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Blood And Iron by Tony Ballantyne

1/09/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy Blood And Iron (The Robot Wars/Penrose Series book 2) in the USA - or Buy Blood And Iron (The Robot Wars/Penrose Series book 2) in the UK

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pub: TOR-UK/Pan Macmillan. 431 page hardback. Price: 16.99 (UK), $34.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-230-73861-4.

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I enjoyed the first of Tony Ballantyne's 'Penrose' series 'Twisted Metal' last year. The book ended with all of the characters' stories unfinished, but also with lots of questions about the robot inhabitants of Penrose unanswered. 'Blood And Iron' continues where the previous volume left off, developing the characters further and beginning to unravel the mysteries of the robotic life-forms.

The humanoid robots are portrayed in very human terms - they smile, talk, fall in love, create art, fight and engage in a whole host of other behaviours analogous to humans. The big question on my mind right from the beginning of the first book was why? Why do they live in family groups, with child robots building bigger bodies as they grow? Why do some believe they grew spontaneously out of the ground while others believe the first robots were created by someone else? With the arrival of humans on Penrose, the answers start to appear.

Returning from the last book, Artemesian soldier Kavan, having conquered the entire continent of Shull, turns his attention to the decadence of his hometown. The most robot-like of the characters, Kavan believes they are all just metal and individuality counts for nothing. In stark contrast, escaped prisoner Karel vowing revenge on Kavan and Artemis, questions everything and seeks the truth. Karel's wife, Susan, trapped in Artemis City and forced to produce new Artemesian minds, looks for a way to escape. The contrasts between these and other minor characters highlights the interesting way Tony Ballantyne has developed this society. Robot minds follow the pattern determined by their parents and in this way all are subject to following their destiny. A robot like Kavan has no problem with extinguishing another's life because that is the way he has been designed to view all robots. The implications of this are used throughout the book when the main characters interact with more specialised robots who care only about their particular task in life.

The setting expands in 'Blood And Iron' to the neighbouring continent Yukawa, loosely styled after imperial Japan, where Wa-Ka-Mo-Do is assigned to govern a city partially given over to the human visitors. His lack of understanding of the soft-fleshed humans leads to some amusing incidents, but is also used to highlight some of the biggest flaws of the human race.

I would say the flow of the storytelling has improved in this sequel. The cultures and mythology of Penrose have been established and the plot develops at a pace. The cover art, too, is fantastic. I am still intrigued to know why the robots are what they are and do what they do. I shall now wait impatiently for the third volume.

Gareth D. Jones

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