Title: The Iron Thorn
Author: Caitlin Kittredge
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Series: The Iron Codex (Book 1)
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 492 Pages
ISBN-10: 0385738293 (Kids@Random)
ISBN-13: 978-0385738293 (Kids@Random)
Reviewed by: Emmy
In the city of Lovecraft, the Proctors rule and a great Engine turns below the streets, grinding any resistance to their order to dust. The necrovirus is blamed for Lovecraft’s epidemic of madness, for the strange and eldritch creatures that roam the streets after dark, and for everything that the city leaders deem Heretical—born of the belief in magic and witchcraft. And for Aoife Grayson, her time is growing shorter by the day.
Aoife Grayson’s family is unique, in the worst way—every one of them, including her mother and her elder brother Conrad, has gone mad on their 16th birthday. And now, a ward of the state, and one of the only female students at the School of Engines, she is trying to pretend that her fate can be different.
Quick & Dirty: This unique, albeit slow steampunk has deep characters with dark secrets and the surprising (epic) addition of fairies. (Sorry, “eldritch creatures.”)
Opening Sentence: There are seventeen madhouses in the city of Lovecraft.
I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting there to be fairies. Maybe because the synopsis says “magic and witchcraft,” I wasn’t expecting the “eldritch creatures” to be fairies. But they are. Really, super creepy fairies. So get excited, because they totally ratchet up the tension level when they make it into the story. Then there’s the necrovirus, which Aoife’s mother has. It consumes the infected’s brain until they become a “nightjar,” a horrible creature who in turn can infect someone else with just a bite. The Heretics of the story are the ones who don’t buy into Lovecraft’s propaganda about science, religion, and reality, but practice magic outside the law.
Aoife (pronounced, ‘eefuh.’ I asked Kittredge.) lives as a ward of the state because her mother is in a madhouse. The beginning of the novel instantly pulls you in…and then the pace drops to a snail’s. Around pg 150 it picks back up again; the in-between is filled with world-building and character development, but that doesn’t stop it from being slow. There are places where the novel has an Indiana Jones vibe—adventure, secret chambers, traps, and so on—that make the slow bits totally worth it.
The “Iron world” only has one truth. Scientific and dictatorial, it’s terrifying in the medieval aspects it clings to. Their punishments for heretics who don’t follow their beliefs—which are the only beliefs, the true beliefs—reminded me of the Inquisition. In most ways, the “Land of Thorn” is just a different type of scary. Unpredictable, its treacherous “Folk” are absolutely spine-chilling and the land is inhabited by trees that will swallow you whole to make you a part of them. The world-building is unique and deep and amazing.
Aoife’s time is running out. When she turns sixteen she’s going to go crazy like the rest of her family. The necrovirus lies dormant in their genes. The great thing about 500 pages is that the author has a lot of time to develop her characters. Aoife turns into a real person—not just another bada$$ YA heroine (though she is). She makes mistakes, doubts herself, has good and bad sides to her. But the part I absolutely loved about Kittredge’s characters is the way they grow. Cal and Dean start out looking like your average love triangle competitors, but when secrets get revealed you begin to wonder who’s really good for Aoife. All three—Dean, Cal and Aoife—had moments when their secrets surprised me.
Kitredge’s writing is incredible, which is one of the reasons why the books long, slow pace didn’t seem to matter while I was reading it. She’s very poetic, but her tone sets the world grim and dark. Usually when I read science fiction, I like a lot of detail because it gives me a chance to nerd-out over inventions and impossible gadgets. This book had the perfect balance of detail. I can’t wait to pick up the sequel! I have complete faith it will deliver—especially given the wonderful ending Kittredge put on this one. (And by wonderful, I mean horrible. Why are authors so mean?!) I look forward to more high-stake adventures with these fantastic characters.
“But to hear my father tell it in his writings, it’s not heresy—nothing born of the necrovirus. Nor are all of the inhuman things in the world, the shandy-men and nightjars and the abominations…they don’t come from a person being infected. They aren’t people at all…they came from the…the Land of Thorn. Wherever that is.”
Below, Arkham was ringed in fire. The mist too on an unearthly glow, living and boiling in the cauldron of the valley. “He calls it the Weird,” I said softly. “My father. And his father. A Grayson has had it, for fourteen generations. I…”
I might not be mad after all.
The Iron Codex Series:
FTC Advisory: Delacorte Press/Random House provided me with a copy of The Iron Thorn No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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