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Salt and Iron by Tam MacNeil

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James van Helsing is the youngest son of the famous monster-hunting family—and the family’s big disappointment. He’s falling in love with Gabe Marquez, his oldest friend and son of the family the van Helsings have worked alongside for years. Things get even harder for James when he becomes what he and everyone else despises most—a magic user.

He didn’t mean to evolve into such a despicable person, and he knows using magic is illegal, but there’s nothing James can do about it, no more than he can stop himself from loving Gabe. Just when things can’t seem to get worse, he and Gabe are called to help nab a network of magicians who are changing destiny. Not just any destiny, but the destinies of the van Helsing and Marquez families. James foresees a terrible fate, one in which monsters emerge from the cracks, along with his dark secret. And that’s when people start to die.


Salt and Iron by Tam MacNeil

Salt and Iron by Tam MacNeil. Description: James van Helsing is the youngest son of the famous monster-hunting family—and the family’s big disappointment.




He’s uncorking the whiskey when somebody knocks on the door. Jesus. It occurs to him how bad that must have sounded from outside. Then it occurs to him what this is going to look like to a casual observer. Two of them, James in yesterday’s clothes, unwashed and unshaved, and Gabe half-turned, half-unseelie, stripped to the waist and cuffed to the bed because God knows when the transition’s going to get serious, and James isn’t stupid. He’s going to need that extra second to get away.

He tries to tidy himself, pushes a hand through his hair and straightens his collar. Then he goes to the door, ready for “Honestly, sir/ma’am…” opens the door and the words die in his throat, because it’s not a couple of security guards. It’s a dozen women, all of them wearing dinner jackets and leather shoes that shine. Brett is the one nearest the door.

“James, did you seriously take a half-turned unseelie?”

“Yeah,” he says softly. “Yeah, that was me.”

Brett shakes her head and steps forward. “That was really stupid.”

“You can’t come in,” James says, heaving himself up to stand between Gabe and them. “You can’t—”

“This isn’t a home, leastways it isn’t your home,” she says. She bares her teeth at him in a sort of grin. “Don’t need an invitation.”

She pushes forward, and then there’s a crowd in the little motel room, and the smell of unwashed bodies and fresh, turned earth, of summertime asphalt, and the low and distant sound of the rumble on the highway come in with them.

“Wait, wait!” he’s shouting, but he might as well be trying to hold the river in place. Someone goes over to the bed, and someone grabs hold of him and hauls him deeper into the press of bodies, and in between his shouting and the questions he can hear Gabe’s voice rising, making noises, not words. Making those noises, those terrible noises, like he can’t get enough air.

“Stop it,” he shouts, not seeing, only guessing. “Stop, Gabe’s not unseelie, he’s hurt, I just want to help—”

“Why do you think I’m here, van Helsing?” Brett snaps, her face rising above him, waxy as a moon. “You’ve got as much salt and as much iron as anybody could want, and there’s a goddamned Bible in the drawer.” She smiles a death’s-head grin. “Real nice when you’re looking after a sidhe, you know, to be surrounded by that. Maybe if you hadn’t cuffed him to the bed, he’d’ve done himself in. Maybe he’s been trying to read himself in all those times you haven’t been watching.”

James’s stomach lurches. He looks at Gabe, who’s looking down and away.


“All you know is how to kill us,” Brett says. “What makes you think you’re going to be able to keep him alive without help?”


Review by Elaine White

Book – Salt and Iron

Author – Tam MacNeil

Star rating – ★★★★☆

No. of Pages – 200

Movie Potential – ★★★★☆

Ease of reading –

Would I read it again –



This was quite a strange one for me. On one hand, I really didn’t enjoy it when I started. The writing style of 3rd person, present tense, isn’t my thing. I’ve never really enjoyed it in a book or been able to settle with it. This one took a few pages, but I eventually got into it and into the story.

I normally review the Plot and Characters separately, but this time, I’m doing Pros and Cons. It will seem there are more Cons than Pros, but that’s only because it’s easier to describe the issues than it is too definite a feeling that a good story gives you.


The writing is quite casual. For the first 20%, I seriously didn’t want to keep going. The story wasn’t progressing to anywhere that kept me interested, the writing was strangely done and the tense, as said above, didn’t work for me. There was a very casual way of writing, where it would have fitted and made sense in a 1st person POV story, but not in a 3rd. Example: “He has to undo it and retie it. Should be able to do this blind. Knew he’d maybe overdone it,”. Cutting sentences like that off is really unnatural in 3rd person, but after a while, it stopped. It felt quite lazy and sloppy. Half the time I wondered if the real problem was that words were missing, that would normally have made these sentences make sense.

It genuinely felt as though the writer wasn’t confident with themselves or the story for that 20%, as it reads as though one person wrote that part and someone else wrote the rest. Maybe it was the author getting into the stride of the story, I don’t know, but about the 20% mark is where the characters grew into something palatable, the story took off and began to make sense and when it all came together.

In terms of plot, I have one argument in that there is a creature called a “sidhe” and not once in any part of the story is it explained what this is. My dictionary recognizes it as a fairy people of Irish folklore, but that’s not how it reads and I really would have liked an explanation of what the author meant this creature to be.

From the blurb, the cover and the use of the van Helsing name, I expected this to be historical in some sense, but it wasn’t. Not in the slightest. It’s an urban fantasy novel, contemporary, beginning badly but growing more mature as it continued. There were a few run-on paragraphs that confused even the author, allowing repeats of half sentences to appear. These may be fixed before the release, but I’m mentioning them because they were in my version. Example:

“When he gets up to Maria van Helsing’s little library or the Red Room as he calls it when he names it for himself, since the couch and the chairs are all red leather and the oriental carpet on the floor is red too, when he gets up there she’s waiting for him.”

