Review: Iron Chamber of Memory

John C Wright has pulled off an amazing trick with his novel, Iron Chamber of Memory What started out as a Nora Roberts style romantic comedy ended in an epic battle on the scale of Mary Stewart and her books of King Arthur and Merlin. Okay, call it a fantasy romance. Quick! Where’s the soundtrack for Excalibur! I need O Fortuna to accompany the knights charging out of the mists!

Trust me, when I say it was epic, I mean EPIC.

You can kind of guess it from the cover.

Eye catching enough?

The description is as follows.

The small island of Sark in the English Channel is the last feudal government in Europe. By law, no motor vehicles run on the road, and no lights burn at night. Only the lord of the island may keep hounds.Into the strange, high house of Wrongerwood wanders Hal Landfall, penniless graduate student at Magdalen College, looking for his missing friend Manfred Hathaway, who has just inherited the lordship, the house, and the island. What he finds instead is the lovely, green-eyed Laurel, a beautiful girl from Cornwall who is Manfred’s wife-to-be.

 

There is said to be a haunted chamber in the house, erected by Merlin in ancient days, where a man who enters remembers his true and forgotten self. When Hal and Laurel step in, they remember, with fear and wonder, a terrible truth they must forget again when they step outside.

I wish I could go more into this story without given things away.

This book has haunted Wright for over a decade. The island it takes place on is real, even though it sounds like a fantasy construction, for it is a fantastic place.

The first 25% of the book is a romantic farce (like Bringing Up Baby, but actually funny). The next 25% is an epic romance. The third quarter …. transitions nicely into the last 25%, in which the fecal matter hits the air impeller, and we’re in for one heck of a ride.

Wright is in a level all of his own, wherein he brings together so many myths and legends, there were moments I paused and went “How did I not see this?” His dissertation director at Oxford is a Dr. Vodonoy. If you don’t see it, don’t worry, I didn’t either. You will be amused by a Mister Drake. He doesn’t actually have any lines of dialogue, but trust me, when Wright reveals the joke, you’ll enjoy it.
And in all of those elements of epicness and mythology clashing, good against evil, we have a bit like this.

“I am the son of The Grail Knight. My father showed me the cup when I was a boy, still with heaven’s innocence in me, so that the shining rays were visible to me: and in the Blood of the Grail he anointed me.”

“And after…”

“We moved to New York, and he opened a used bookstore.”

The unexpectedness of that line was … well, I was glad I didn’t wake the neighbors, laughing my tuchas off.
Or:

“Are you suffering from cutlery dysfunction?”

It’s times like those where I’m wondering if I’m reading Mary Stewart or Peter David. Either way, it works.
This is what, in my family, is called a “Novel novel.” There is more in common with Victor Hugo than James Patterson. I spent a lot of time admiring the crafting of story, words and phrasing. And I usually don’t note that sort of thing.
Humor? Check. Fantasy? Triple checked. Romance? Double checked in two different meanings of the world. Also, if you want a plot twist that makes Jeffery Deaver look like amateur hour? Quadruple checked (yes, really, four, I counted. Maybe 6).
Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.
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About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, and nominated for Best Horror at the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, to be released by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set to Kill," murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
  • This novel. I was not digging it for quite a while, which is -severely- unusual for anything John does…. And then something clicked. I literally teared up during a certain sequence towards the end, which brings the total teary eyes while reading up to three (In 30 years of reading): Roy Fokker’s death in Robotech: Homecoming, the end of The Martian, and Iron Chamber.

    • I cried too!! I was so happy and in awe….. I’m not sure a piece of fiction has touched me in quite that way before.

  • It kind of switches genres on you, not to mention… other things. Probably one of the hardest books to review, ever. Even to recommend it to someone without spoilers is a challenge. I usually say, “Just read it” and hope people trust me haha.

  • Ronald Zukowski

    John seems to have invented something new: The Unreliable Omniscient Narrator.