Iron Bloom by Billy Wong

zoes_human's review against another edition

Go to review page

It's wonderful to read a book with a capable, confident, autonomous heroine who doesn't invest half her mental energies into obsessing over boys. I applaud the author for writing her in appropriate clothing and armor instead of having her fight the hordes clad in a metal bra with a matching g-string. It's great to read a story with a girl front and center in a role traditionally reserved for a male character. I really wanted to love this book for all that. All of that is why it gets 2 stars instead of 1.

The writing's just not compelling. It reads like a post-shift work recap. The facts are simply relayed with no flair, no poetry, no excitement.  There was something stiff and awkward about the prose. It felt like reading the whole time. At no point was I ever able to lose myself in the story.

And the characters were flat. The main character knows her own her own mind so fully that she suffers no genuine internal conflict, and her abilities ... Sigh. It's like someone rolled up a level 1 D&D character who has 20 for all their stats except for two 18s in dexterity and charisma. It's just too much. 

I would love to see this writer work with others who have the correct knowledge base to teach him how to fix all that, how to put something truly original from within into his work, how to sound his own voice. I want to support someone who is putting genuinely competent female characters into a genre which has done so badly by them, but the book is just not up to par. 

I sincerely hope Mr. Wong keeps working at this until his writing is on the same level as his vision.

see_sadie_read's review against another edition

Go to review page


I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I suspect he'll regret that, as I didn't much care for it. I apologise up front for that. There are a few spoilers to follow and it's really a quite long review. You've been warned.

To start with, I thought that the writing was really quite stiff and naïve, for lack of a better word. Things were just related, one after another. There was no sense of build up, transition, or progress. I also thought a lot of the dialogue was unrealistic.

But more than almost anything, what irritated me was the constant praise of Rose. She didn't seem to have earned it and it overplayed her charisma. In the beginning, she was almost instantly accepted as an equal by the captain of the guard, thanked and congratulated for things that whole groups of people accomplished, strangers constantly addressed her instead of the older guards at her side, and even when walking with senior soldiers the group was often referred to as hers, 'Rose's four,' for example. Later on, she easily walked into forts and was given a place among the respected. It felt very much like the focus of the story was artificially forced onto her. It also left the other characters essentially characterless, since they only seemed to exist to give Rose someone to talk to.

She also seemed to be invincible (never even needing recovery time to heal). At one point, she was stabbed THROUGH the right breast and half gutted, but she still managed to tend to her dead friends' bodies and walk away. Another time she took a mammoth spear THROUGH her chest, it nicked her heart and came out the other side, and still she fought on, won, survived and buried her dead. This inability to die kinda stole the suspense. It reduced the story to a series of battles, with no apparent end-goal. It was like reading a list of how many ways she could be injured and how many ways she could kill a man. It got old fast.

A character needs a challenge to overcome. I couldn't find Rose's. What's more, her uncommon and largely unexplained mental and physical fortitude left those same battles flat and lacklustre. How many times can you read about a woman winning fights before your eyes start to glaze over? I made it to the shrub battle at about 17%. In this example, the bush fought by muddling it's opponent's mind. This didn't work on Rose, so she was able to simply hack it to bits and burn it. But there was no explanation or reason that the evil bush's mind trick didn't work on her. It was just one more miraculous win...and there were plenty more after that.

I also couldn't quite get my head around her being 15. Totally unbelievable. She acted and was treated like she was much older—drinking heavily and being accused of trying to seduce people and such. Besides, she wouldn't even be fully physically grown at 15, so how was she besting all those adult men and monsters? An additional side point: that woman on the cover, that one would assume is meant to be Rose is far, far older than 15. As a character, she needed to be at least in her mid-20s. Mid-teens just did not work.

Now, I did appreciate that she was a strong female lead and remained so without having to also conform to modern standards of beauty. She was described as being large, stocky and beautiful. I liked that Wong broke the mold on her. Plus, she wasn't the only strong woman in the novel. High five from me for the warrior women.

It's just too bad Wong felt the need to counter it will a peppering of rape. The first attempt came on page one...seriously, page one! After that every bad guy seemed to be a rapist too. It got redundant. There are other ways to victimise women, even some that aren't specific to women. You know, being a terrorist or a murder is still being an evil bastard. No need to also label them a rapist to get the point across.

I had a lot of complaints about this book, but my absolute primary complaint is, "where was the plot?" There wasn't one. I'm not trying to be mean. But the book starts when Rose goes off to join the RIEF (essential the national guard). It then follows her for a year or so of her life as she gets into fight after fight. She creates enemies for herself, like Lennox. She decided he was evil incarnate, visited the king to complain about him and eventually killed him herself, all based on the third party testimony that he encouraged the mercenaries and was a bad man. I saw no evidence that she witness his evil, so why dedicate herself to his extermination? She just randomly chose the battle and it was just one of many. He wasn't her main nemesis or anything. She didn't have one of those.

The whole book was like that. 'Oh, I'll go fight this person. Oh, I'm being attacked by this person.' But there was no villain of importance, or quest to be accomplished, or challenge to be overcome; nothing to mark a transition of progress or show Rose to have accomplished something important to the story. The book really is just a series of random battles that occurred in one random year of her life. That's not a plot.

Then there were the ogres and other monsters. They seemed to come out of nowhere, but were not an integral part of the story. They seemed to just add complication, since they popped up for about 30 pages and then were never seen again. So, is the story a high fantasy novel or not?

I have to be honest, and no offence to Mr. Wong, but if this hadn't been a review request I probably would have dropped it at about 10%. I found finishing it a struggle. Everything was very simple and one dimensional, coloured with a painful sense of naiveté. Kings who state "you seem like a person with only good intentions" when confronted by the fact that she killed a lord. Really, a king is going to let her off because she had good intentions. Really?

Now, I think Wong had a good idea in here somewhere. Rose was called God-Touched and her story pretty accurately shows the double-edged nature of such existences. Isn't it part of Greek mythology that the Heroes were never allowed a happy ending? That's Rose. She tried so hard to do right, only to have it crumble again and again. This is an interesting concept. It could have been built on and turned into something substantial. But, like so much else in this book, it was eclipsed by the endless and often pointless battle scenes. I have no problem with gore, but like romance novels with too much sex, sword (and I suppose sorcery) novels with too many battles only cripple themselves.

Now, other people have loved this book. It has a lot of good reviews out there. So, I'm not trying to trash it. But it did almost nothing for me. **Sorry**