There’s also no warning or definition of a change in POV. No notice of who the POV belongs to, for sometimes a few paragraphs (or at all, in one or two cases) and no break or line to separate the POV’s between characters. Sometimes one character’s POV runs through the gap between scenes, taking up an entire chapter, sometimes 3 different POV’s appear in one chapter, with only one line gap between them and no warning of whose head you’re in or that’s it’s changed from the previous scene. In total, this book has multiple POV’s shown, sometimes for less than a page, sometimes for chapters at a time: James is the biggest POV, then Gabe, then Rob, Abe, and Maria.


When it comes to the characters, I really genuinely loved how messed up James was, how loyal and terrified Gabe was at one point, then how broken and crazy they both became. They had genuinely human reactions to whatever situation crept up.

The plot was a wholly original take on the van Helsing legacy, mentioning very briefly the whole Dracula thing, without ever leaning too heavily upon it. To be quite fair, I’d say the only references to the original van Helsing story is the use of the name, the duty bound task of tracking of monsters and the skimmed mention of Dracula. Everything else is entirely original and captivating.

I began reading in the early morning and didn’t put it down until early evening. I made very little notes about the positive aspects of the story because I was too engrossed in my reading to mark them down.


This would have been a 5-star rating if it wasn’t for the niggles and the frustration of the first 20%. Other than this, this was a solidly good read and I’ll be reading more from the author in the future.

The first 40% acts as the build up and that’s where I floundered most. Getting to know the characters, their personalities and the role they all play in this new world was a little tiresome when the style of writing wasn’t to my taste and didn’t seem to fit the tense/POV the author was using. However, after that point, it was non-stop action, danger, romance and intrigue.

This could have been a story for the YA market if it wasn’t for the prolific swearing and a few gross parts that made me gag at the images they brought to mind. The author certainly touched on the right amount of gore for the story. There is no explicit sex and, actually, no sex at all that’s on page in anything more than a sentence of mention. Even then, it’s between a man and woman. However, the romance was there as strong as I wanted it to be and it was perfectly fitting that the MC’s didn’t venture into sex, after all, they’d been through. The story ends nicely, with a hint that more might be to come later, if the author wanted to, but also that nothing is tied up in a neat red bow. Things are settled, but far from perfect. And I like that.


“Gabe turns his head. He smiles a faint, pained smile. “I’m a monster, Jamie.”


 Guest Post

A couple years ago I learned the term “read in”.

See, I stumbled across this article about the folkways of homeless children and wondered who this Bill Ellis character was. Turns out he was a major (maybe the major) folklorist of American myth and magic. One of his books (which are dense, insalubrious, and frankly a slog to read, but so fascinating the material makes up for the uncongeniality of the text) deals almost exclusively with the Satanic Panic of the 80s, and talks about an old folkloric tradition that if one reads a powerful book, one can become obsessed, maybe even possessed. After all, words have the ability to make pictures in the mind and change how thoughts are formed. They have the power to alter what we believe and how we believe those things.

Ellis calls the state of being possessed  by a book as being “read-in”, and there are a few people who consider themselves qualified to “read-out” people who find themselves stuck in this state. And while some people might be able to read you back out again, afterward they say you’re never the same. To quote the song, it’s a kind of magic.

But it turns out that even in the 21st century, there’s lots of magic about. Do you habitually read your horoscope? Have a lucky charm? Ever knock on wood? That’s a little folk magic. And the modern world still has fragments of old religions floating around in it (Easter egg anyone? What about a May Pole dance?)

I personally have always liked Terry Pratchett’s notion of godhood as one that waxes and wanes in conjunction with the true belief of followers. So if we still use magic in the world, and maybe we’re still acting out the rituals of gods once great and now made small, then doesn’t that mean the world is full of little gods and little monsters?

That’s the world in which James van Helsing exists. His family of monster hunters have been doing what they do for generations now since the illustrious Abraham van Helsing took on a particularly famous bloodsucking fiend back in the Victoria era. And it’s not just monsters, there are genuine gods in this world too, gods like Baron Samedi, and folk saints like Santa Muerte. And, of course, in such a world there are the people who live to eradicate them, the van Helsings, for example, and the Marquezes.

So what happens in this world when a certain James van Helsing falls in love with a certain Gabe Marquez, only to have the monsters make him one of their own? James will do anything to save the love of his life, and when it turns out the blood of the covenant is considerably thicker than the water of the womb, then it’s the covenant for James. But if there’s one thing I grew up knowing about dealing with the spirit world, it’s that you never ever make a deal with the sidhe. James grew up knowing it too, but it’s funny how it’s not just books that can possess you.


Meet the author


I write all kinds of stories, from contemporary romance (as T Neilson) to superhero stories and urban fantasy (as Tam MacNeil). If you want to keep up with my latest releases, get reading recs, read musings on plot and story structure, and if you want to know the best chocolate I’ve tasted lately, you can find me at Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or, even better (because, hey, inside scoop and book giveaways!) you can sign up for my newsletter at Mailchimp. 

Tam MacNeil (Author of Four Alternative Christmas Presents)

Tam MacNeil is the author of Four Alternative Christmas Presents (3.24 avg rating, 33 ratings, 17 reviews), Hana (4.67 avg rating, 3 ratings, 0 reviews, …

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