Oh here we go, I thought, upon cracking open the e-book of Julie Kagawa's The Iron King. Another star-crossed YA romance with supernaturally-inclined love interests. Ho hum. I suppose this could be enjoyable.
Upon finishing the book? I quite enjoyed it! Could it be that the author DID HER RESEARCH on mythology and fairy lore? YES!!! *fist-pump*
Now, I love anything and everything to do with fairies. I grew up in rural England, for goodness' sake, I used to go looking for them in gardens and parks up until I was about ten years old. When I was 13, and my English teacher told my class that we were going to be studying A Midsummer Night's Dream, I was excited beyond belief.
However, it seems that I've never been able to find a good YA series about the world of fairies. Maggie Stiefvater's Lament was okay, but I haven't bothered with its sequel, Ballad.
First things first: I love the writing in this novel. The setting is so well-described and very immersive. If there was ever a book that allowed the reader's imagination to run wild in a world of its own creation, this was it. Kagawa's descriptions of the Nevernever (or the fairy realm) aren't entirely original (in fact, most people imagine some kind of enchanted forest when asked to describe what the fairy realm would look like, I wager). However, Kagawa more than makes up for this describing the Seelie and Unseelie courts, the Iron court, and the realm of Tir Na Nog.
So, what's the story about? Well, after her little brother is spirited away by fairies and replaced with a changeling, Meghan Chase has to venture into the fairy realm to get him back. While there, she discovers her best friend Robbie is actually Puck, meets a cait sith (fairy cat) called Grimalkin and it turns out that Meghan's real father is King Oberon himself. Oh, and Queen Titania is an absolute bitch. But not as much of a bitch as Queen Mab, whose son Ash is a hunter tasked with capturing Meghan. LOVE TRIANGLE! (Okay, I'll stop speaking like I'm the recap narrator from Glee.) Evil iron forces are at work though, and they will stop at anything to stop Meghan in her tracks, so Ash and Puck have to reconcile as Meghan works towards finding that little rugrat.
Sounds like an interesting story, right? Full of fantasy, myth, magic, and folklore? I'm down with that. This novel was great, but unfortunately it does have a few flaws.
Namely, the two most uninteresting characters to ever ruin my enjoyment of a novel - Meghan and Ash. Meghan grows fairly boring after a while. Sure, she's just a blank slate for the reader to project onto, but it is possible to have these characters be fairly interesting. Meghan is not. She's your average girl thrown into a magical predicament, I guess, but she just felt quite unoriginal. She can be bratty, quick-witted, brave, scared... but she kind of moulds to the situation at hand rather than having one consistent personality, you know?
Instant love is a problem that plagues a lot of YA novels, and it reared its ugly heard in The Iron King. Now, I'm much more into the idea of Meghan maybe falling in love with Puck/Robbie, because he's sworn to protect her and has cared for her for quite a few years now. That's really sweet. What does Meghan do? Fall for the pretty boy with angst issues who's not exactly on her side. GRARGH. They didn't really have that much contact either, and yet Meghan calls Ash her 'beloved' around page 320, and she's so concerned for him when he gets injured and oh man, this really annoyed me after a while. Ash's past is also revealed kind of piecemeal to the audience. So we know he's in the Winter court with Queen Mab and goes hunting in the wild woods, we know he has a grudge against Puck for allowing his lady love to die whilst out hunting, we know he's a skilled swordsman... But none of this makes him an interesting character. He's developed a bit, sure, and I'm going to have to buy the sequels to find out more, but as is, I'm really sick of the incredibly overt bludgeoning of Meghan x Ash that goes on throughout the third act of this novel.
Also, one thing that really ground my gears after a while: anime is mentioned about five times throughout the course of the novel. Either Meghan sees something and compares it to an anime she once saw, or she tells herself (or Robbie/Puck) that they've been watching too much anime. Ah, Cassandra Clare-itis... how I've missed you like a hole in the head. Now, it's nice to see that anime/manga has evolved from a very secluded, looked down upon hobby and into the mainstream, with series to cater to every taste imaginable. But what if somebody doesn't exactly know what anime or manga is? Referring to a vehicle as looking like something out of a steampunk anime (around page 297 or so) is all well and good for people who know what steampunk and anime are, but your average person... really?
I was also let down quite a bit by the villain. There's a lot of build-up for him, you know. Quite a lot of the second act revolves around Meghan and pals traversing through the mortal and faerie realms to find out more about this mysterious kidnapper who apparently cannot be killed by mortal nor fey weaponry. But that's alright! Meghan just travels back to New Orleans, finds some dryads and takes their most powerful (fey-crafted) weapon - an arrow. When Meghan finally meets Machina, who, in a fairly clever stroke of imagination, rules a realm of fairies who have learned to meld with technology as to stop themselves dying out as people stop believing in the magical world, the exchange goes a little something like this:
Machina: Hello Meghan, here's your baby brother.
Meghan: Cool. Can I please have him back? He is only four years old, after all.
Machina: Meghan, you are a child of prophecy. You're half fairy and immune to the fatal effects of iron. Also, you will be the eventual ruler of the Summer court. Did you know that?
Meghan: Yes, I did. Can you please just give me back my brother?
Machina: But Meghan, you ought to become my queen. I know I live in a barren wasteland that resembles a computer junkyard, and you've been entranced by the more natural areas of the fae realms, but come on.
Meghan: No way, give me back my brother.
Machina: Oh, by the way, here's Ash.
[Meghan stabs Machina with the aforementioned dryad-crafted arrow and kills him, then since this is apparently a Metroid game, the base starts collapsing in on itself.]
I fell in love with Puck the instant I met him. At first it's kind of weird that he calls Meghan 'princess', but you get used to it over time, and going by what I imagine him to look like in my mind, I'd pick him over Ash any day of the week.
...I WANT MEGHAN X PUCK TO BE CANON, DAMN IT.