Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bookanista Book Review: The Iron Witch


The Iron Witch
Karen Mahoney

The Back Cover says: When Donna Underwood was seven (ten years ago), a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna's own nearly fatal injuries were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Navin Sharma.
When the darkest outcasts of Faerie—the vicious wood elves—abduct Navin, Donna finally has to accept her role in the centuries old war between the humans and the fey. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous half-fey dropout with secrets of his own, Donna races to save her friend—even if it means betraying everything her parents and the alchemist community fought to the death to protect.
I say: I really liked this book. When I went to Goodreads to grab the cover copy, I was really startled by the polarized reviews of it. 
One of the things some of negative reviews slammed was a lack of originality. This irked me (and I’ll tell you why at the end of this review). 
There are plenty of original, interesting things in this book. I love the alchemy angle, and the secret Order of the Dragon, and the iron tattoos that magically knit Donna’s flesh back together after the horrific attack of a magical creature. I found her (platonic) relationship with Navin refreshing (and he was both not-white and also not-token, that is, a real, fleshed out character and not a caricature). I loved that the wood elves were actual monsters, and the hint of politics and more conspiracy to come within the alchemy society. 
There was some really nice writing, turns of phrase I relished, and I found Donna an engaging protagonist. At times the prose was a bit uneven, and now and then the dialogue was a little awkward. And unfortunately, Chapter 1 does have some serious clich├ęs. I was so very glad I kept reading, because from Chapter 2 on, I founds this an enjoyable, smooth read, with narration that pulled me right along in the story. 
Here’s what I really like about it. Not only does stuff happen, but the main character--i.e., the GIRL--is the person who makes it happen, even if it’s in response to the gambit of the bad guys.  Even though this is the first in a series, there is a primary, immediate conflict in this book that is dealt with in a satisfying way, even as it sets up future problems for future novels. Thank you for that!
So, here comes the rant. When people pick insignificant details (like the hero drives a (beat up) Volvo), or big ones that have a narrative and folkloric purpose (like the outsider/orphan protagonist) and immediately go “this author ripped off (insert paranormal romance of your choice)” they’re ignoring so much history of storytelling.
The outcast/orphan hero/ine is a major archetype of folklore. Bella Swan, Meg Murray, Luke Skywalker... They are all outcasts longing for belonging. The hot guy with whom the heroine feels a connection is a long standing trope of the gothic novel (and about a bajillion paranormal romances).  
These tropes are part of the... Furniture of storytelling. A couch is a couch, but you can decorate it all different ways. You can wow me with glossy, slickly fashionable dystopian present tense or you can give me a comfy, familiar couch on which to enjoy an afternoon. 
If you pick up The Iron Witch, give it past the first chapter. I was very glad I did, as I whiled away a very pleasant afternoon with it, and I will definitely pick up books by Mahoney in the future. The Iron Witch is a series, and an author, with a lot of potential.
What else are the Bookanistas talking about this week?
Elana Johnson is crazy about Crossed and Shatter Me
LiLa Roecker swoons for Sirenz
Christine Fonseca  interviews Kids Inventing! author Susan Casey
Shelli Johannes-Wells dishes on Become (Desolation Book #1)
Beth Revis celebrates books for which she’s grateful – with gigantic signed book giveaway
Megan Miranda marvels at How to Save a Life
Veronica Rossi  is amazed by Shatter Me

2 comments:

  1. THE IRON WITCH has such a beautiful cover and it sounds so very cool... definitely adding this one to my Must-Read list. Thanks so much for your thoughtful and informative review. Can't wait to read more!

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