Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

Review: The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney
Rating: Sigh. I finished this book like twenty minutes ago and already I have forgotten this book. It wasn't bad, exactly--there are moments of good dialogue-- but it's bland, boring, and a carbon copy of every other paranormal YA out there.

The Iron Witch (The Iron Witch, #1)

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.

First and foremost, I must thank the lovely Lili for supplying me with this book, which I won from her, in addition to MANY others

The cover: "Did I forget to put on deodorant this morning!?" *sniffs* "Shit. I forgot to put deodorant on this morning."

The story: Here's a recipe for a run-of-the-mill YA paranormal story.

--1 dull, self-loathing girl with a tragic backstory, feelings of ostracism, and an overwhelming need to be "normal"

--1/4 cup of moaning and secret pain

--1 dose Super Special Snowflake Powers

--1 hunky supernatural boy with a tortured past and distinctly colored eyes 

--A dash of love triangle undertones with a male best friend who clearly wants something more. This male best friend is also the only one in the entire book with a sense of humor, which means he is obviously going to be kidnapped

--5 tsps. Insta!love

--At least 7 SECRETS that remain SECRETS just because the plot demands SECRETS

--Extra tablespoon of pain. Extra brooding. A lot of talking about said pain and brooding.

--A heavy heaping of supernatural infodumps

--a pinch of a vague "mystery" of sorts the heroine is compelled to investigate due to tingling spidey senses

 --long stretches where nothing happens at all

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, then transfer to the prepared pan. Bake for 300 pages. Remove before fully baked. Let cool until every single page is tepid, then throw out or give to someone else with very different tastes.

Am I being fair? No, not remotely. There is good YA paranormal out there. But to me, the good paranormal romances are the ones that diverge from the recipe. Or, if they follow it to a T, they manage to do something different or interesting with it. They have super stellar world-building or immensely likable, vivid characters. The Iron Witch, sadly, doesn't have either of those things.

And again. This book wasn't truly bad. It wasn't offensive, like so much of what I'm forced to read these days. Except for one tiny little thing about scars that I'll get to down below.

The basic gist of the story is this girl Donna, who is part of this secret world of alchemists, which is basically a secret society of iron wizard people who battle wood elves. That sounds cool, right? I mean, alchemy! Like Nicolas Flamel! The Philosopher's Stone and the elixir of life and... oh, we don't really get to learn about that? Oh, we have to have yet ANOTHER conversation with Xan about our scars and our pain and our pasts instead? Um. Okay.

I mean, it's not like Mahoney holds back on info. There's a loooong scene where Donna explains the entire setup of the world to her friend Navin, but it is exceptionally dull and we never really get to the interesting stuff, like how alchemy works. Also, they spend the whole book gasping in terror whenever someone mentioned a wood elf and eventually it just sounded rather silly. "No! Not a wood elf! Anything but a wood elf!"

Donna, of course, absolutely hates this secret and AWESOME world she lives in. She just wants to be normal and not special and not have crazy awesome superman powers because blahhh, that would be exciting. No. She's too tragic. Look, I didn't dislike Donna as a narrator. Sure, I found her boring and a little flat, but obviously she's had it rough. Her dad died in the fey attack that "scarred" her hands and gave her her powers, so every time she sees them they just remind her of what she's lost. I get that. But at the same time...This particular average girl, writing this review, would so trade in the banality of normal live to be part of a secret society of alchemists. I doubt Ron Weasley ever pitched a fit about being a wizard instead of a Muggle. Why would you want to be a Muggle when you can be a wizard? You wouldn't. It got tiring listening to Donna whinge.

At the ripe old age of seventeen, Donna had decided that "happily ever after" didn't exist for freaks like her.

She was so tired of thinking about it all; why couldn't she just have a normal life?

Why can't I have a heroine who enjoys at least one solitary aspect of her life beside the boys who happen to be in it?

This review is coming off a lot more negatively than I meant it to. There is some action, though I never got involved in it because I never got connected to the characters. The writing is decent, though I cringed each and every time Xan the sexy brooder's eyes were described as "veridian". Just say they're green, okay? Green is fine. (I blame Edward "onyx/liquid amber/ocher/topaz eyes" Cullen). But I sort of just skimmed along through the book, mildly bored, mildly interested, vaguely curious. Nothing really aggravated me (a first). I felt no desire to fling it across the room, or anything. I guess the only thing I really feel compelled to nitpick is the scars.

Donna hates her scars, thinking they brand her a freak. However, her scars are a result of some life-saving alchemic magic, meaning they are made of iron and silver, and they lattice across her hands and arms in an attractive, whorling pattern. Yeah. That's hardly the Mark of Cain you got, girl.
Good God, it's hideous. Kill it with fire.

Personal story time: I've got a burn scar on my leg. It's not born of any tragic past or anything. Voldemort didn't kill my parents, nor were they eaten by wood elves. Long story short, listen to your parents why they say don't play with batteries. Apparently I was a dense two year old who never got the memo. Anyhoo, I was never branded a freak or anything growing up. On the contrary, most kids didn't give a rat's butt about a stupid scar. But obviously, preteen girls are self-conscious about anything that marks them as different, and I subconsciously trained myself to always sit with my legs crossed to cover it, just to avoid the awkwardness of stares or having to explain (fun fact: I convinced someone once that the scar was from a full leg transplant. I led another person to believe I had been shot. I am an evil person). I'm not ashamed of my scar, but I would love to read a touching story about someone who is.

So on the one hand, I get that Donna was unconfortable with her "scars", and especially their loaded backstory, which my scar certainly doesn't have. BUT. Donna's scars are beautiful. I mean, look at the pattern on the cover. Gorgeous, right? So not only are they all swirly and pretty, but they're silver and shiny and give her super strength. So Donna complaining and brooding and suffering over them... it kind of reminded me of that friend we all have. You know, that friend who looks like a supermodel but who's always complaining about how hideous they are and agonizing over non-existent breakouts and all you want to do is smash a mirror over their head.

In the end, The Iron Witch is perfectly passable, decently dull, and forgettably flat. I wouldn't recommend it, necessarily, but reading it wasn't exactly painful, either. It feels very 2011, if that's even a thing I'm allowed to say and not get struck by lightning. Which is fitting, since that was when it was published. But basically, I closed this book with little more than a shrug before moving on.


  1. Well, that's a no to this book. I'm sure it's perfectly okay if you've not read too many paranormals, but I've read quite a few that were baked up according to the recipe you outlined, and they weren't my favorite to begin with, so I can do better than this.

    Also, I'm sick of the heroines who are totally blessed with specialness being all MY CURSE. Like, if you're actually cursed, moan away, but if you're all "I'm too speshul and everyone wants me and boo hoo" get the fuck out.

  2. Great review :) I'm sorry you didn't really love this book at all. Sigh. Love triangle drama. I remember wanting to read this book aaaages ago, but then I didn't want to at all anymore ;p Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts, though :D

  3. Oh dear. It always makes me sad when books like this fall flat! It is, admittedly, hard to please me these days when it comes to paranormal books (I just happen to know what I like, that's all!). But this one sounded especially promising - and it makes me sad that it's just pretty much forgettable.

  4. I adore your recipe! <3 It's so sad when a book just doesn't measure up especially when it sounds promising. I got super excited reading the synopsis and then I'm "meh."

    Yes, listening to one's parents when a kid is important, but not at the time. I have a scar over my left eyebrow because I was jumping on the bed and yes singing five little monkeys when I hit the headboard. haha I was five and yes, family members used my scar as a tool of "hey, don't jump on the bed or you'll end up with a scar like Jess!"

  5. I read the book and really enjoyed it!


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