The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa, 2010, Book Review

the iron king“We were born of the dreams and fears of mortals…” The fey, the immortal, the faeries–they’ve always been out there, but Meghan never saw them till the day she turned sixteen. The day they came for her four-year-old brother.

This delightful new tale draws from a pair of Shakespearean plays. Oberon, Titiana and Puck, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, form the heart of the Summer Kingdom in Kagawa’s new otherworld. Queen Mab, the fairy queen mentioned in Romeo and Juliet and other Elizabethan literature, rules her own rival court, the Winter Kingdom. Eventually, Meghan finally finds her way to Nevernever, caught between these dueling races. For she is Oberon’s daughter.  But using one last, obviously Shakespearean ploy, Meghan finds love where it is doomed to fail–in the opposing camp.

I loved this story, but it took me a while. When Meghan first reaches Nevernever, there’s so much shape-shifting, so many suddenly landscape changes, odd creatures and bizarre dreams that it turned me off. But I skimmed ahead to the part where she finally reaches Oberon’s court and her adventures truly began.

I am a true Shakespeare fan. Even after high school and college I’ve chosen to read many of his works for pleasure. (Not all yet, but I’m working on that.) So I was enamored of Kagawa’s idea to create a new world of familiar, dueling characters. Then she added her own touch, a third kingdom, a dark fey kingdom, born of dreams of science and technology that threatens to destroy the oldbloods.  A kingdom built of iron–the very substance intolerable to the ancient fairies.

Accompanied by two bitter rivals and a maverick cat (my absolute favorite character!), Meghan must seek her brother in this dangerous world.  She sticks to her guns when her integrity is tested and discovers a whole new side to herself she never knew existed.

On the downside, it seems I can’t find a YA book anywhere that doesn’t contain a host of foul language. And never has profanity seemed so incongruous in a story. In Nevernever, fairies fight with swords, and medieval costumes are the fashion of the court. Nevertheless, the fey can swear like modern rock stars.  It seems more creative, picturesque, even antiquated or funny expressions would have been in order. And again I ask, why do we market this stuff to teens? Or am I the only one teaching my kids not to swear anymore?

The book also contains some sexually suggestive moments, with clawing, licking, lusting creatures mindful of the orgies associated with the Greek god Dionysus. Particularly satyrs, a herd of whom chase Meghan at one point with the intent to rape her. I believe these moments are put in to give it an authentic mythical feel. At any rate, high schoolers can handle it with no problem, but I’d be very hesitant to hand this book to children under twelve.

The story of The Iron King is super, with a high-spirited, honorable heroine. Yet once again we’re forced to consider the bad with the good. What I wouldn’t do for a well-written book with clean content that I could recommend without hesitation to my own kids!

Julie Kagawa’s website lists all the books in this series.

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