Posted on January 2, 2008 by Monica Valentinelli
Ironside: A Modern Faery’s Tale Book Review
Third in a Series
Written by Holly Black
Billed as a “young adult” novel, Ironside is the conclusion to a three-part series written in the modern fantasy genre. I’ve chosen to write this review without providing spoilers, for those of you who enjoy being surprised. Although this is officially a “YA” novel, with several awards to boot, there are a lot of adult themes that are appropriate for mature readers. For those that make the distinction between happy fairy tales and dark fantasy, Ironside definitely falls within the realm of dark fantasy and, at times, is full of horrific scenes. I feel that these distinctions are important to make, simply because as a reader you should know that this novel is not a light and airy tale, fraught with happy brownies and delightful pixies. The fae within this series are akin to the tales of old; beautiful yet cruel, terrifying yet bound by their own set of rules.
There are two “courts” within this setting, the Seelie (or Bright Court) and the Unseelie (or Night Court); each has a King or Queen. Ironside is the third and final tale in an upheaval between the two courts. Each novel has a different set of characters involved in the tale, and Ironside wraps up loose ends with familiar characters from the other two, but you don’t have to read the entire series to enjoy the book. This book is about Kaye, a changeling who believed she was human, who (in the first book, Tithe) fell in love with the Unseelie King-to-be, Roiben, who is about to be officially crowned. Kaye’s emotions get the better of her, and she ends up making the “impossible” bet to win Roiben’s love: she needs to find a faery that can lie. Kaye has something to bargain with, however, for she holds power over the King-Elect: she knows his true name. In this world, names are extremely powerful.
The subplots within the novel flesh out the story and make this more than just a simple “quest.” Luis and Corny, for example are two characters that help enhance the tale because their problems, hopes and dreams appear to happen independently of the overall plot, creating a sense of uniqueness to the tale, even though they are integral to the story arc. All too often, “quest” stories can seem a bit contrived and while there is a slight sense of “Kaye needs to go here to do XYZ,” this story is really in the details, which is a sign of Holly Black’s skill as a writer since the language isn’t bogged down by the usual conventions.
Written beautifully in a clear and picturesque voice, faery and human characters are the primary reasons why this is an excellent book. Well-developed, not one character remains unchanged by the end of this story. As actions and details spin around the main cast, you get a sense that they are evolving: some for the better, and some for the worse. As a result, Ironside is a great novel that breathes life into modern fantasy and a fast read.
Although the book is over three hundred pages, size is pretty deceiving. The print is pretty large and the size of the book is only 6 x 9. I felt that the hardcover was a bit over-priced, at $17.00 for that reason, but the story is well worth it. This is a well-written, fast-paced tale that is perfect for an afternoon read.