With quiet artwork and complex, beguiling characters, S.M. Vidaurri pulls off a heart-stopping debut. He is unafraid to change the course of the story by planned decimation or by chance. The result is a story that piques curiosity and sympathy, and builds a longing to see justice served, though even when it is delivered, readers feel the cost.
Iron: Or, the War After begins with the rabbit James Hardin stealing military documents for a rebel cause. Two military officers ordered to find him must work together while one openly insists the other is a traitor. What follows is a tale of old wounds, uncompromising beliefs, tests of mettle for adults and children alike, and as with any great war story, all-consuming obsession. The anthropomorphic characters lend to old sayings--one character is literally a stubborn old goat--while also breaking expectations such as Ford, the unwise owl. Readers may also be happy applying their own significance to the symbolism behind the animal choices, as Vidaurri leaves ample room for it.
Vidaurri's choice to use anthropomorphic characters is a wise one itself. Humans would be challenging to distinguish in Vidaurri's simple lines and washes. In Iron, the animals stand out in the dark atmosphere with their long ears and beaks, allowing readers to easily track which animals belong to which faction.
Some readers may be put off by the lack of information on the war that came before the story's opening. Vidaurri never reveals what it was about or whose cause is best to root for. This is an undoubtedly intentional choice as Iron is not about the war before, but the war after, the one soldiers and citizens battle within themselves every moment after living through the horrors of war.
In the Acknowledgements, Vidaurri thanks Erich Maria Remarque for inspiration. Anyone who has read All Quiet on the Western Front will recognize Remarque's influence: there is no side to root for because all humans are destroyed by war, even the ones who go on living, and all people, even enemies, are capable of compassion toward each other. For the characters in Iron, living in a world of constant winter, the war is also constant. It is forever biting and lethal. Yet not one to end his first work in despair, Vidaurri concludes Iron: Or, the War After with hope.