The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Harlequin Teen, 2010, 368 pages
When her brother is mysteriously replaced by a violent changeling, freshly sixteen-year-old Meghan knows she has to do everything in her power to get him back. As she travels into the world of the fey, she learns more and more about herself — things she had never even thought to question. No one is who they seem to be and histories Meghan believed to be true are false. Encountering mischievous folk and hostile situations, Meghan goes off in search of her brother’s kidnapper.
This has been on my to-read list for a long time, ever since I won a copy in a contest. (The contest in question involves drawing Roiben of Tithe by Holly Black.) I finally got around to it when I discovered the Arlington Public Library in Virginia had a digital copy available for loan on ereaders. To be blunt, it was a pretty big disappointment.
Kagawa had a hard time keeping my attention throughout the story. The pacing left me bored and I found myself skimming and even skipping some paragraphs. Despite the fantastical setting — and my usual adoration for all things Faerie — physical descriptions of settings and characters were lacking in something I can’t quite name. Perhaps it had something to do with a sort-of break from a lot of Faerie lore I’ve read in the past (my two favorites being War for the Oaks by Emma Bull and Tithe by Holly Black), but whatever the case, the descriptions and the writing style that delivered those descriptions just didn’t do it for me.
The characters, consisting mainly of Meghan, Robbie, Ash, and Grimalkin, presented somewhat original if a little one-dimensional and occasionally contradictory personalities. Kagawa also pulls from Shakespearean tradition with Oberon and Titania (of A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and, arguably, Grimalkin himself (from Macbeth). I wonder at the danger of using Shakespeare’s characters in modern Faerie novels. I’ve never seen it done in a way that I liked or felt fit, The Iron King included. Some characters suffered a short stick, in that readers are left with many questions about them. This may be a symptom of the fact that The Iron King is continued into several sequels, but the open-endedness of some of the characters felt inappropriate for this particular instance.
The traditional plot of the novel (hero loses something, hero goes on journey through unfamiliar lands to retrieve that something, hero meets a number of characters along the way) carries through, but is perhaps traditional to the point of being cliched. The whole atmosphere of the book contributes to its downfall as a plot and as a piece of writing. It comes down to a world that doesn’t appear to have a great deal of detail behind what readers are given. The world Kagawa builds feels structurally unsound and undeveloped, breaking the fourth wall almost entirely and leaving the reader with a constant reminder that they are reading a book, as opposed to experiencing a story.