Iron Kingdoms is a campaign setting from Privateer Press that has enthralled me for almost two decades with its fantastical steampunk world and deep national histories. I spent hours upon hours poring over sourcebooks and thinking of all the stories that could take place in the setting, but still haven’t found a group that wants to play in it (alas). It was to my great delight, then, that I discovered there were novels in the setting that I had never heard of. I was surprised that they’d gone under my radar because I thought I’d been following Privateer Press fairly closely. When I saw Flashpoint by Aeryn Rudel at a bookstore, I grabbed it without any further deliberation. It was enough to know it was a novel in a setting that I’d been in love with for years. I was deeply gratified as I read the novel, though, because it cashed in on that setting in ways that I knew were possible.
Flashpoint starts off with a bang as we follow a desperate, undercover noble trying to escape from an assassination attempt. From there, we get kicked into a setup for a diplomatic showdown between the Empire of Khador (a kind of play on Imperial Russia, but with magic and steam-powered mechs) and Cygnar, a powerful Kingdom that has too many enemies. Rudel introduces readers to a cast of characters including Lord General Coleman Stryker of Cygnar, a warcaster who commands a mech in battle, Asheth Magnus, another mage-like character who is willing to do whatever he thinks it takes to win the day, Maddox, Beth Maddox, a warcaster just doing her duty, and more. The cast is full of strong enough characters to carry the plot, which is itself full of political intrigue and, eventually, squad and battle level combat.
I hugely enjoyed the mix of politicking, character interactions, and combat Rudel uses throughout the novel. It reads like a truly excellent campaign, with battles interspersed at somewhat predictable intervals as action to break up the story exposition. There’s enough conflict here to make things interesting, and both sides of the conflict have sympathetic characters. It’s a great fantasy read, and for readers who enjoy steampunk, there are new wonders in abundance.
It’d be remiss of me to not mention that there are several editing errors in the book. On at least 3 separate occasions, I ran into a sentence that very clearly had a word missing. In two cases, I was able to easily supply the word because it was a common phrase. In the third, the sentence was left somewhat ambiguous by the missing piece. These errors didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the novel, but they did take away from my immersion at points.
Overall, Flashpoint was a delight to read. I loved seeing the Iron Kingdoms come to life. I hadn’t read much from my campaign settings books in a while, and was gratified to see that I could have easily dived into the novel with no prior knowledge of the setting. I recommend the novel to those interested in a fascinating steampunk world.
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