In her contemporary but backward-looking novel BLOOD AND IRON author Elizabeth Bear's protagonist is "Seeker," a conflicted half-faery woman who serves a faery queen by abducting children with similar backgrounds from their human homes. This places her in direct conflict with Matthew the Magician, a human mage in the service of the Prometheans. The Prometheans, who happen to be headed by Seeker's human mother Jane, are sworn enemies of the fae, dedicated to their eradication. While Seeker loathes the queen who keeps her and her young son in virtual slavery, she nevertheless loves magical creatures great and small, from the puck who attends her to the werewolf who loves her, the sorceress who taught her, the kelpie who threatens to kill her, and the dragon who manipulates her. She will do anything she can to save the magical world, even if it means giving up her soul.
The novel can be read in a number of ways. On one level, it is a fairy tale deeply influenced by classical European (especially Celtic) folk tales and legends, including those regarding vampires, werewolves, and especially those surrounding King Arthur. On a second level, it is a romance, the story of Seeker's affection for the kelpie named Whiskey, her love for the werewolf named Keith (whose betrayal, incidentally, led to her enslavement), and the pain and torment they each endure due to the competition between her feelings, one one hand, and her duties to the faery queen, her son, and faery as a whole, on the other hand.
On the highest level, it is hard not to see the novel as a plea for greater environmental consciousness. The human industrial development that is driving the werewolves and fae extinct is the same set of forces that are destroying our environment and driving more and more species of wildlife extinct. In Bear's view, the survival of the fae is important not just as a value in itself, but because their magic and wild magic in general is a vital part of the world. Without them, the world is less rich, less challenging, less worth living in. While not the strongest possible argument, it is parallel to an argument for preservation of the natural environment.
Many readers will find the complex and convoluted plot daunting. What really bothered me about the book, however, were the lack of background information and the poorly motivated actions of the characters. Who are these Prometheans? Why do the fae kidnap children? Why is the kelpie seeking a half-fae? Why did Keith betray Seeker? Why are virtually all werewolves Scottish? Why does the queen go through with her deadly plot when she knows cannot achieve what she had hoped? Why do the Promotheans let the dude with the hammer go free to (potentially) wreck their plans? If you can't understand what's going on, it's difficult to become invested in it.
In the end, it's difficult not to be conflicted about BLOOD AND IRON. Some of the fantasy elements are well done, and the dynamic plot keeps the reader turning pages. Yet, frustration waits on nearly every page -- "What does this mean?" "Why did she do that?" etc. I can't recommend BLOOD AND IRON, but that doesn't mean it would be a terrible mistake to pick it up.