Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney - review

The Iron Witch
Karen Mahoney
Young Adult fantasy
available now

I've mentioned how much I love the cover of The Iron Witch on previous posts, so if you've read those, please bear with me. In the story, Donna has these tattoo like markings on her arms. They are curlicues and swirls, they shine in the light. They are made from ink mixed with iron and are magically charged; part of healing done for her as a result of an attack by a creature from Faerie. The cover has these beautifully worked curls and swirls surrounding the cover girl. It's hard to see here, but up close you can see the shiny swirls on her arm also. She's also holding a small bottle which plays a part in the story. I have a U.K. cover, and the pages on the inside - the first page and the last - are also marked with curls and swirls. It's a pretty piece of the book; reminds me of the older books from 70 years and before that used to be embossed with delicate little floral and fine designs on the covers and spine of the books. Rarely see that kind of workmanship on books anymore - so it's nice to see some extra beauty on the covers and inside pages.

I can honestly say that I very much enjoyed reading The Iron Witch. I don't read a lot of Young Adult, but the same applies to Young Adult (for me anyway) as Adult fiction. It has to hold my interest. Normally I look for books that jump into action from the first page, and I prefer lots of action - whether it's fighting, running or laughing situations...Sometimes I get that but then a book slows down for me, and then comes to a complete stop interest-wise. The Iron Witch did start out with a bang - the prologue describes some of the nightmarish night that Donna went through as a child. The first chapter has her waking up from her nightmare. And even though there wasn't the feeling of non-stop adventure, there were things that kept me interested throughout the book.

After the opening prologue/nightmare scene, the book continues at a seemingly sedate pace, but really little things are happening that point towards the danger to come. Donna is attending a party with her best friend, Navin. They've been best friends for a long time, and live right next door to each other. Navin is the one person that Donna feels comfortable with, and even with him she feels like she doesn't quite fit in. Both of them have lost a parent. Donna has freakish strength in her arms - something that she is always aware of, which therefore causes a bit of angst. On top of that, she has these markings on her arms...making her feel like she has to keep them hidden. As a teen, she dreads having anything pointed out as different, and here are two things that mark her as way different - her markings that she keeps hidden by wearing gloves and her freakish strength which she just tries to keep hidden....except for ---- no, spoiler. haha

She goes to a party with Navin, against her instinct to remain in the background at all times. But once there, she ends up looking for a quiet place to hang out, and ends up on the roof with this mysterious boy/man. This guy turns out to be Xan, or Alexander - a kid who had gone off to college and then ended up back at home after a short while. Turns out he has his own reasons to feel like he doesn't quite belong. Xan plays an important part in the story - Donna and Xan strike up an uneasy (at first) yet strong friendship/attraction. They both feel different from others, and both have things to hide...and other than Navin's friendship, the only experience Donna has with other boys are...well probably none.

Donna Underwood's family and circle have secrets, so Donna has learned all her life to keep things secret, this is wearing on her. She's also feeling bad about having to keep secrets from her best friend. Donna lives with her aunt, since her mother is in a confused state of conciousness in a hospital and her father died while saving her from the thing in the forest. Donna is homeschooled ever since an incident at the high school involving teasing students and her strength. She has normal homeschooling along with some alchemy classes with people in the circle. That's one of the secrets Donna has to maintain. Her family and family friends are a secretive order of alchemists - involving magic, experiments, knowledge of the fae, etc.

The Iron Witch, seemingly starting out at a sedate pace, in truth has many small incidents happening that build up to a crescendo of action. Donna at one point figures out that her friend has been kidnapped by the forest elves and in typical teen fashion, tries to handle things on her own.. things become more complicated for her, and she makes decisions that she knows are going to have harsh consequences for herself. This reminded me of being a teen. There were so many times that friends and I tried to handle things on our own, for one reason or another, when we really should have involved an adult. But I think that is a rather common thing for some teens. It's not always logical, but then being a teen isn't always logical. Thank goodness we never had to deal with forest elves, or elf queens!

What I liked about the ending of the book, is that we find out that Donna hasn't been miraculously forgiven by the alchemists and their order - she has to face some possibly severe consequences for her actions...and things might not be fair. I believe that's where the sequel is going to take up. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, The Wood Queen.

The Iron Witch kept my interest for the whole story; I enjoyed this debut novel, with good dialogue, interesting characters and an interesting twist with the possibility of more twists....there is the hint of a mystery beyond the plot of The Iron Witch. Why was young Donna in the forest at the beginning of the book (in her nightmare/memory)....What exactly was going on there? Looking forward to finding out.

Karen Mahoney is also the author of numerous short stories, three of which are published or soon to be published in the following anthologies:

I know for sure that the first two are stories about Moth, a vampire. I'm not sure about the third story. I've read the first Moth short and it would be great to read a complete novel about this character.

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