Our first ever combined review:
FREAK. That’s what her classmates call seventeen-year-old Donna Underwood. When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna’s own nearly fatal injuries from the assault were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Navin Sharma.
When the darkest outcasts of Faerie—the vicious wood elves—abduct Navin, Donna finally has to accept her role in the centuries old war between the humans and the fey. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous half-fey dropout with secrets of his own, Donna races to save her friend—even if it means betraying everything her parents and the alchemist community fought to the death to protect.
The Iron Witch starts with a party. Donna doesn’t like parties, she’s not too keen being at one, but then her best friend Navin had asked her to come with him, and honestly, she couldn’t really so no to him.
At the party, Donna meets the mysterious Xan who acts pretty much the idiot. He is the host of said party but when she meets him, he’s sitting on the roof of the house, hiding out. from his guests. Xan however is not the idiot he acts to be. He realises he’s screwing up by being weird towards Donna and in the end he apologises and sees her off home with Navin. Navin, of course, ends up in a bit of a huff. He doesn’t think much of Xan but Donna finds herself strangely attracted to him - admittedly he’s handsome and when he wants to be, he’s sweet, but she senses that there is more to him than that. But how can she tell this to Navin who seems set on not wanting to understand?
As the opening chapters progress, we learn that Donna is a special girl indeed. When she was small, creatures attacked her and basically destroyed her arms and this was when she lost her dad as something killed him as he tried to protect her. She doesn’t recall why she was in the bizarre forest of Ironbridge or why these creatures were after her either or why she was attacked. What she does know is that now she is a freak. She’s not entirely human. The metal that keeps her arms together is some kind of magical construct put together through alchemy and who knows what else? She has the mysterious Maker to thank for her silver implants and for saving her life.
She now lives with her aunt who is someone high up in a group of alchemists. Both Donna’s parents were alchemists too. And Donna is undergoing training as an alchemist herself. This of course means that the reader is quickly brought up to speed with all things alchemical necessary for the importance of various objects to make sense later in the story. There is a lot of medieval lore about alchemy and I take my hat off to the author as you can tell how much hard work has gone into the research. And yet, she walks a thin balance, showing us just enough alchemical lore to keep us interested and to progress the story without inundating us with it and boring us.
Donna meets with Xan a few times and as their hesitant friendship grows we have the opportunity to learn more about Donna (and Xan) and we realise that Donna’s a wonderfully intelligent, amusing and conflicted main character. But it is when Donna is with Navin that she really shines and we see her relaxed and at ease. But even Navin, her best friend, doesn’t know the extent of the Donna’s secrets.
The story is set in Ironbridge, a town in America that is entirely fictional. It allows Ms. Mahoney great leverage and she has the opportunity to create a lot of interesting settings, including the deeply mysterious forest of Ironbridge. And with the forest come the wood elves. Awful twisted creatures from our deepest nightmares. They add an extra level of menace and darkness to The Iron Witch. Tied in with them we find out a bit about Xan’s background and it’s not pleasant and we surmise a few things about Donna’s own background.
It’s when Navin gets taken by these creatures that things kick off into a new level of scary and it is up to Donna to face some of her own fears, break all the rules she knows, and push herself to the limit to do everything she can to save her friend.
I’ve waited a long time to read The Iron Witch. I am pleased to say that it was worth the wait. Ms. Mahoney gives us a fresh new voice, interesting characters and above all, interesting rich lore - and I’m not just talking about the alchemy either. Her dark elves are deliciously menacing and their leader, The Wood Queen a really interesting villain. I couldn’t help but feel intrigued by her - she is on a knife’s edge of going either way as the villain - is she really bad or is she only bad because we don’t know her full story? I loved the ambiguity in this instance and although the story ends well, with several strands tied off, there are enough questions left over to make us wait (im)patiently for The Iron Witch’s companion novels, The Wood Queen and The Stone Demon.
I’ve also been keen (okay – champing at the bit) to read The Iron Witch. Ages ago I remember Karen Mahoney using a lovely icon on her blog of a girl walking down a narrow path, mist surrounding her, and saying she thought it was the perfect icon for her book. I couldn’t wait to find out more about this mysterious world so was excited to get my hands on a copy. Immediately the reader is thrust into the action through an extract from Donna’s journal and we know that something extraordinary has happened to her in the past. Next, we’re straight into the present with her meeting with Xan at the party. I loved aloof Xan immediately (oh dear, that’s not a good sign as he definitely should have a sign saying, “Bad Boy,” hanging over his head). The first chapter crackles with the underlying feeling that everything is not what it seems. I love this feeling; when you’re at the start of a book that you’ve been looking forward to and you know you’re on the brink of falling into a new world.
The town of Ironbridge met my expectations and more. It has that glorious dual feeling of being a normal place with high schools and coffee shops but underneath it’s sizzling with mystery; elves, hidden Old Paths, workshops and shadowy houses. It provides everything I love about urban fantasy – the feeling that just a hair’s breadth away is another world waiting to be discovered. Ironbridge provides the perfect platform for the events of The Iron Witch.
Aside from the setting there are a wealth of great characters. Donna is instantly likeable by being both vulnerable but with an inner strength and strong belief in what’s right and wrong. Her relationship with Xan enables her to break out of the semi-cloistered world she’s been stuck in. She finds herself able to let go a little with him and the scene where she takes off her long gloves for him in a coffee shop is both touching and intimate. As their relationship grows Donna finds herself drawn into a world where she’s lead to question her beliefs.
Underlying all the action is a great deal of research into alchemy which serves to make the story all the more rich. As Liz has said, there’s just enough detail to intrigue the reader and I loved Donna’s investigations into the Frost estate, which is both beautiful but strangely threatening. To sum up, The Iron Witch is quite simply a gorgeous read. I was pulled in and bewitched by it but now I have to wait for the sequel. I wonder if tapping my fingers on the desk will make it come any quicker?
Find Karen Mahoney's website here.
We are so excited about The Iron Witch that we bribed Random House to PUHLEASE let us give some copies away. And, of course, they totally agreed. (ah, the power of cake)
Here's what we've got to offer:
FIVE copies of THE IRON WITCH to give away. FOUR to UK people and ONE to a lucky international entrant.
Rules: comment below if you'd like to enter and tell us what it is about urban fantasy that appeals to you. Remember to make sure we know how to contact you if you enter - i.e. twitter name / link to website etc. Oh, also tell us if you're UK or elsewhere.
The competition will run till 20th January and I'm diarising it now so that we can Random.org the winners on the day. Good luck!
What are you waiting for? Get entering!