Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Review: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

The Iron Witch (The Iron Witch #1) by Karen Mahoney
Publisher: Corgi Children's
Released: February 3rd 2011
My Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Freak. That's what her classmates call seventeen-year-old Donna Underwood. When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna's own nearly fatal injuries from the assault were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Navin Sharma.

When the darkest outcasts of Faerie—the vicious wood elves—abduct Navin, Donna finally has to accept her role in the centuries old war between the humans and the fey. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous half-fey dropout with secrets of his own, Donna races to save her friend—even if it means betraying everything her parents and the alchemist community fought to the death to protect.
(from Goodreads)

The Iron Witch begins with Donna at a party with her best friend Navin, who, unlike her, is actually enjoying himself. Donna, sick of standing around doing nothing and being whispered about, decides to get out, and climbs the roof...where she meets Xan, the host of the party. Xan seems bored with his own party, and isn’t really interested in going downstairs. Instead, he and Donna begin to talk, and Donna realises that Xan is not like other boys...like her, he’s different. After a few more accidental (and some not-so accidental) meetings, Xan and Donna find themselves in the middle of something bigger than any party. But this time, there’s no escape route to the roof, and Xan and Donna must work together in order to bring back things precious to them both.

The Iron Witch was not the best of books. There were some things I liked about it; the original concept was interesting, and I really liked Donna’s tattoos, and the fact she had to keep them covered up with gloves. I also quite liked Xan – he was funny at times, and seemed willing to help Donna despite the danger of the situation. I liked entering the world of the wood elves – I thought the place was nicely described, and the queen’s desperate search for the Elixir of Life was what kept the story well paced. However, there were a lot of things that I didn’t like which I’ll come to next.

I started reading The Iron Witch with no knowledge of alchemy except what I’d seen in Fullmetal Alchemist (and if you don’t know what that is...why?). I can safely say, it didn’t matter much. I found The Iron Witch to be a somewhat confusing book. It shouldn’t have been; the basic storyline wasn’t too complex. But for some reason, I really struggled to follow it. Maybe I was just tired and a bit out of it, but I had to re-read half the book just to figure out what was going on.

First of all, the wood elves and whole magical/alchemy aspect of the book were introduced in a really rushed manner (the whole book seem rushed to me), and were not explained nearly enough. We find out there are wood elves in Maker’s house (Maker, who we know so little about I just about remembered his name), and that lots of magical creatures exist, but then that’s it. We don’t get any information about the faerie world at all, just that it exists. Navin asks barely any questions, which I found unrealistic, and the whole thing is just a confusing mess. I felt like I was being shoved into some random place I’d never been before and was expected to find my way around without so much as a map. And Xan – what the hell?! I liked him, and everything was all well and good - then suddenly, he just announced he was half fey (which wasn’t actually surprising) and said he used to have wings – but we never find out what exactly he was, why he had wings in the first place (because all we know is that he’s only part human), or why the wings were torn out the way they were. I was just reading this all going “Yes, that’s very nice, but WHY?” I’m starting to think maybe I accidentally skipped out a few pages, because I really didn’t get what was happening.

Secondly, most of the characters didn’t live up to their potential for me. Donna could have been such a great protagonist, she was unique and involved in such an interesting world - yet she was quite a boring heroine – I neither liked nor disliked her, I just found her forgettable and a little annoying. Navin was a bit more interesting, but again, was lacking something. Xan had a few intriguing qualities, but I just couldn’t connect to any of them. I felt very detached, and not a part of the story at all. The villains of the story seemed overly harsh, and I just didn’t find it believable. Are there actually teenagers like this, who would shun Donna the way they did for barely doing anything? I thought it was a bit extreme – but maybe it’s just because I’ve never personally experienced anything like that in any of my schools, which I suppose is fair enough. The relationship between Xan and Donna was odd; based mainly on the fact they were both “different” and running from danger. Xan did have a sense of humour however, which at least made some scenes enjoyable.

Towards the end, however, things did start to pick up, and I found myself actually reading because I wanted to, and not because I was forcing myself to finish the book. Donna had to focus on saving Navin, so she became less self-pitying and more fired up, which improved her character considerably for me. I know there’s going to be a sequel, and I might just be tempted enough to read it, purely to find out what the hell is supposed to be happening.

In conclusion, The Iron Witch is a book that had a lot of potential, but fell flat and was too mixed up to be very enjoyable. I will be reading the next book, though, where I hope things are more clearly explained.

(Extra points for the cover though - I loves it.)


  1. 100% agree! I only rated it 3 too :(

  2. Oh, this is kind of disappointing! I was really looking forward to reading this book (although I have to confess it's mostly just for the beautiful cover...). I'll still probably check it out but thanks for the honest review :)

  3. Did I send you this one? I can't remember! XD
    Yeah, it's a pretty rubbish book but still worth reading...

  4. ^Yep! It was all right, but the characters were meh. The cover is amazing though. I have stood it up on my bookshelf so it's completely visible...:P.

  5. Aw man, sucks that this book doesn't live up to it's potential. I have a copy sitting in my bookshelf and have been debating on when to squeeze it in. But a lot of these reviews I'm reading.... well, they're not exactly singing it's praises. I hope the sequel manages amend some of these issues.


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