“The Iron Witch” by Karen Mahoney

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.

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Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy, YA | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on ““The Iron Witch” by Karen Mahoney

  1. Pingback: August 2012: A Month in Review | Books Without Any Pictures

  2. I picked up a copy of this at BEA as well, but haven’t read it yet as I often avoid starting a series until they’re all published. I have a feeling I’d end up agreeing with you in the end, the concept is cool, but the teenage drama is something I’m kind of over at this point and has been driving me away from YA. I’m so with you on the cool arm tattoo things though! They’re awesome! I felt the same was about lightening scars when I read Struck and the main character hid them–they look so awesome, why?!

    • And even if she was concerned about being different, the goth/anime crowd would have loved them. She made something awesome that should have been a mark of pride into a handicap that prevented her from reaching out to other people.

  3. Teenage angst makes me a little nuts sometimes, and inexplicable teenage angst annoys the snot out of me. Don’t think I’ll be reading this one (although the tattoos sound really cool!).

    • Mhm. I felt like the angst here was angst for the sake of angst, rather than serving a further purpose.

  4. Good review. I confess I wanted to read this some time ago but read a review which kind of put me off and your opinion now just adds weight to that one.
    Lynn 😀

  5. I had been wondering if this book was any good. Thanks for your opinions! Sometimes YA works for me, and other times I feel like I am too old for it and the main characters are too whiny and obsessed with themselves.

  6. I hate when my best friend gets kidnapped by wood elves. That never seems to end well. Too bad this one didn’t work for you. It does sound like it has a lot of potential. Ah, teenage angst. I so don’t miss those days at all.

  7. If I had those kind of tattoos now I would love them! Maybe I couldn’t exactly work where I work, but I would love them. I’m not sure that I would have been that eager to be that different in high school. I too was home schooled and I spent much of my teenage years trying to over come that stigma by appearing perfectly normal all the time. When that didn’t work, I gave in to the crazy. My sisters were much better at appearing normal.

    I wonder if Donna ever grows out of her bad habits and neurosis. Also, why’d she get a rather normal name like Donna? That would bug me. 😀

    • The tattoos were described as being so frickin’ awesome that I had a hard time dealing with Donna’s whining about them, and her defensiveness about her hands made her stick out a lot more than if she’d have just been like “Yeah, I’ve got tattoos. So?” It bothered me a lot. I do think that Donna probably gets a lot better in the next two books; once we got to the part where she was fighting wood elves she was a lot more likeable.

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