In Steven Harper’s The Books of Blood and Iron series we are introduced to a world where trolls, dwarves, and giants are known as the Stane; elves, sprites, and fairies are known as the Fae; and humans are known as the Kin.
The main character, Danr is 16 years old, his mother was Kin and his father was Stane. When Danr was brought into the world, his mother was frowned upon for the birth of her half-troll child, and she was forced to accept work as a thrall to an unkind farmer. Danr has suffered the cruelties that the world has to offer by being born as socially unacceptable and touted as a monster. Now his mother has passed away and he desperately misses her. He also knows that he must never forget to abide by the one piece of advice she always gave him, which was not to unleash the monster inside him.
One of Danr’s few friends in the village is Aisa, who is a couple of years older than Danr. Aisa has also suffered a hard life. She was sold into slavery by her father and after being a slave to the elves in Alfhame, she is now a slave to a man named Farek, who sexually abuses her. Aisa hides from the world by keeping herself covered from head to toe in a dark cloak and never allowing her face to show. But she dreams of one day travelling to the South Sea, healing the sick and earning enough money to buy a small boat so she can sail out among the merwomen and regain her face.
As these two try to escape the harsh realities of the life they’ve been given, a series of unusual events takes place which will change their paths. Rumors are heard that the Stane have come down from the mountains and killed some villagers. Now those villagers’ spirits are haunting the village and cannot be laid to rest. As the rumors spread that the hated Stane are responsible, Danr’s place in the village becomes precarious. Danr decides to flee the village and he sets out to find the truth behind the rumors and to learn more about his Stane heritage. Danr is joined in his travels by Aisa and a new friend, Talfi, who bears no memories of who he is or where he came from. Danr’s quest brings the group into contact with Death herself, who tells them that they must recover a powerful weapon known as the Iron Axe in order to tip the balance of the world back to its rightful place. As they pursue the Iron Axe, they also wind up on a deeper quest for the truth about themselves and the world around them.
Iron Axe features strong, loveable characters that each have their own personal struggles. It is written in a straight-forward, no frills manner. Harper has also effortlessly included gay characters within the story. While the story at times seems simplistic, the characters have been through a lot of darkness. Told in the style of traditional fantasy, the story moves along at a good clip and comes to a satisfactory end, with two more books to follow in this series. I can also easily see this as a graphic novel, appealing to young adults and adults alike. If you’re looking for a good book with a Beauty and the Beast crossed with a Norse-type Mythology vibe, you will enjoy this one.