This historical urban fantasy is aimed at ages 13 and up. Corinne Wells and Ada Navarra are best friends in Boston, just before Prohibition. The girls are hemopaths—people who develop an affliction that gives them extreme pain when they come in contact with iron—yet the condition also manifests as a gift. Corinne can recite poetry that makes listeners experience illusions and strong emotions, and Ada can do the same by playing her violin. They have taken refuge in the Cast Iron Club, which the owner, Johnny, keeps iron-free for the comfort of the hemopaths who perform there.
Ada and Corinne don’t mind using their talents to perform con tricks on “regs” in order to help support the club’s income. But one of the cons goes wrong, and Corinne must rescue Ada from the Haversham Asylum, where they suspect experiments and torture are being performed on the hemopaths confined there. When Johnny is killed, they have to find a way to keep their refuge open and avoid being returned to Haversham.
Soria deserves kudos for creating a diverse set of characters, and also for depicting a strong friendship between two teenaged girls. I liked that the reader is not spoon-fed information; the ins and outs of being a hemopath are only revealed gradually over the course of the story.
Despite those good qualities, Soria’s world-building powers didn’t quite draw me in. Wouldn’t concrete buildings, like the club, have iron rebar in the walls? Corinne pays the headmistress of the boarding school her parents think she attends to send false reports to them. Would that deception be sustainable in the long term? Readers who have a wider experience of urban fantasy than I might call my objections mere quibbles, and enjoy the story nevertheless.