Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Review: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

Dear Blog,
I know I've been terrible at reviewing on a regular basis lately.  Sorry.  I've just been so very busy, and still trying to get over my can't-be-within-several-metres-of-intelligent-fiction phase.  Thankfully I think that The Iron Witch is what's pulled me out of it. 

Summary (from Goodreads):  Freak. That's what her classmates call seventeen-year-old Donna Underwood. When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna's own nearly fatal injuries from the assault 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.

Review: Before I say anything else- the cover. Look at it. Observe the pretty patterns on Donna's arms and the matching spirals around her and the beautiful font.
*eats cover*
Ahem.  Moving on.
 This is the first book I've read as part of the 2011 Debut Author Challenge, and I was pretty excited to read it after seeing many other good things going round about it. And it certainly doesn't disappoint. 

My favourite thing about the book is, undoubtedly, Donna herself.  From the opening I was like "She's home-educated!  Score!  But, wait- she wears mysterious gloves, and has a dark past, resulting in her being home-educated. She's at a party, yet everyone thinks that she's a freak.  Why is this?  And did I mention that she's home-educated?"  
Relatively normal people probably don't find the whole home-education thing incredibly exciting, but as I've mentioned a few times I've only read novels about home-educated teenagers [re-]entering formal education, not the other way round. 
Not once did I think there was anything vaguely Mary-Sue-ish about Donna.  She is the ideal female protagonist; she's capable and utterly kick-ass, but at the same time she's not afraid to admit she needs help. I mean, at times she needs it.  She's incredibly well-written.

And while I'm on the subject of the writing style.  The third person intimate can often end up being, well, not very intimate, and actually sounding kind of boring.  However, Karen Mahoney executes it perfectly, as if the only thing stopping the narration being directly from Donna's point of view was the fact that the words Donna/her/she  replaced I/me. 

I suppose one thing that I'm not sure I was so keen on was the way that Karen Mahoney opens the story. Donna knows about her life, natch, and the Orders and alchemy and her past; but the reader doesn't. We- id est, the reader- seems almost thrown into the deep end, then having things revealed little by little as Donna explains the mysterious marks on her arms and her past to Navin and Xan; it's clearly explaining things for the readers' sake, and for the most part I frown on that because it tells instead of shows.
That said- and I know I'm totally about to contradict myself here- it made a nice change from the worn-out plot line where the girl meets the mysterious brooding amorous material who reveals to her all her magical powers/past lives/insert other plot line here. Instead she was telling the mysterious brooding amorous material and her best friend about her past and her family.

Speaking of the two boys in the book, Navin and Xan. I both thought they were great, for various reasons.  I've heard a bit of debate about who is ultimately better, à la Peeta/Gale, Ash/Puck, etc. To which my response is How could you compare the two?
Navin is her best friend, and indeed suitable sidekick material, with a lot of jokes to hand for comic relief and amusing banter. And, of course, he's always there for Donna.   Oh, and yay for Asian/Indian characters, too.  Kudos to Karen Mahoney for including diversity (diversity other than elves and faeries, obviously, which is certainly, um...diverse ).  No no, I mean actual human diversity. In general there was something so very refreshing about Navin, and that was that he wasn't in love with her. That role fell to Xan.
Xan was also a breath of fresh air.  It seems like YA novels these days is incomplete without aforementioned brooding love interest.  I had my reservations about him at first, but his generally friendly characteristics became more and more obvious as the novel went on.  He made Donna happy- I suppose then that that made me happy for her, too. 

As for the plot and pacing, there's really nothing bad I could say about it, once Donna got a couple of things straight with the reader. You get the impression that even though at the conclusion everything seems  (sort of) resolved, it's definitely  not over.  And for that I'll definitely be reading the next two books, The Wood Queen and the Stone Demon.

Oh, and one thing; I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that Karen Mahoney's actually English, despite the fact that The Iron Witch is set in the States. I totally didn't realise this.  Transatlantic surprise.  In a good way.
In three words: refreshing, intriguing, page-turning.
Recommended for: girls who like urban fantasy.
Rating: 5

Big thank you to Random House UK for sending me a copy for review.


  1. So so very excited for this! I just won it in a giveaway and I can't wait for it to get here. I did a WOW for this quite a while ago. I'm glad to see you liked it so much, it makes me even more excited to get my grubby little hands on it!

  2. Excellent review! I can't wait to read this :) (a blizzard is currently occuring which prevents me from visiting the post office to see if I got it =/)

    Yay for human and creature diversity! I like that the best friend is solely the best friend, and that there is a clear love interest. I'm growing tired of love triangles unless they are completely revamped.


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