Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

My Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3
Great! 

How did it take me this long to buy and read this book? I am shocked and appalled at my stubbornness, because I have definitely been missing out. I'll be honest with you: I was wary about this one. I've tried a few other faerie books, such as Tithe by Holly Black and Wicked Lovely be Melissa Marr and I did not care for them. That was actually the reason that I ignored The Iron King when it was released.

My mistake. And very nearly my loss. A lot of people have encouraged me to check this series out and they finally (thank goodness) succeeded in wearing me down. That's a good thing, because I loved this book and now I want the rest of The Iron Fey books, too.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)

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 - that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

This book did three extremely vital things that made me able to really enjoy it. It opened up slowly enough that I was able to grasp, understand and get into the world that Julie Kagawa was creating. It did not move so slow, however, that I wanted to gauge my eyes out. And things were happening -- some subtle and some not-so-subtle -- that got the book moving from word go and kept it moving until the end. 

I felt that the way Kagawa was able to move her story back and forth between our world and the Nevernever was also extremely well handled. I was interested in reading about the world that she created for her fey. It was enchanting, dangerous and beautiful all at once. The descriptions, the rules of the Fey, the various creatures and situations ... It all blended together to create something magical and memorable.

Another thing Kagawa did well was blending action in while still ensuring that she had characters with personality and depth. This is a book that I loved, and it is also a book that I will be recommending to my brother and my boyfriend. I always love it when I find books like that. And finding them can be very hard.

I think this may by the first fantasy / paranormal (take your pick ... faeries are kind of a shade of gray to me here) book that I've read since I started my blog that has really blown me away. The sense of epic quest and adventure here separates The Iron King from many other paranormal or fantasy romance stories because the magical elements fully and faithfully serve the plot as opposed to simply being a window dressing to spice up the love interest. I sincerely commend Julie Kagawa on a job well done here.

I had three issues with the plot of The Iron King. Two was relatively minor and I think may have been a vagueness issue. The other was a bit more vital.

(1) We never clearly learn what happy memory of Meghan's the Oracle takes from her. I assumed that the memory had to do with Meghan's father, and I think the book may have hinted at this, but I was never fully certain.

(2) I am worried sick about Puck. When will he wake up, dammit? 

(3) The last (big) issue is that I felt that the overall presence and use of the Iron King himself was built up huge and did not end up being used as strongly as it could have been. I felt that the situation between Meghan and Ash regarding their agreement was actually a far more potent and looming threat then the final confrontation with the major villain of the book. While their situation added a lot of tension and an underlying sense of dread that was utterly fantastic, measures should have been taking to make the Iron King a more memorable and worthy foe. 

The Characters: 

I enjoyed discovering everything through Meghan's eyes. She is a compassionate character who tends to have a decent amount of pluck and determination. She did need help from time to time, but she also thought of ways to help her companions and to try and get out of at least some of the messes she found herself in. I felt that Meghan was a true heroine, as opposed to a girl being thrust into danger so that she could be rescued by a love interest. As always this was welcome and refreshing. 

Puck was absolutely hilarious and I found myself laughing at some of his antics as the story moved along. I feel that he and Ash balanced each other well, with Meghan being somewhere in the middle and Grimalkin adding just the right amount of snark to keep the reader on their toes. 

The rivalry between Ash and Puck was great both in terms of plot progression and character growth and depth. Would some of the messes that happened in this book still have occurred had these two not been feuding? I guess we'll never know, but I have a hunch a couple things might turn out differently.

I was not sure what I was going to think of Ash. It took nearly half of the book before he is properly introduced and that, I must admit, irritated me a little. I can understand that Kagawa was trying to build him up, but for me he did not become truly interesting or memorable until he became a direct part of the story and began interacting with the other characters. 

I just want to give a quick shout out regarding the awesomeness that is Grimalkin. He is an animal companion (refering to a generalized fantasy idea of a talking animal joining a hero, not a term from this book) of sheer excellence and in all reality may well have been my favorite character in The Iron King. I definitely hope that we see more of him in the rest of the books because he really stood out.

