Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Iron Queen

I'm typically loathe to know the end of a story before the story chooses to reveal it to me. In other words, I never look at the last page first. I never peek. If I have three books in a series, I try not to even look at the covers of the second two.

One time I disregarded this "rule" of mine and read the second book in the series. That ended up being Magic Study, by Maria V. Snyder, a book I loved. I then picked up the first and third books in that trilogy and loved them all. This is rare, both that I did such a thing and that I loved the book enough to go back and read the one before. Often these days, I read the first book in a series, and that's enough for me.

So, I wasn't sure about reading The Iron Queen, a young adult novel by Julie Kagawa. It had two strikes against it. One was that it was the third book in a series, and I hadn't read the first two. I came into possession of it through my favorite bookstore (Summer's Stories, of course). It was an advance reader's copy, as many of the books I read are. The second strike, weirdly enough for me, was that it was about fairies. I know, I know, normally I love all those strange creatures (as long as they aren't angels), but I haven't been impressed with what I've read about fairies. Maybe it's because they are often portrayed as evil pranksters without conscience or morality.

The Iron Queen was a mixture of old and new, and it worked for me. The faery rulers have such names as Queen Mab and Titania and Oberon. Sound familiar? These are names Shakespeare used, and perhaps he got them from older stories. And yes, they are somewhat capricious and evil. But they and the other faeries portrayed in The Iron Queen have more depth to them than the old stories suggest.

Perhaps what helped most is that the story is about a half-faery/half-human girl whose biological father is King Oberon. After her adventures in the first two books, including discovering her faery birthright, Megan is ready to return home. Exiled along with her love, the son of Queen Mab, her faery days seem to be over. But Faery isn't done with her. There are faeries who want her dead, and there are questions to be answered before Megan can go back to a normal life, if she ever can.

Thus begins a journey into a beautiful and twisted world of a dying faery land and the lava deserts and wired junk lands of the Iron Fey. It's imaginative and suspenseful, and the world Kagawa creates is one of the reasons I love this book. It reminded me, in some ways, of The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor, a re-imagination of Alice in Wonderland. It has that creepy, fascinatingly beautiful vibe to it. Also, The Iron Queen is far more than a romance, that being just one aspect of the novel. It's a tale about wars and kingdoms and discovering purpose and being the only one able to do something. It has a surprising amount of depth.

Having read this one, will I go back to the first two. I wouldn't need to. The Iron Queen reviewed enough of the story from the first two books to catch me up, but it left plenty to be discovered, too. I will have to think about it. Regardless, I am happy that I read this book, sequel that it was, and after I was done, I found myself perusing my shelf to see what else might trap my attention as well. Fortunately, I found a book that's fascinating in a completely different way, but that's another review for another day.

Four stars for beautiful setting and great characters in The Iron Queen.

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