Review by: Mark Palm
One doesn’t have to be a cutting-edge commentator on modern culture to notice that the last few years have seen a huge increase in books and films that deal either with various forms of the apocalypse or dystopias. I am sure that there are a multitude of talking heads and pundit who have something to say on the subject, but on the whole I have decided to keep silent, except every now and then.
The Iron Bells is one or the other. It certainly seems to be a dystopia, but it also seems to be about the Apocalypse. Set in England, in the present or near future, the world has been invaded by Demons. They have possessed and taken over enough people in power that most religious institutions and practices are outlawed and there is an Inquisition, except that this time they are looking for practitioners of religion and magic, which exists in a kind of hazy form. Our story is about a young woman named Amaranth who is a member of the Resistance and is good with "blades". She seems to spend most of her time in the Underground running errands and seeking out caches of supplies. She is moody and dark and doesn’t seem to have many friends, except for Patrick, a brilliant nerd whom she protects from bullies and demons.
During one of her adventures she meets Dham, an American smuggled over from the States to help the Resistance because he is a Ringer, a person who has the ability to ring sacred bells to battle the demons. In rather typical fashion he has a cool name (pronounced Dam I take it), and Amaranth is reluctantly drawn to him. Another Ringer also shows up, a small Scottish girl named Catriona, (call her Cat), and Viola! Instant Love Triangle. Of course the two girls don't get along until each grudgingly comes to respect the other for their differences. While this is happening, Amaranth (call her Am) intercepts a incredibly important book that might hold the key to defeating the demons. Also she and the two Ringers are caught up in a secret mission to close The Gate that would keep any more demons from entering our world. Her best friend Patrick (call him Trick) is possessed by a demon and the Resistance plans on using him as a weapon. All of this unwinds in the decent but occasionally awkward first person present-tense narration of Amaranth.
Now Ms. Batista is a good enough writer that you care about what happens next, but I was never quite riveted by this book. There is a certain vagueness lurking in the heart of it that threw me off. All of our main characters have cool names and troubled backgrounds, but there is a unfinished quality to it that is hard to determine. In a book narrated by a teen I didn't want her to be erudite, but the demons, and how them came to control the world are problematically vague. I was never grabbed by this book. Now whether or not that is my problem, or the books, I cannot say, but I can't give it a hearty recommendation. Also the thing ends (barely) with a total cliff-hanger that just screams SERIES.