I’ve never read the original Iron Fey series Julie Kagawa is famed for, and as far as I can tell given my tastes, that’s actually for the best. The original books are a YA fantasy romance revolving around Meghan Chase, a human teenager who discovers that she’s the daughter of the Summer King of the Faery. Given that those novels were written a little over a decade ago, it should come as no surprise that there’s an obligatory love triangle between Meghan, her best friend Puck and the son of the Winter Queen. She picks Ash, becomes the Iron Queen etc. etc. There are admittedly a lot of cool narrative twists but most of the critical reviews of the series complain about Meghan and her relationship with Ash. I get the feeling that if I’d read those books, I would never have bothered to pick up The Iron Raven, which would have been a huge disservice to myself as this novel is pretty darn awesome.
It likely helps that Meghan and Ash are supporting characters here and that the focus is on Puck, the fairy formerly known as Robin Goodfellow, as he faces a new threat to the Faery Realm. He’s pretty much just minding his own business attending the Goblin Market when he runs into Kierran — Meghan and Ash’s son — who is now King of the Forgotten. The alluring moon elf Nyx, who turns out to be Kierran’s loyal bodyguard and assassin, accosts them with tidings of strange goings on in the Between realm populated by the Forgotten. Intrigued, Puck accompanies Kierran and Nyx to the forgotten town of Phaed, where an encounter with a fearful monster reawakens malevolent parts of Puck’s personality that he thought he’d long grown away from. Even worse, the monster gets away, slipping from the Between to the Nevernever of the faeries themselves, setting Puck and Nyx on a quest to warn Meghan and find help in destroying the monster for good.
In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of a particularly well-written Changeling roleplaying adventure, with lots of humorous banter, mystic powers and swashbuckling action. Puck is a terrific main character and narrator, with a ridiculously louche yet disarmingly self-aware attitude, who has to confront his own demons in order to win the day. I loved the many references to other established fairy tales (tho I did think it a little weird that the faeries of this realm seemed so ignorant of references to what was clearly a neighboring mythology,) and especially appreciated how Ms Kagawa built her narrative so that I was easily caught up to speed with the who and where of what was going on from past to present. I was also deeply appreciative of how the book wraps up its A-plot before going into the cliffhanger: TIR feels satisfyingly complete on its own, but I still really want to read what happens next.
The only thing I didn’t really care for was Nyx’s bizarre flirtation via knifepoint. I’ve read that that’s a criticism leveled at previous books, where Meghan falls in love with Ash despite him constantly trying to kill her, so I guess if that’s your thing then yay, here’s more! I wasn’t hugely enamored of Meghan and Ash in this book either — they do still read like your typical YA pairing, tho at least they’ve grown up some now — so won’t be looking up the previous novels despite my enjoyment of Ms Kagawa’s writing otherwise. I do really want to see what Puck does next tho, and am eager to read the rest of this particular series. Philosophically speaking, I’m not 100% sure I buy into the way Puck defeated the monster at the end, but this also wasn’t the kind of book I felt a need to put a lot of deep thought into. It’s a pleasantly escapist romp, with a fun, flawed main character who’s finally getting his well-deserved time in the spotlight.
The Iron Raven by Julie Kagawa will be published tomorrow February 9th 2021 by Inkyard Press and is available from all good booksellers, including
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