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Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Review: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

The Iron Witch (The Iron Witch, #1)
Reading level: Young Adult 
Paperback: 312 pages 
Publisher: Flux (February 8, 2011)
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Indiebound 
Interest: Magic & Faeries

When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed Donna Underwood’s father and drove her mother mad. Her own nearly fatal injuries were fixed by alchemy—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. Now seventeen, Donna feels like a freak, doomed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. Only her relationship with her best friend, Navin, is keeping her sane.

But when vicious wood elves abduct Navin, Donna is forced to accept her role in the centuries-old war between human alchemists and these darkest outcasts of Faerie. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous guy with faery blood running through his veins and secrets of his own, Donna races to save Navin—even if it means betraying everything her parents fought to the death to protect.

My father died saving my life when I was seven years old.

I wish I found it easier to remember him outside of my dreams- where of course The Iron Witch (Ironbridge Chronicles, #1)he is tall and  handsome, and over and over again saves me from the Wood Monster.
"And Donna did the thing she'd never imagined that she would do. She swallowed, then carefully and slowly peeled off her long velvet gloves, feeling not unlike a burlesque act. Except an experienced burlesque dancer's hands wouldn't be shaking as much as hers were right now. She tossed her hair back and tried to meet Xan's eyes as she held both hands out, palms down, in front of her." -Page 115

Sigh....I really wanted to love The Iron Witch. That cover alone is breathtaking, isn't it? In the end, I walked away from the book feeling a bit underwhelmed. I've tried to break it down for you as best as I could..

Donna, the girl with the swirling iron tattoos, has lost so much. Not only did she lose her parents in a vicious attack, but she must struggle with a painful and embarrassing disfigurement. To make matters more bleak, Donna's father died protecting her during the attack, and her mother hasn't recovered since.

I loved Donna's background- the dark family tragedy, the mix of iron and magic for protection, the ancient alchemy principles- I ate that all up. Her story was extremely emotional- I loved the diary snippets in between a few chapters too. I was fascinated by her powerful, dangerous hands and wanted to learn all I could about the magic and science behind what happened to her. The fae background was both intriguing and sinister. But while the world-building was top-notch, the action constantly stumbled and stagnated for me. I do suspect, however, that this could be a series where each of the books gets better and better. Now that stage has been set, I think there is a lot of potential for more action and excitement.

With all that world-building, there seemed to be not enough room for character development. I also think Donna's character would've worked better in the first person. If Karen Mahoney had allowed us to get inside Donna's head, I think I would've connected much more to her pain, her insecurities and the storm of conflicting emotions within her heart. As it was, I felt a bit removed at all times. I was constantly aware of being the outsider, always looking in but never truly vested.

There were two potential love interests in the book.  Donna's best friend Navin, a regular guy whose life is endangered by mere proximity to Donna. Then there was Xan, the potential love interest. It was obvious from the start that Navin had feelings for Donna and as such, I knew that when she met Xan, there'd be a love triangle. I think the "love triangle" in YA has become so commonplace, that it's hard for me to get really excited by them anymore. But I really did enjoy Xan's character.  I'd like to learn more about him- the secret's he's hiding, his sad past, his heritage, etc.  In fact, I would say I'm more interested in reading the second book to learn about Xan than anything else! His romance with Donna was definitely too rushed though. Once again there was the "instant attraction" element, which seems to have become a staple with the YA genre and to be honest, is pushing me more and more into the arms of my adult books each time I encounter it.

As for the fae element, I personally like my fae to appear in human form. I like them   painfully beautiful, but with cold-hearted natures and capricious moods.  If you are expecting something like this—perhaps reminiscent of Melissa Marr, then you might be disappointed. So far, The Iron Witch only introduces us to "wood elves". For me, the characterization of the wood elves skewed the book so much younger than I had anticipated. At times I felt like I was reading a middle-grade novel, more Spiderwick Chronicles than Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely or Julie Kagawa's  Iron Fey.

Fans of Julie Kagawa's series may enjoy elements of The Iron Witch, but for me, the book fell way short of the mark. This book has a lot of potential with crisp, clean writing and a fascinating plot hook, but in the end, it just didn't capture my heart or my imagination. I thought the story was so slow to build, that by the time these did start to heat up, I was too far removed to fall hook, line and sinker into Donna' s world. 

Karen Mahoney is the author of The Iron Witch, the first book in a trilogy that continues in 2012 with The Wood Queen. She has also published stories about a kick-ass teen vampire called Moth in The Eternal Kiss and Kiss Me Deadly. Karen is British and currently lives near London with way too many books, though she dreams of one day living in Boston. She doesn’t mind if you call her Kaz. Official Website & Blog


Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Hey great format! I love it. Awesome review.

I like old fashioned style fairies. I bet I would dig this. Thanks for the review :)

Natalie (Mindful Musings) said...

Darn. I was really looking forward to this one. The synopsis sounds really good. Sorry it was a letdown for you. I haven't decided whether or not I'll be reading this one, but I'll definitely be keeping your review in mind. Thanks!

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

I've seen some mixed reviews for this one, but I still want to read it. I'm waiting for my copy to be delivered.

Excellent review! I feel it's always helpful to see what worked for a reader and what didn't and this review really explains why the highs were highs for you, and the same with the lows. Hopefully I enjoy the book more than you did :D

Sam Ripley said...

I didn't finish this one, unfortunately, because of all the things you pointed out. I definitely think that it would've worked better in the first person as well, but even by about page 50, I wasn't really into it.

Thanks for the review!

bmritchie03 said...

Thanks for the review! I love fairie-type books, so I'm sad to see this one wasn't as good. But I think like Matched this one is getting a definite mixture of positive and negatives. The cover is sooo amazing though - love it.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Great review! Unfortunately, this isn't the first review pointing out some of the flaws you mentioned (like it feeling like a middle grade book). I don't know if I'll read this one, I'm already not a fan of fae... (though I loved The Iron King!)

Bere said...

Fantastic review, Kim! I'm actually looking forward to reading this one but I will definitely not rush into it. And I agree, the cover is amazing. Thanks so much for your review =).