Sunday, February 21, 2021

REVIEW: The Iron Witch (book) by Karen Mahoney

The Iron Witch is YA urban fantasy. I got my copy via interlibrary loan.


When she was seven years old, wood elves tried to steal Donna Underwood away. Her father died saving her, and her mother's mind was broken. Donna herself was gravely injured, but the Maker, a member of a secret society of alchemists, saved her by infusing her injured hands and arms with a mixture of iron and silver. The swirls of metal give her greater physical strength (which is inconvenient when she loses her temper - she's now homeschooled for this reason) and mark her as a freak, so she wears gloves whenever possible.

When her best friend Navin accidentally learns that the fey exist, Donna's worst fear is that he'll shun her for her strange arms. It never occurs to her that the wood elves might try to use Navin against her somehow. After Navin is kidnapped, Donna attempts to save him with the help of Xan, a handsome and mysterious boy who has at least as many secrets as she does.

I'm trying to get through more of my old ARCs, but an annoying number of them are later books in series or trilogies. I own an ARC of the second book of this trilogy, The Wood Queen, and figured it would be a bad idea to just jump straight in. Interlibrary loan helped me get a copy of The Iron Witch...and now that I've read it, I've decided that it probably isn't worth the effort to read my ARC of the second book.

This wasn't terrible, but it definitely wasn't great, and it didn't help that I'm not generally a fan of stories involving the fey anymore.

The writing was clumsy, and the dialogue seemed off somehow. The book was set in the US, but there were times I could tell that the author was British - for example, at one point Donna tried to "ring" someone, which isn't phrasing I'd normally expect from an American teen trying to contact someone by phone. In general, I had a hard time believing Donna and Navin were the teens they were supposed to be.

The thing I most disliked about this book, though, was the "romance" between Donna and Xan. Xan was a cardboard cutout YA Book Boyfriend, there to be sexy, perfect, and powerful but also still vulnerable. Unfortunately, although Donna fell for him instantly, Mahoney never managed to convince me he was worth sighing over.

He had a tragic backstory (Donna was impressed that he didn't wallow in it and act emo like other high schoolers - hello, girl who's constantly afraid people will judge her for her "freakish" hands), and the scene in which he explained it all required him to strip his shirt off, because of course it did. I had to laugh when he explained how alone he was - in addition to his tragic backstory, his adoptive parents weren't particularly loving, so he eventually emancipated from them. This didn't actually result in him having to be self-sufficient, however. He lives in a house provided by his adoptive father, and his car is one that his adoptive father was supposedly going to scrap. I assume his adoptive parents provide him with money as well. 

Donna drooled after Xan so much, for no particular reason other than that he existed and was good-looking, that I wondered whether he'd actually turn out to be a secret enemy. It wouldn't surprise me if he betrayed her later in the trilogy, but since I don't plan to read any further, I guess I'll never find out.

As far as I could tell, Donna knew a little about alchemy but didn't actually do any herself, so there weren't any interesting alchemy bits. Heck, there weren't even many interesting magical bits - a couple fey creatures here and there, a brief trip into the Elflands, and that was pretty much it. It's possible that the rest of the trilogy has more and better to offer, but again, I don't think it's worth the effort it would take for me to find out.


"The Girl with Silver Hands: the Making of The Iron Witch," seven pages in which Mahoney discusses her research and influences.

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