The Iron Hunt
by Marjorie M. Liu
(Ace, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN  978-0-441-01606-8
Characters and action are the only things that pull this first of the Hunter Kiss novels through. What is garnered from the plot is a hodgepodge of confusion; it seems like there is a vital first book out there somewhere, when there really isn't.

Maxine Kiss is the Hunter – pretty much literary version of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, only without the snappy dialogue. Her job, with the help of five inherited demons that during the day cover her body as protective tattoos, is to protect the human world from demons who have managed to get through the veil, primarily zombies.

Maxine's taken her duties a little differently from the women who came before her; she's got several actual relationships, whereas her mother and grandmother were always loners. In fact, Maxine's boyfriend – who has a strange ability to alter auras that is never really explained, like a lot of other things – is a former priest who runs a shelter that welcomes zombies.

When a P.I. with Maxine's name on him is murdered, the trail leads her to an elusive man (also with virtually unexplained abilities) who may or may not be family. At the same time, a demon named Oturo allies himself with her, much to Maxine's dismay, warning her that the veil is falling.

Maxine's heard that before, but when the queen of the zombies verifies this, Maxine knows she's embarking into territory no Hunter before her has encountered.

The Iron Hunt will not appeal to most paranormal or romance fans looking for their supernatural fix; it's definitely more of an urban fantasy in the key of old-school fantasies, where the convoluted twists of the story itself lose the reader for a while. In addition to a plot that is at times nearly impossible to follow, there is a large handful of secondary and peripheral characters that further muddy up the waters. The primary characters, of which there are about half a dozen, are very clear-cut, each very much their own individual. Liu's usual stab-you-in-the-heart writing style is present, and readers are guaranteed to feel what Maxine is feeling – they just won't necessarily know why she's feeling that way.

Here's to hoping that the second book goes a lot further toward untangling the mess of Maxine's hereditary position as the Hunter, as well as providing more insight into her fellow characters in the fight against evil – which, intriguingly enough, does include those zombies she hates so much. The end of The Iron Hunt is definitely a cliffhanger, so the likelihood is that readers who read this one will look for – if not necessarily look forward to – a follow-up.

--Sarrah Knight

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