Sunday, April 3, 2016

Review: John C Wright's Iron Chamber of Memory

F. Paul Wilson's novel The Keep had impressed me growing up because it was a novel that had started out as Dracula and ended with Lord of the Rings.

John C Wright has managed and even greater trick with his latest novel, Iron Chamber of Memory. In this case, what started out as a romantic comedy, Nora Roberts style, and then, Deaver-like, ended in an epic battle on the scale of Mary Stewart and her books of King Arthur and Merlin. Let's call it a fantasy romance, of sorts. 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.
And I wish I could go more into this story without given things away.

This book has haunted Wright (Haunted? Good enough) for over a decade. And the island it takes place on is real, even though it sounds like a fantasy construction, for it is a fantastic place.

I read it on a Kindle, so I can't give you page numbers. But the first 25% is a romantic farce. Like Bringing Up Baby, only funny. Then 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 are in for one hell of a ride. 

So we have some of your epic fantasy, we have some 

Wright is obviously 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 in this novel. 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. 

"Are you suffering from cutlery dysfunction?"
It's times like those where I'm wondering if I'm in Mary Stewart or in a Peter David novel. 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. It's a book where I spent a lot of time admiring the crafting of story, and the crafting of words and phrasing. And I'm usually not the sort of person to note that sort of thing. 

So, you want your humor? Check. Want your fantasy, triple checked. Want 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)/

Short version? 10/10. Go read it. Thanks. Have a nice day.


  1. I'd better bump this up a few priority levels.

  2. Agree, so many layers - epic, twisty, and funny

  3. It really was GREAT. It had flavor of George MacDonald's sojourns in Faerieland, a little bit of T.H. White's laser-tuned humor, and a house that's as much or more a character than the people.

    The layering is simply excellent. You will have no idea which way the twists are gonna go until after they happen


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