Blood and Iron by Tony Ballantyne (Penrose/Robot wars 2)

It is a world inhabited by humanoid robots, female and male robots. Baby robots are created when a female robot twists the wire from a male robot into a mind for a newborn and it is inserted into a baby body. The twisting of a mind decides personality, fidelity and talent. Their past is shrouded in legends. But now humans have arrived at Penrose and their motivations isn’t pure. Most robot minds are twisted for ‘what is’ but a few are twisted with the ability to make their own decisions. This is an epic story about the start of a new era where everything shifts for the robots of Penrose.

Title: Blood and Iron
Series: Penrose/Robot wars book 2
Author: Tony Ballantyne
Genre: Science Fiction
Jacket art: Jon Sullivan
Inside Illustrations: Sebastian Winnett
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Tor UK
Copy: Bought by me

Order from: Tor UK | Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok

Appointed Commander of the Emperor’s Army of Sangrel, Wa-Ka-Mo-Do of Ko tries to establish relations between the existing robot population and the humans who have recently arrived on Yukawa.

On the continent of Shull, Kavan forms the Uncertain Army and is marching to Artemis City. Upon discovery that the city’s generals have made an alliance with the humans, he retreats to Stark where he plans the eventual overthrow of Artemis and the humans.

Meanwhile, Karel is heading South, hoping to be reunited with Susan, his wife. As he walks, he hears more of the stories of the robots, and begins to understand something about his place on the world of Penrose.

But with limited resources and tensions growing between robot and human it’s only a matter of time before problems arise. And it’s becoming more and more apparent that the humans are a lot more powerful than the robots first expected…

Information

This is the second book in the series that started with Twisted Metal (review below). The first book explored the origin of the robots on Penrose as well as the City of Artemis’ war of conquest against Turing City and the North.

This story continues the story of Karel a strange robot that survived the conquest of Turing City on his quest to rescue his wife Susan from Artemis City and it also follows the former commander, Kavan of the Artemis Army on his return to the same city. We don’t know much about the second continent Yukawa but here we get to follow Wa-Ka-Mo-Do a newly appointed commander that has to deal with the newly arrived humans.

  • The book is dedicated to Eric, Chris and Simon
  • There is a map of the second continent Yukawa in the beginning

The Author

Twisted Metal was the first book I read by Tony Ballantyne and it blew my mind, it was such an original story. He is a British writer that lives in the Manchester area, regularly contributed to magazines such as Interzone and Private Eye before embarking on his first novel/series, Recursion. I haven’t read his first series but I have it on my to-read list.

World Building

This is such an original world populated with humanoid robots and animal robots. The great mystery is how did they come to be? The Book of Robots talk about the Makers and the first robots but it is forbidden in Artemis and Yukawa. Now the humans have arrived, are they really the makers? Filthy animals according to some.

Above their world hangs a metal moon, what is that? And are the humans mining it?

I especially enjoyed the Emperor and the Silent City and their brand of robot society contrasted with Artemis utilitarian world view ‘everything is metal’

Plot

Kavan has succeeded in conquering the north and now he is returning to Artemis City as a hero. But the leaders fear him and they plan treason to stop him, for they have been twisted to love leadership above all. He forms an army and marches against Artemis City picking up knowledge and followers on his way.

Kavan made to follow and believe in one ideology as are all the soldiers of Artemis can be seen as a clever critique of fanaticism as opposed to Karel’s freedom to make up his own mind.

Karel is also on his way to Artemis City to reunite with his wife. He travels in the wake of the Uncertain Army and he explores secrets hidden in the old mountains of the north on his way and he also picks up followers.

Wa-Ka-Mo-Do is in trouble, the humans has been given land and privileges by the emperor but the robots of Yukawa has been made for a society without humans and the tension continues to build. The humans’ motivation is not pure and there are fractions in conflict with each other. He learns more about the mysterious humans and befriends a teenage girl I hope will return next book. There is exploitation and colonialism in the way the humans treat the robots.

I also enjoyed Susan’s exploration of Artemis City while she tries to find her missing friend and escape.

Eventually there is a clash on both continents that will change their world forever.

Characterization

I love the robots, Tony switches point of view and there is no problem understanding or believing their motivation. I am usually not fond of multiple main characters as it dilutes my focus but here it works great for me. The switches back and forth are timely and appropriate to what is happening. You will find that the timelines might not be what you expect but that works well too.

The only one I miss from the first book is Maoco O, the city guard that survived and was about to start a resistance. What happened to him?

My View

Easily one of the best books I read this year if not the best. There is not often you read a truly original story. A world of robots made for how that world is, clashes with new concepts as conflicting human groups lands and starts to take advantage. It is a story about exploitation, colonialism, fanaticism and free will all packed in an epic science fiction saga about robots. I have been fascinated by robots since I read The Caves of Steel. You can read it as a standalone novel but I recommend you read Twisted Metal first. This is one of the books you should read this year.

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