructive giant John Anchor, is a divertingly entertaining addition to the cast; most of the newcomers, however, are unappealing and their various storylines fail to keep me interested.

"Scar Night"'s most fascinating character, Carnival, makes no more than a cameo here. This is part of the problem I had with "Iron Angel"; I was really eager to learn more about her, and thus disappointed. Those readers who would rather have followed the adventures of Dill and Rachel may find more here to keep their attention than I did, though even these two characters are often relegated to the background to make way for the new cast.

Regardless of character loyalty, I feel that "Iron Angel" is, by comparison, more disjointed than it's predecessor, and it's hallucenogenic descent into the Maze (Hell) was occasionally more silly than gripping. There is still some great writing and imagery here (though less cinematic, I feel, than "Scar Night") and ghoulish humor still abounds.

All in all, I enjoyed the opening act (roughly half the novel), lost interest in the second, and regained some enthusiasm in the third, just in time for the cliffhanger!
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on February 20, 2012
If you haven't read scar night then stop, buy it, then read this, or any other review. They will all tell you that this is a fantastic follow up to a very original story. Alan Campbell has succesfully created a world so dark and believable its easy to get lost and enthralled. This follow up introduces some truly original characters and settings, taking you on a far larger adventure than the first and ending with such a cliff hanger you will be desperate to read the third enstallment.
This series continues to grow and improve, buy this novel, you won't regret it.
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on August 22, 2008
If you didn't enjoy the first book in the series don't bother with this. Thankfully i rather enjoyed the first book. This book however represents something of a departure from the first. The first book is set almost entirly within the bounds of Deepgate, very little of this one does. Whats more This book just keeps introducing new characters, like it didn't know how to stop. Some characters are great, like John Anchor, who is litetaly the anchor for a DemiGods floating ghost ship. But some of the Characters and Redshirts, just there to deliver a line and die (like the Black swords and White Swords on the train).
The story also has a departure. The first book is mostly the story of Dill and how he becomes a man (or angel as the case may be), and whereas Dill is still a major player the book is more about the Fallens angels of heaven. The Brothers of Uclis God of Deepgate in the first book.
Still all told, I liked the book, maybe just not as much as the first.
Sometimes I'm a little kid, and I want more of what i like. I wanted more Dill.
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