I hadn’t heard anything about this book before I snagged it from my library’s new books shelf, which surprises me. I would have thought that one of the book blogs I read would have featured it at some point. Bronze Gods sounds like, and indeed is, a very original and refreshing voice in fantasy. Its authors (Ann and Andres Aguirre, who together form a writing name that is sure to be as close to the beginning of the shelf as possible) have written a fairly standalone novel that nevertheless kicks off a new mystery/fantasy series in a very rich world.
Initially, from the book’s cover and description I thought that this was some kind of steampunk Victoriana, an alternate England where gods and machinery co-existed in an uneasy truce, with the paranormal component of the Criminal Investigations Department keeping the peace. No, Bronze Gods is set in a different world, one in which the blood of the fae (Ferrishers) and humans has mixed, and centuries later Dorstaad is a burgeoning city of trade, passion, and of course, crime.
Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko, partner inspectors in the CID, are the cornerstone of this book. If you like them, you will like the book; similarly, if you don’t fall for these two, then this book is going to fall flat for you. I, for one, enjoyed both of these characters immensely. They are so distinctive that they become all the more real for it. Mikani fiercely values his independence, yet he constantly seeks companionship. Whenever he tries to form attachments, they crumble as it becomes clear his commitment to the CID always comes first. Ritsuko is likewise committed to her job—because she has defied her grandfather to do it, and as a woman she must work twice as hard to prove herself. As the story commences, the two have been partners for three years, meaning they have a deeply established bond and routine that we gradually learn.
Aguirre adeptly addresses the sexual tension between these two. Over the years, they’ve come to respect and value one another, mostly because their abilities and attitudes are complementary. It’s not exactly an “attraction of opposites” as it is an “affinity of opposites”. Nevertheless, both Mikani and Ritsuko are in a very vulnerable place, emotionally, at the story start. This is probably one of their most stressful cases ever, and as the pressure mounts, they find themselves drawn to one another in a way that sets alarm bells ringing. That being said, I’m pleased to see a man/woman partnership being portrayed as something that can be platonic.
The mystery involves the disappearance and death of an important House scion—i.e., rich girl gets killed, so her father pressures the city and police department to catch someone quickly. Mikani and Ritsuko, alas, are more interested in catching the actual murderer, who appears to be killing specific women in some kind of magical ritual. (Joy!) As their field of suspects narrows and they begin tracking the person they believe responsible, it becomes a race against time to stop him before he kills again.
I think the mystery component of this story is strong enough that, even if you aren’t all that into fantasy, you can still enjoy this book. The magic is mostly incidental; aside from its use as a MacGuffin for the murders, its largest role in the plot manifests as Mikani’s ability to “read” people. Well, that, and some of the people in the story are a few centuries old.
The writing in this is splendid. Good writing is unremarkable: it’s just there. Bad writing is remarkable because it pulls you out of the story. Great writing is remarkable because you notice how much it makes you enjoy the act of reading. In this case, through precise diction and melodious phrases, Aguirre transforms this from another simple mystery into a really enchanting read.
This is the first in the series, as the cover boldly proclaims and the end of the book promises. However, the mystery is self-contained. Instead, Aguirre sets up a larger, more nebulous menace, much like Jim Butcher gradually established in the Dresden Files—my gold standard for urban fantasy mystery. I imagine that the next book, whenever it appears, will feature Mikani and Ritsuko pursuing another investigation, only to stumble on something that helps them towards understanding the bigger picture.
Bronze Gods works on two levels, both firmly establishing a brand new series while still offering a good standalone story. The protagonist duo is lovely, with the two characters working together to form an unstoppable team that just made me want to cheer every time they triumphed. I got really excited when I plucked this book off the library shelves, and I couldn’t really explain why. In this case, at least, that excitement was not misplaced.