Newfoundland author Andrew Marc Rowe recently took the time to read As Fierce as Steel, the first volume of Gold & Steel and give his analysis of the book. Before we dive into his thoughts on AFaS, let’s talk about Rowe himself.
From his own author biography: Andrew Marc Rowe moonlights as a wizard when he is not working his desk job as a lawyer. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, with his daughter Iris and a stable of unicorns. He likes long walks on the beach, getting caught in the rain, and betting the farm on insane cannibalism-related wagers with goblins.
To expound on Rowe a little further: Andrew is an author of eleven fantasy titles (and counting). The most popular entries of his work are his two sagas, The Druid Trilogy and The Yoga Trilogy. You can find all of his titles on his Amazon author profile that we’ve linked below, and be sure to do that, as they are tremendous in their own right.
Christopher Walsh is a fellow Newfoundland fantasy author who has been in the game since 2016. I only became aware of his work this year through the jigs and the reels of getting to know the genre fiction community of Atlantic Canada. I picked up a copy of As Fierce As Steel for my Kindle over the summer but the pandemic’s impact on my reading was such that I didn’t really dig back in until recently. I was about halfway through the book when The Market From Another Dimension happened, which was a sci-fi and fantasy market hosted at the St. John’s Farmer’s Market (located in my hometown). At the market I met Chris and he was kind enough to gift me a signed physical edition of the book, which made for a much more enjoyable read to the finish line (I love my Kindle, but come on!)
Though I did receive a gift copy (after reading half of an e-book I paid for myself), this review is my own and uninfluenced by such devilishly kind behaviour.
Review – 5/5
To be honest, at ~700 pages, and the first of seven planned books in the Gold & Steel saga, I was wary of starting As Fierce As Steel. My reading time is at a premium and the TBR list keeps growing day by day. Still, it was intriguing enough that I decided to give a few chapters a shot.
The book starts with a bang, a pretty crazy action sequence wherein the Thieves, a group of conscientious objectors to the power structure of the main country of Illiastra, get captured and pretty thoroughly trounced by said power structure. The troops who catch the Thieves do so at the behest of the Elite Merchant Party (the ‘EMP’), a hegemonic oligarchy that would put unnamed modern governments in a nepo-tizzy. The Thieves themselves just want their freedom to be themselves, whether that’s human, straight, gay, or bi. Or a woman.
A woman like Orangecloak, the leader of the Thieves who everyone, especially the EMP wants a piece of. Orangecloak is a strange bird, a pacifist leader who is almost childlike in her naiveté, a caricature of idealism who has managed to gain the sympathy of half the continent through her daring displays of peaceful protest against the excesses of the government.
Though it’s set in an industrial-era fantasy world, complete with guns and trains and military garments with epaulets and shit (you know the kind), you can tell that Walsh has a few things to say about the state of our own world. Which fulfills one of the four main functions of mythology – the sociological – if you want to go by what Joseph Campbell said about the stuff. Do not get me wrong, this is a fantasy story through and through, but I appreciated the many political and philosophical aspects of the dialogue that take place in the meat of the story.
You might be thinking: of course it’s wrong to oppress people for their sexual orientation or their gender. But Walsh doesn’t do it simplistically, though I would call his style of writing expository. One particularly thorny issue is the status of the Triarchy, the local Christian church-esque purveyor of fine extremely sexist dogma and child-molesting priests with images too real for a fellow Newfoundlander (Walsh and I grew up during the same era of local scandals in this vein, and I definitely felt like I was listening to a news program from when I was a kid at points). There are other philosophical chestnuts cracked open, like the eternal clash between idealism and rationality, which are well-exposed. This is good fodder for the grey matter, people!
But it’s not just presented through dialogue between the Orangecloak and Tryst Reine, for example, arguably the main male character of the story who’s ostensibly a shill for the EMP at the beginning of the story and whose identity and motives are revealed slowly over the course of the story, like a clementine during the Christmas season. Because this definitely book definitely felt like ‘home’ to me. From certain turns of phrase that I think you would have to know Newfie to parse, to the frozen mountain vistas for (Dwarven) downhill skiing, to the outport hospitality and even the meals people were eating throughout the books, As Fierce As Steel blooms where it was planted, suggesting Newfoundland in much the way Stephen King’s writing screams ‘Maine.’
Getting back to my point before my digression, there is plenty of action in this book – for example, a well-devised jailbreak, a steamy sex scene, a brutal mess of a miscarriage of justice with twin bastards who’d make Joffrey blush, sneaky-deaky war-time infiltration into a fort. But where this book shines is in the emotional connections that occur with the characters, the changes in fortunes and the slow revelations of motives for some of the shadier types. And let me tell you – Walsh can really write MFer characters. The secondary ‘main’ female character, a gay woman named Ellarie captured in the opening scene whose predicament puts a fine point on the horrors of the oppression of the EMP and the Triarchy, is pretty much beset by caricatures of villains the whole time, really awful dirtbags who are sure to get their comeuppance in later books (please, Chris!)
In all, I am very happy that I gave As Fierce As Steel a shot. It sucked me in and brought me to the end wanting more, which is exactly what I want from fantasy. The only thing that surprised me was that magic was completely absent from the story – the closest thing you get is the existence of dwarves and elves. Still, given how much of a fantastic read this was, it doesn’t bother me in the least.
One final point: if you’re a fan of gingers, you’ll like this book. Though it’s a plot element (people from a certain part of the world are known for having red hair and green eyes), there were times when I felt Oprah was on stage shouting ‘you’re getting red hair! And you’re getting red hair! And you’re getting red hair!’
That’s about it – check out As Fierce As Steel if you like your fantasy with a heavy dose of action, philosophy, and character development.