The Mountains of Instead

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

When I'm Human (Review: The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Knight
Julie Kagawa
Harlequin 2011

The Iron Knight is the fourth book in Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series. This review contains spoilers for the previous books.

Prince of Winter, Ash, finds himself cast adrift in Faerie. Disowned by his family. separated from his true love and unable to ignore his previously iced over emotions he has only one course of action should he wish to rejoin Meghan in her metal realm.  He must become human, a mortal living in the land of the Fae.  It is not an easy goal to achieve and has consequences impossible for him to understand yet he cannot live without Meghan so sets of o with a motley crew of companions, not least Robin Goodfellow and one, rather irascible, cat.

Ash, prior to The Iron Queen, had been one of my favourite characters. Arrogant to the point of rudeness, conflicted in ways that often made him terribly cross, yet slowly thawing his icy heart to allow Meghan in. Latterly, however, he became rather dull, worrying about his worthiness in terms of Meghan and, glumly, the state of his eternal soul. It all reminded me far too much of a certain sparkly blood-sucker. The Iron Knight seemed the perfect opportunity to see more of Ash, whom I hoped had gotten over his angst. Well, he really hasn't although he’s pretty focused on his quest which helps one forget about his general glumness. As the protagonist of his own story, readers really do get inside his head but a miserable place it is.  Mourning over lost love is understandable but Ash takes it to extremes, especially considering the fact that he’s on a quest to ensure his place by his new love’s side. Admittedly, the memory of Arianna plays an important role in The Iron Knight, but it's not like she was ever far from the forefront of his mind. Also, his ongoing feud with Puck is just so last century. However, despite is ardent cries of "woe is me" (not literally, but I wouldn't have been surprised) he is honourable, committed to Meghan and packs a hefty swoon factor so I still rather like him. Just.

In one respect it is easy to relate to Ash's air of long suffering once you consider his that he travels with the most irritating of characters.  Puck is much the same as he was when last seen in The Iron Queen. His reasons for accompanying Ash o are vague at best and one suspects that it might be as much to annoy his arch-frenemie as anything else. He's certainly not the ideal questing companion - more a Pippin or Merry than a handy Legolas. He flitters about the place, getting everyone into trouble and making uniformly unfunny jokes and asides.  While he clearly cares for Ash and Meghan, Puck as a character is at his best when glimpses of his ancient and more dangerous nature shine through. He is not a particularly likable character but I suspect this is at least semi-intentional on the part of the author.  Enough, though, about two-legs - it is the animal companions that rather steal The Iron Knight.  The return of Grimalkin is extremely welcome. A truly fabulous creation who comes close to knocking my favourite cat (the magnificent Mogget) from the top of the fish pile. Here is is joined by a lupine companion in the form of the Big Bad Wolf and yes, I do mean that one - the embodiment of nightmarish fairy tales the world over and proud of it (actually, I might get that on a t-shirt). The two of them riff hilariously but are at their most impressive as two ancient creatures joining Ash's curious hike in order to preserve their immortality (in the case of the Wolf) and ensure an ongoing stream of favours (in Grimalkin's).

The storyline of The Iron Knight is fairly straightforward - and who doesn't like a good old quest, right?  However, it's a little slow to get going and lacks the wonderfully original Iron Fey, the constructs that lifted Kagawa's previous books above the usual Fae fare. While the group trek through hitherto unseen aspects of Faerie they are joined by a new character and one whom is most unwelcome in that they merely serve to increase Ash's melodrama and moan a lot. Sadly, this plot strand rather drags the story down. There are, though, some beautiful set pieces as the group edge closer to their destination and often the situations they find themselves in are eerily sinister. In particularl, Ash's starkly honest glimpse of what it means to be human is extremely well executed and promised an interest denouement to his tale. Sadly, Julie Kagawa seems to have lacked the courage of her convictions in this regard though and backs away from an ending that would give The Iron Knight some much needed weight.

For fans of the Iron Fey trilogy, The Iron Knight is an interesting read. One might think that it would be particularly exciting for Teams Ash and Puck but sadly, with out Meghan's rose tinted lenses they are, respectively, a little to melodramatic and downright annoying. While The Iron Knight doesn't reach the levels of originality or writing previously seen in Kagawa's cleverly imagined Faerie nor does it entirely disappoint. As a companion book it is a pleasant enough read but, while I wait with interest and excitement for Julie's next venture, I hope that the Iron Fey, the Iron Knight and even the gorgeous Grimalkin have been firmly left to their happy endings.

The Iron Knight is available now.  Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin for providing this title for review.


Unknown said…
I am conflicted but need to read the rest of the series. Brilliant & insightful review
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