Pub date: February 1, 2010
Page count: 368 pages
Reading level: Young Adult
MY RATING: 4/5 STARS
I haven't come across a YA author with as much "scope for the imagination" (to borrow a phrase from my beloved L.M. Montgomery) since, dare I say it, J.K. Rowling. From the jaded and delightfully crabby centuries-old cat, Grimalkin (a cat, albeit, "only in the crudest sense of the word"), to the adorable pack-rats (small, deeply loyal creatures of iron who devote their lives to prowling through heaps of trash in search of "treasures" to gift upon their king) - the world that Julie Kagawa has created here is beautifully written, poignant, and imaginative on an epic scale.
The Iron King is not as exciting as a Harry Potter book, not by a long shot. But that is hardly a condemnation.* What the book arguably lacks (at least for the first 100 pages or so) in page-turner quality, it more than makes up for in originality. The premise alone is enough to earn this a couple stars even if everything else about the book were a total flop (which is happily not the case). Meghan Chase, our hapless heroine, is a 16 year old hillbilly, a clumsy farm-girl with a hopeless crush on the high school football quarterback. Unbeknown to her, Meghan's father is not the traveling insurance salesman her mom was married to when she was born; her real father is actually King Oberon (faery ruler of A Midsummer Night's Dream fame). Better yet, her best friend Robbie is secretly Puck (remember that devious guy from Midsummer Night's Dream who cast the spell on snooty Queen Titania to make her fall in love with a donkey? Yep, that's our guy.).
Shortly into the book, Meghan's little brother (who reminded me comfortingly a bit of Charles Wallace from A Wrinkle in Time) is kidnapped by a mysterious figure known as the Iron King and taken into Nevernever (faery land). With Robby/Puck at her side, Meghan enters the realm of Nevernever on a mission to save him. Meghan, Puck, and Puck's mortal enemy, the dashing Prince Ash, (along with a whole host of other very entertaining supernatural characters) soon find themselves swept up in ...that's right, a Dangerous Quest To Save The World From Certain Ruin.
So, for the most part, I loved this book. It's always a treat to read books like this which are so carefully and lovingly thought out. I do not understand how authors like Kagawa (and I would even mention in the same breath people like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Patrick Ness... as well as Rowling) have the diligence and sheer energy to create these worlds with such unwavering attention to both the grand scope as well as each tiny, individual little detail.
What kept this from earning more than 4 stars was the bit of boredom I felt towards the heroine. Meghan Chase is not a Meg Murray, or a Hermione Granger, or even a Lucy Pevensie. She's definitely more tolerable than some of her peers (see Twilight's Bella Swan or Nora of hush, hush), but she's lacking a certain spark that exists in the heroines of some of the classics. Maybe she just has one too many damsel in distress scenes. I'm not sure exactly what it was but I didn't love her...she was just ok. It may actually have had something to do with the budding romance between her and Prince Ash. Again, we have the dark, brooding prince, who has barely loved anyone at all in his many long centuries of immortal life, but suddenly this awkward 16 yr old farm girl stumbles on the scene and a few moments later he falls violently in love and his life is changed forever? Yawn.
I'm more intrigued by Puck's infatuation. Puck also loves Meghan, but presumably he has more reason for doing so, since he's actually known her all the weary days of her life. This love triangle was only a minor plot in Iron King but it certainly feels like the tension will grow in Iron Daughter. I hope it does, and I hope it makes me care a bit more about who Meghan chooses.
So, in summary, a great new fantasy series at the YA level. A million, trillion, bajillion times better than most of the garbage that is lining the YA shelves these days. Highly recommended! I've already obtained Iron Daughter and will be diving in shortly.
*You really shouldn't compare anything to Harry Potter. If a new Harry Potter book were being released tomorrow, for instance, I would rearrange my entire life to accommodate it, starting by requesting a personal day from work (which I would use to recover from staying up the entire night before to read the book). I would arrive at my local Barnes & Noble (wearing an immaculately designed Harry Potter costume) ridiculously early to ensure I'd get a copy of the book before any of those snotty nosed evil children could swipe it and ruin the ending for me by screaming out DUMBLEDORE'S DEAD!!; I would have several near-fatal accidents on the drive home as I tried to read and drive in the dark of night at the same time; and then I would stay up all night, red-eyed, nauseous, weepy, and euphoric until I finished it. The fact that I didn't feel the need to do that with Iron Daughter, the sequel to Iron King which was just released the other day, does not mean the series is bad.