The Iron Thorn
Aoife Grayson's family is unique, in the worst way—every one of them, including her mother and her elder brother Conrad, has gone mad on their 16th birthday. And now, a ward of the state, and one of the only female students at the School of Engines, she is trying to pretend that her fate can be different.
Having read the first two books, I do not hesitate to say that I really, really, really like this series. Why? It puts a new spin on a sort-of post apocalyptic world that is set in the past (1900s) rather than the future. There is a harsh war of sorts that is mentioned, a society governed by pure science and rationality is the only excepted norm, there are brain-washed civilians, things that can only be conceived by nightmares lurk around every corner, and there is a lot of secrecy. But most of all? It's mad.
I find the storyline itself to be very attractive because of the way events are played out. The author made it a point to make the story flow in a set tempo; nothing was happing too fast or too slow. Everything made sense, which is rather odd since the characters found themselves in confusion often, because enough detail was given that anything extremely weird wouldn't seem too much out of the ordinary because of the nature of the world of the Iron Codex series. I love how the classic tale of "humans discover machines and thus try to disprove that magic of any kind ever truly existed" plays out in such a warped and extreme fashion in this novel.
If someone so much whispers the word "magic", they are branded as heretics, burned at the stake or worse (if male), or caged away in a madhouse for experimentation (if female). Anything that cannot be proven by scientific evidence is deemed as witchcraft. It sounds silly, right? But trust me, in the city of Lovecraft, these things are taken seriously. Too seriously. Books like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? Burned (really???) because a person would have to be mental to even think of believing something like that.
If I lived in such a world, just the idea of so many works of literature being destroyed would turn me into a madwoman, no magic needed.
The lead adventurer of this story, Aoife (I still don't know how to pronounce her name), is a reasonable young lady with the hopes of being an Engineer in a world where women aren't exactly taken seriously. She's witty, clever, and has magic in her blood when magic is not supposed to exist. Oops! Her journey to find her beloved brother helps her discover far more than her trained rationalist mind wants to make sense of. I adore this girl! Other people see her as a poor and frail orphan girl-woman that can be trampled on, but they have no idea how intelligent she can be. The fact that she can take their insults with a blank face and let them roll off her shoulders makes me want to stand up and clap. And she just becomes even more awesome as you keep reading.
Cal, her best friend, on the other hand... I can't stand him. He's had pretty much everything handed to him on a silver platter, at least compared to Aoife. Not to mention that he's a boy, so in society's eyes, his wrongdoings can be justified. And he sits there saying all these horrid and extremely sexist things to Aoife like, how she'll go mad just like her mother and brother, how she "doesn't have a mother to teach her these things", or how a "nice girl" shouldn't be doing this and that.
I wanted to slap the boy into next year! If I was Aoife, I wouldn't let him anywhere near me. He thinks he can control her, and he tries to stop her from doing things that he's too scared to do. Because, for all his big "man" talks, he's just a sissy who thinks little of women.
“Word of advice, kid. This may be the Wild West down here, but you ain't a cowboy. You're not even a boy in a cowboy suit.”
Well said Dean (Aoife and Cal's guide out of Lovecraft).
In the end, I have to approve of this book and of the series in general. Kittredge did a fine job stirring up my imagination. Such a great job, in fact, that I wrote a lengthy review on The Iron Thorn. If you haven't read this yet and you love dark fantasy, I suggest you add this to your To Be Read list.
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The Iron Thorn follows Aoife through a tough time in her life. Her family has a history of madness, and it seems to hit them each around their 16th birthday. Unfortunately for Aoife....that's just weeks away. The reader watches as Aoife is swept up in a whirlwind adventure to figure out her past, her present, and her future all at once. This is a dark and epic quest, that is filled with some of the most intriguing and disturbing creatures imaginable. I don't know if these characters live in Kitteredge's brain, but if they do I'd love to talk creepiness with her! I love that there is an underlying link to fae here as well. Keep a look out, it's hidden wonderfully well.
It is really the world building that brings this book to life. The city of Lovecraft is built from bits and pieces of H.P. Lovecraft's writing, with other elements thrown in. As I mentioned above, this isn't just a Fantasy novel. There is so much more to it. Lovecraft and it's surrounding areas are gorgeously dismal. There is a sense of fear and darkness that lays over everything. The atmosphere that is built makes you want to crawl under a blanket and read by lamplight, even if it is daytime outside. No kidding, there were descriptions in this book that made me shudder visibly. However it's not all dark if you're worried about that. Underneath everything is that fantastical sense of adventure and camaraderie. I won't spoil anything, but it's fantastic.
The characters, even besides just Aoife, burn off the page! Aoife is fierce, brave and utterly loyal. Her friend Cal is very rooted in what is right, normal and "proper" but is also an extremely loyal friend to Aoife. Then there is Dean, sweet Dean. The vagabond boy who turns guide, and just so happens to be the apple of Aoife's eye. Brave to a fault, and more than what he seems, he was absolutely my favorite character in the book. Each one of them has their own beautiful personality and wit. Add in the colorful characters that they encounter as they travel and I was completely swept away into the world of Lovecraft.
I can't say anything more. I just don't know what else to write. If you can't already tell, The Iron Thorn was everything I was looking for in a book. It pulled me out of my reading slump, and back into a love of the written world.
I wouldn't quite call this High Fantasy, since it still has one foot in reality, but definitely do your research if you aren't generally a fan of this genre. The Iron Thorn might not appeal to you. However, if you are a lover of Fantasy, of Steampunk, or even of Dystopian fiction, pick up a copy stat! I promise that if you allow yourself to get lost in the words, lost in the world, you'll experience something so amazingly unique it might just make you drop your jaw.