A historical epic that falters in its execution, Lynn Luick’s Iron Blood has an interesting story at its heart about the grit and sacrifice it takes to carve civilization out of a wilderness.
Building a country is a process that involves shedding a lot of blood, sweat, and tears from countless people. There can be several missteps along the way such as a brutal civil war that divides a nation, of which the effects continue to reverberate to the modern day. But no matter how dire the circumstances can be, the human spirit always finds a way to rise above it all.
Iron Blood tells the fictionalized story of the men and women who played a part in the construction of the Trans-Continental Railroad’s Central Pacific line. It takes an in-depth look at the lives of the ordinary people who contributed to the extraordinary engineering effort that brought a country together and made it easier for progress to reach the distant parts of the United States. Featuring a cast of characters that represent the diverse melting pot that eventually led to the America of today, the book takes meticulous care in building up the world that these people lived in. The author immerses the reader in the details of the characters’ lives and makes it easy to visualize the challenges facing them as they struggle to pursue their own individual goals.
It is quite clear that the author wanted to tell a sweeping epic story about an important event in the United States history, but there are a few issues that prevent the book from truly taking off. For one thing, the execution of the writing leaves something to be desired. Of the many characters that appear in the book, none of them truly stand out since the author uses the same voice for all the dialogue, which can often be stilted and contain too much exposition. Meanwhile, action-filled scenes tend to fall flat due to a lack of properly established tension and the depiction of the characters’ daily routines can feel monotonous at times. The editing also seems rushed and incomplete, which detracts from the quality of the ideas being presented on the page.
For all its subjective faults, though, there is a great story at the heart of Iron Blood. The author’s fascination with history and empathy for the people that play unnamed roles in world-changing events shines through the prose. This is a carefully researched piece of work that offers a unique perspective that one cannot usually find in history books. For this fact alone, it’s worth spending several hours to lose one’s self in a bygone era where the human drive to achieve something magnificent burned brightly for those with the need to prove themselves worthy and those who wished to build a new home in a land of opportunity.
Flawed but still strongly compelling, Iron Blood by Lynn Luick reframes a historical period through the lens of ordinary folks, creating a striking contrast that makes the past come alive.