The Romance: 

Julie Kagawa breaks my theory regarding the "first boy rule", which is totally gutsy and awesome. I will say that I feel for Puck. He's been around Meghan her whole life and here she is totally attracted to Ash while Puck clearly has feelings for her. However, Puck is hiding a lot from Meghan. This keeps it from completely being a case of "Why the heck are you interested in him when your pal there clearly wants you?"

I liked the way that the chemistry between Meghan and Ash was built up gradually over time. There is an instant draw between then, yes. And Kagawa is smart -- Meghan being drawn to Ash since she is half faerie and he is a faerie makes "sense", where some other instant-draw supernatural attractions I've seen have left me scratching my head. I also like how the present situation and Ash's past history with Puck tie the romance and the adventure plots together, making everything a cohesive whole. Instead of having "plot A", "plot B", the romance and the quest the characters are on end up braided together so that they carry equal weight and value, and so that consequences from one bleed over into the other.

It took a long time for Meghan to share a real, honest kiss with either of the two guys accompanying her and I felt that the build up to that was well handled. The way that body language and affection were used in general was well thought out and freed the author from needing to spell out, through dialogue, what the characters were going through. (Dialog works great for many things but this is one area where it can seem unnatural.) 

Can I do another mini-rant about the character of the Iron King? And give a little more praise to Ash? This is really important to my review. I'm going to put my points in spoiler bubbles, though. You really don't want to read these if you haven't read the book. 

(Spoiler: Okay. I love the fact that Julie Kagawa does not let Meghan "tame" Ash. While it is clear that there is chemistry between them, she successfully allows him to retain his threat to her without making him into a completely abrasive, abusive stalkerish asshat. Bravo!

(Spoiler #2: The problem is that she tries to use this device again as the key objective of the Iron King. He claims to want Meghan as his queen. I do understand that within Fey royalty that the Kings and Queens do not necessarily have full loyalty to each other. However, since she used this whole thing to such great effect with Meghan and Ash, and since she only really used the Iron King himself in one scene, the entire final conflict is weakened and suffers greatly for it. It's not that it's terrible. Rather, its that it could have been so much better and had so much more of an impact if she had done it differently. *Either by somehow building up the Iron King and Meghan somehow, or by choosing another objective for his wanting Meghan -- I get that he wants her power, but that does not automatically mean he wants *her*.)  

In General:

Do I sound like I am nit-picking? I probably am a little since this (fantasy that ties into the modern world) is my own genre as a writer. I certainly don't claim to be an expert, but it's definitely a genre that I feel at home talking about and examining in detail. Despite any drawbacks I may have given, I want it to be made clear that I absolutely loved The Iron King and enjoyed every moment that I spent with the book. The pacing is excellent -- I couldn't put this down. It checked most of the right boxes and what it might not have nailed flawlessly, the beautifully detailed world, exciting quest and memorable characters made up for in spades. 

So, are you like me? Has something been holding you back from checking out The Iron King? Let me lay your fears to rest. This book is everything you want and things you might not even realize you want. Romance, adventure, a lively cast of characters and a beautifully envisioned fantasy world combine to make The Iron King a journey well worth taking. If you've been delaying adding this to your bookshelf, the time is now. 

8 comments:

  1. I should really get to this too. I also had a not so friendly experience with fae books (Melissa Marr) but I still bought the first 3 and haven't touched them yet. I will soon though :)

    Giselle
    Xpresso Reads

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  2. I read tithe and wicked lovely too and i thought they weren't very good so I decided i wouldn't read iron king but based on your review I think I will read it. Thanks :)

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  3. I'm so glad you finally read it! I love faerie books in general, but this is definitely in my top 5 favorites. I finally got The Iron Daughter from the library, and I'm anxious to find out what happens next!

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  4. Great review, I can't wait to see what else she puts out for us to read! I can't wait to get a copy of The Iron King!

    Marlene Detierro (Air Ambulance)

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  5. Lovely review!

    I've had my eye on this series for a while, I'm glad to know you like it :)

    Marlene Detierro (Air Ambulance)

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