A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
THE IRON KING (The Iron Fey #1) by JULIE KAGAWA (2010)
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa came out in 2010, just five years after the publication of the first Twilight novel, and two years before the movie adaptation. This is important to note because the massive success of the Twilight series busted the young adult world wide open, ushering in dozens of attempts to fill the Edward Cullen-shaped hole in readers’ hearts. There were vampires, of course, and some werewolves thrown in there for good measure, but a distinct branch of the paranormal romance craze in YA belonged to the Fair Folk.
Like Holly Black, Melissa Marr, and Aprilynne Pike, Julie Kagawa threw her hat in the fairy ring with The Iron King. The Iron King follows sixteen-year-old Meghan Chase, who never quite feels like she belongs. At school, she’s bullied, at home, she’s forgotten. Her only friend, Robbie, comes with his own quirks, and her half-brother, Ethan, seems to be the only member of her family who can actually remember her. On the day of her sixteenth birthday, Meghan’s bleak, yet normal life gets turned upside-down when Ethan is kidnapped replaced by a faerie changeling. Knowing she is the only one who can save him, Meghan follows Ethan and his captors into a place called the Nevernever, where she must battle not just the faeries that inhabit it, but her own heart as well.
I first read The Iron King when it was published in 2010. This was my junior year of high school and I was firmly entrenched in the paranormal romance trend that had so thoroughly enraptured the YA genre. I remember liking the book, maybe not loving it, but upon this reread, I’ve definitely picked up on a few things I’d missed.
Firstly, there are the characters. Meghan is just fine as a protagonist. No one spectacular by my standards, but indicative of the trends in YA at the time. Meghan insists she’s not like “other girls” all the time, which grated on my nerves, and of course she had some special destiny that she never knew about until 100 pages into the book. As it turns out, Meghan is half-fey and her father is Oberon, king of the Summer/Seelie Court. Meghan is immune to iron, which is toxic to faeries, and she has some incredible power that isn’t quite explained. Aside from Meghan, there’s Robbie, whose full name is Robin Goodfellow. His actual name, however, is Puck. That’s right. Puck. From Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s Titania, Oberon’s wife, too. Oberon and Titania don’t have much weight on the narrative. Puck does, though, and so does Ash, prince of the Winter/Unseelie Court. Puck is playful and mischievous while Ash is broody and dark. There’s a love triangle, because this was published in 2010 and those were required in your YA novel back then, and some side characters that were never truly developed. None of the characters struck me offensively bad in any way, but none of them felt fully fleshed out. Additionally, the romance between Ash and Meghan seemed rushed. We were told by the narrative how much they liked one another, but we weren’t shown it very much.
Secondly, we have the plot. Once Meghan arrives in the Nevernever, she meets up with a talking cat named Grimalkin, who helps her along her journey in finding Ethan. There’s a lot of traveling in this novel. and I liked a lot of the descripts on the Nevernever. It’s magical and exciting, but a lot of the traveling sections felt like they were drawn out for the sake of padding the already weak story. A lot of stuff happens in this novel without anything actually happening. That is, Meghan goes through a sequence of events but none of them feel very important to what is supposed to be Meghan’s main goal: Finding Ethan. After hundreds of pages trying to guess where Ethan is, Meghan and her friends discover that a faerie called The Iron King has him…which is where my biggest problem with this novel lies.
A plot point in The Iron King that I didn’t pick up on when I was younger was the bizarre anti-science message Kagawa uses to explain why the Iron fey are the way they are. Unlike the Summer and Winter courts, the Iron fey don’t derive from anything natural. They were made back in the Iron Age from the desire of humankind to advance its technology. The Summer and Winter courts were made by human belief in magic and whimsy. The Iron fey, however, thrive on things like computers, the internet, every other progressive gadget you can think of. Because humankind has advanced so quickly, so have the Iron fey. They’re evil, of course, and have been slowly taking over the Nevernever with their terrible gadgets and iron bodies. As Kagawa puts it, the reason why the Iron fey are so powerful compared to the “normal” fey is because humans have ceased having imaginations because of technology. The whole thing rubbed me the wrong way and affected my enjoyment of the novel.
Now, this review is largely negative, but I did end up rating The Iron King three stars. It’s fast and easy to get through, and Puck is a fun character to read about. The book brought me back to the days where I’d inhale these sorts of books like candy. They’re sweet and fun, but they don’t necessarily fill you up or provide any nutritional value. Sometimes you need a little candy, though, and that’s exactly what this book was.