The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Deus Ex Machina (Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa)

The Iron King
Julie Kagawa
Harlequin Teen 2010

Meghan Chase has never fit in at her small-town high school, and now, on the eve of her 16th birthday, she discovers why. When her half brother is kidnapped, Meghan is drawn into a fantastical world she never imagined--the world of Faery, where anything you see may try to eat you, and Meghan is the daughter of the summer faery king. Now she will journey into the depths of Faery to face an unknown enemy . . . and beg the help of a winter prince who might as soon kill her as let her touch his icy heart. The Iron King is the first book in the Iron Fey series.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

There are a lot of books out there about faeries. From the great (Lament/Ballad) to the fantastic (Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series) to the frankly lacklustre (Wondrous Strange). What almost all of them use as a starting point is a human (or are they?) protagonist, usually female, who finds herself drawn into the world of the Fey, only to find out that there is aspect of her past that ties her to Faery in some (usually Royal) way. There is always a male Fey love interest. He is always hot, and usually tortured (figuratively, rather than with hot irons). There is also usually a faithful sidekick handing around, who spends most of his time cracking jokes and attempting to hide his, frankly quite obvious, feelings for our protagonist. None of this is bad but it has kind of been done to death, so when I picked up The Iron King and saw a similar beginning I started reading with a rather heartfelt sign of resignation. However, The Iron King is (in the words of English language students across the globe) same, same but different.

Meghann is the main protagonist, who is drawn into Faery on a quest to rescue her young brother, similar in concept to the movie Labyrinth (although she's less annoying and, I assume, less bushy of eyebrow than what's-her-face). Meggie is easy enough to like and stumbles around Faery in an endearingly clueless way. I particularly liked her willingness to promise favours to any old member of the Fey that crossed her path. Does she know nothing? Has she not read all the other books?? Meggie - you don't bargain over there – it will only bite you in the ass later. Beginners mistake!
Loyal sidekick in this edition of Girl Meets Fey is played by Puck. Mischievous, fun and wicked, Puck is a bit of a mystery and has slightly more to him than your usual unrequited-love-blinded companion. For once I can absolutely see why Meggie is unaware of his feelings as he seems unable to remain serious for more than 10 seconds flat and runs hot and cold all the time. Filling the role of obligatory handsome prince is Ash. Son of Queen Mab (and woot woot for Queen Mab – there should be one of her in all Faery stories as she invariably rocks) he is, of course, dark, pretty, tortured and swooningly into Meggie. This tortures him further – he knows his part well, and why should the course of true love run smoothly for them when it doesn't for any of their literary counterparts? Why, indeed.....that would be D.U.L.L. Meggie's final companion is the acerbic feline Grimalkin. He's a cat, who acts like a cat and is therefore really quite awesome (although if you are looking for true catty greatness, then check out the inimitable Mogget in Garth Nix's Abhorsen series).

So far, so good. Despite being a similar start to the many other tales of Faery, Julie Kagawa's writing has snark, wit and joie de vive running through it in spades and is hard not to enjoy. Yet it is still basically the same, slightly tired old formula. Or is it? And to that I gleefully shout “Nooooo, all ye naysayers – 'tis not!”. What makes this book a triumph in its genre, and what makes the next two books in the series something to look forward to is the introduction of the Iron Fey. While The Iron King presents all the usual suspects – Seelie and Unseelie Courts (written beautifully, by the way – I particularly liked the gorgeous description of the Unseelie's winter realm), the author has also created something completely new. Not only is it refreshing to find something new in Faery, it is also a joy to come across such a fantastically original and well-thought through idea. I'll restrain myself from saying more, as I don't wish to ruin the plot for anyone who has yet to read it. I will say, though, that if you have been put off reading The Iron King for fear of yet another re-tread through Faery or if you've only read the first few chapters and given up due to the familiarity of the story then give it a chance! It's fun, it's well written and Julie Kagawa has created a realm for the Fey that is fresh, unique and relevant to the age that we live in.

Incidentally, I understand that there is a great debate raging through the blogosphere as regards Team Ash or Team Puck. For now, I'm abstaining – I'd like to see more of Puck before pledging my allegiance either way. I think, for the moment, I'll just be Team Grimalkin. Mee-ow.


Nomes said…
nice review. i really enoyed it :)

I havent picked this one up yet. I'm worried I'm all faeried out. (for reasons stated in one of your paras). I have, however, heard its worth it. it does sound like its a fun read...
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