Iron & Velvet, the first book in the Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator series, is an f/f urban fantasy and a campy romp of a book. The cast is large, the mystery quite plotty and the dry, noirish witticisms utterly hilarious. While done up Sam Spade style, what Iron & Velvet most reminds me of is Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files with the romance dial turned up (and, of course, a female protagonist). Both characters are equally intermittently competent and figure out the mystery nearly a moment too late. Plus there’s the magic angle, which in my book makes this much more fun than some boring old detective book with a grizzled old guy who gets it on with a hot client. Though there is a hot client.
Iron & Velvet is set in an alternate universe where normal people roam the streets alongside fairies, werewolves, vampires and various other folklorish creatures of the night. It’s rife with references to all sorts of mythologies and other books tangential to its genre. It takes a few swipes at Twilight, for example, but it’s all in good fun. This first book is, like a lot of urban fantasy, introducing the mythos and the cast of characters, which is normal for its type, but can be overwhelming if you’re unused to it.
Kate Kane is a hard-drinking paranormal investigator who has just lost her partner. She doesn’t like dealing with vampires, but when a sexy female vampire prince approaches her with the problem of a werewolf dead outside her club, she needs the money and takes the case. Plus, the way paranormal politics work, a vampire-werewolf feud could start a supernatural war. Plus, Julian Saint-Germain is totally hot. And likes to watch Kate eat dessert. The romance here isn’t fully developed, but in a first UF book, it never is. Kate has some serious trust issues and Julian isn’t a spectacularly trustworthy person, er, vampire. Throughout the book, they circle each other and fight baddies, culminating in an epic battle at the end with one of the best villains I’ve run across recently. He speaks Middle English. That’s all I’m saying.
I particularly enjoyed that Kate not only develops her powers in this book, but also develops as a person. I’m eager to see how things with Julian progress and hopefully see a little bit of healing for Kate, if only for the sake of her liver. The slightly less-than-serious tone coupled with high stakes hit just the right note. I’m in the midst of a bit of historical binge at the moment, but I bought the second book and will eagerly consume it as soon as I’m able.
Have you ever considered how rare it is for romance protagonists to go on actual dates? Like, normal outings where people get dressed up and meet somewhere, like a bar or a movie or whatever? I feel like most us probably conduct our romantic affairs this way in real life? But in romance it’s not as common. So I was super amused by the scene in Iron & Velvet where Julian asks Kate on a date and proceeds to ply her with dessert. Specifically Eton mess. But I already did a variation on that a while ago so I had to choose something else.
This is accomplished through the simple soaking of chopped cherries in port, then putting them in the middle of a white cake, then topping with sprinkles of the reserved soaking liquid. They don’t actually gush or anything, but they are red in the middle! And delicious.
- 1 cup frozen cherries, chopped
- 1/2 cup ruby port
- 3 cups cake flour, sifted
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 5 egg whites
- 5 egg whites
- 5 ounces white sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 sticks unsalted butter (one pound), room temperature, sliced into 2" chunks
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
- Combined chopped frozen cherries and port. Allow to stand on the counter for one hour. Strain the cherries, reserving both cherries and soaking liquid.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners or grease just the bottoms of the cups, not the sides.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. In a large measuring cup or small bowl, combine ilk and vanilla extract. In a stand mixer, beat together butter and white sugar until fluffy.
- Add 1/3 of the flour to the sugar and butter mixture. Then add half the milk mixture, alternating until all the flour and milk have been added.
- In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into the batter 1/3 at a time until combined.
- Fill each cupcake well 1/2 full, add a teaspoon of chopped cherries and then top with more batter.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes until the tops are just golden.
- In a clean bowl of a stand mixer (make sure you get all traces of fat and soap out of the bowl if you have to wash it after making the cupcakes), whisk together the egg whites, sugar and salt. Set the pan over an inch of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the pan doesn't touch the water. Cook, whisking occasionally, until a thermometer reads 160 degrees.
- With the whisk attachment beat the egg mixture in a stand mixer on high until firm peaks form and bowl is room temperature.
- Add the butter one chunk at a time, beating for 15 seconds between additions on medium, until all the butter is incorporated. Turn the mixer up to high and beat for one minute. Add the vanilla and the chocolate chips.
- When cupcakes are cool, pipe frosting into each cupcake using a large round piping tip or plastic bag with the corner cut off. Then using your clean fingers or a spoon, splatter the cupcakes with the reserved soaking liquid.
- The frosting may look curdled halfway through incorporating the butter. It looks seriously alarming, but is totally normal. Be patient and keep whipping. It will eventually come together into a smooth, creamy frosting.
Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator
December 13, 2013