The Iron King: Real pleasure for teen and adult readers

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Iron King by Julie Kagawa

The Iron King (2010) is just plain fun. Julie Kagawa takes sixteen-year-old Meghan Chase on a heroic journey through the lands of Faerie, where she meets a host of vivid characters and crosses unearthly landscapes in search of her missing kid brother. Along the way, she learns a dangerous secret about her parentage, gets caught up in a Faerie political struggle, and finds herself torn between two very different fey boys.

There’s an element of pastiche to The Iron King; readers may spot a dash of Lewis Carroll here, a smidge of Labyrinth there, a hearty dollop of Shakespeare, and even some Greek mythology. (Read the scene where Meghan meets Queen Titania and tell me there aren’t some serious Hera vibes going on.) Yet Kagawa successfully balances archetype and novelty. The familiar tropes make us feel like we’ve glimpsed this Faerie realm before and might be able to guess at its rules, but there are just enough surprises that the story feels fresh.

Meghan is a compelling heroine, sometimes annoying, but always interesting enough to drive us through the story. She’s kind of bratty at the beginning, fuming because her mom hasn’t bought her preferred breakfast cereal, but she grows over the course of her travels. She’s sometimes oblivious to the rules and customs of Faerie, and falls for tricks and traps that savvy readers will recognize before Meghan does. She’s brave, though, and stubborn, and quite clever at times. I look forward to seeing her develop further as the Iron Fey series progresses.

(And on the “no room to talk” front, I remember another teenage girl who used to get steamed about her parents’ bad taste in breakfast cereal. I won’t mention any names, but I will say that she grew up to be a blonde, bespectacled FanLit reviewer with a weakness for YA faerie lit.)The Iron Fey (Book Series) by Julie Kagawa

Compared to other popular writers in this subgenre — such as Holly Black, Melissa Marr, and Maggie Stiefvater — Kagawa’s work is less brooding. It’s not that Meghan doesn’t have reason to brood; she’s got plenty of that. She just doesn’t have time. The story moves quickly from one suspenseful moment to the next without much room for angst. There’s also less description. When Kagawa shows us a new vista, she describes it beautifully but briefly. These differences aren’t “good” or “bad” per se. In some moods I prefer one style, and in some moods I prefer the other, and your mileage may vary.

Oddly, I found it relatively easy to put down The Iron King between chapters. This isn’t because it’s in any way bad; it’s because it’s episodic. Meghan’s quest is always there as a driving force, but the individual chapters are almost stories in their own right. If you’ve read the Percy Jackson books, you know what I mean. Meghan moves closer to her goal, she meets a strange being or beings who try to help or harm her, that mini-arc is resolved, and we move on to the next chapter.

To sum up: The Iron King is a solid debut, and a real pleasure to read. I recommend it to teen and adult readers alike.

Published in 2010. From the limitless imagination of New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julie Kagawa, enter the world of The Iron Fey. Meghan Chase has a secret destiny—one she could never have imagined… Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan’s life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school…or at home. When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she’s known is about to change. But she could never have guessed the truth. For Meghan is the daughter of a mythical faery king…and a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she’ll go to save someone she cares about, stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face…and find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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