In Prohibition-era Boston, speakeasies and underground clubs aren’t just places that serve black market liquor—they’re also places that house hemopaths and give them jobs as entertainers. Hemopaths carry an “affliction” that gives them the ability to control what others see and feel using art (spoken word poetry, music, etc.), and the two main characters, Ada and Corrine, use their powers in their acts at the Cast Iron Club, dousing the paying audience in warm fuzzy feelings. On the side, they perform low-level cons for the club’s owner; that is, until a job goes wrong and one of the girls ends up in a notorious “institution” for hemopaths, where they are experimented upon and killed.
On the surface, this book is a lot of fun (who doesn’t love a good fast-paced heist/flapper story/tale of solid girl friendships?), but it’s held together by the question of how society justifies its abuse and marginalization of people who are different. Hemopathy is outlawed, bringing up the question, how does a government outlaw a person? How do we, the people who live in a country, let that sort of thing happen?
The book is set in 1919, but what Ada and Corrine are dealing with will be familiar to any reader who is even remotely familiar with current events. Iron Cast is a fantastical way to consider the strength of female friendships, racial profiling, oppression, and human rights.