I received a review copy of Karen Mahoney’s “The Iron Witch” while I was at BEA earlier this summer. The cover looked intriguing, and a book about alchemists, fae, and angry wood elves seemed like it could be a lot of fun.
Donna Underwood is a home-schooled senior in high school. Her father died protecting her from a magical attack when she was a kid, and her mother went crazy around the same time. Donna’s hands were wounded in the attack, but an alchemist named Maker was able to repair them, leaving her hands marked with iron and silver tattoos.
Everyone in the Order assumes that Donna’s going to grow up to be a great alchemist, but mostly she just wants to be a normal teenager. She’s had problems with bullies, and spends most of her time with her best friend, Navin. Navin drags her to a party, and she meets Xan, and for the first time thinks she’s met someone who who might understand her secrets.
When Navin is kidnapped by wood elves, Donna and Xan must work together to save him. Meanwhile, Donna begins to suspect that not everyone in the Order can be trusted.
I had high hopes for this book, because fairies are pretty damn cool. Unfortunately, this one didn’t work for me.
If my hands were covered with a trippy swirly latticework of iron and silver, I’d think they looked badass and beautiful. I wouldn’t cover them up with arm-length velvet gloves. Especially if they also confer super-human strength. Donna acts as if her arms were scarred and burned, not as if she’s got special awesome alchemical tattoos. The way she hides and gets defensive about her arms makes no sense, and it bothered me.
The book also has a lot of awkward teenage drama. Donna friendzoned Navin, Navin’s got a secret crush on Donna, she hides her relationship with Xan from Navin because …why? It’s not like she wants to date him, but the way she dances around telling him about Xan makes me feel like she’s deliberately leading him on, even though I don’t think that she is. I could still forgive this if I wasn’t so annoyed with Donna acting all weird about her arms, which makes me predisposed to question her judgement about everything else.
Aside from that, I actually do like the premise. A secret order of alchemists fighting wood elves from a parallel world? The iron of the city as the only thing keeping the magical folks at bay? Iron tattoos that burn through magical villains? Um, yes please. More of that.
I also liked the way that the story was told in third person but with interjections of Donna’s own voice through journal entries. It was a good way of tying up loose ends throughout the course of the book, and as a device it worked rather well.
“The Iron Witch” is the first book in a trilogy, but I don’t think that I’ll be reading the others. The writing itself was decent, but between the cliched romance and Donna’s irrationality about her tattoos, I left the book feeling underwhelmed.