Book Reviews

Review: “Ironside,” Holly Black

September 6, 2016
Review: “Ironside,” Holly BlackIronsideby Holly Black
Series: Modern Faerie Tales #3
Published by Margaret K. McElderry on April, 2007
Genres: Faeries, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 343
Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia

In the realm of Faerie, the time has come for Roiben's coronation. Uneasy in the midst of the malevolent Unseelie Court, pixie Kaye is sure of only one thing -- her love for Roiben. But when Kaye, drunk on faerie wine, declares herself to Roiben, he sends her on a seemingly impossible quest. Now Kaye can't see or speak to Roiben unless she can find the one thing she knows doesn't exist: a faerie who can tell a lie.

Miserable and convinced she belongs nowhere, Kaye decides to tell her mother the truth -- that she is a changeling left in place of the human daughter stolen long ago. Her mother's shock and horror sends Kaye back to the world of Faerie to find her human counterpart and return her to Ironside. But once back in the faerie courts, Kaye finds herself a pawn in the games of Silarial, queen of the Seelie Court. Silarial wants Roiben's throne, and she will use Kaye, and any means necessary, to get it. In this game of wits and weapons, can a pixie outplay a queen?

Ironside was a nice addition to Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series, but I’m not sure it’s quite ‘conclusion’ material. However, it’s been great to read Holly Black’s first YA series and see how much she has improved as an author as the series goes on.

 “You are the only thing I have that is neither duty nor obligation, the only thing I chose for myself. The only thing I want.”
– Roiben 

Ironside didn’t blow me away but it was still enjoyable. While not as dark and gritty as both Tithe and Valiant, Ironside is more faerie-focused and a lot more of what I expected this series to be from the start. That being said, with the loss of such ‘edginess’, it felt a little distanced from the first two books. Rather than sitting firmly in the signature grimy, urban fantasy, this one crossed the line a little into high fantasy when the characters resided in Faerie. It’s almost as if Holly Black had listened to the readers and scaled down what made Tithe and Valiant so unique.

I don’t think I’ve read a series like this before in terms of its structure. Ironside is the final instalment, with the characters from the FIRST book, Tithe, being the focus. It makes you wonder why Valiant even existed – the characters (apart from Luis) appear only briefly in the end, or are simply mentioned. What was the point? What did Valiant really add to the story other than teach us more about the world?

“The more powerful you become, the more others will find ways to master you. They’ll do it through those you love and those you hate. They will find the bit and the bridle that fits your mouth and will make you yield. ”
– Roiben 

I also felt that both Kaye and Roiben were lacklustre in this instalment. They had no edge, nor did their romance hold any particular fire for me. While Tithe is probably my least favourite in the series, I could at least appreciate each character’s ‘essence’. Both Kaye and Roiben seemed to be a bit like paper cut-outs in Ironside, simply following the story as it dictated their movements.

The story inside Ironside wasn’t fantastic, either. I was waiting for it to grip me – or for it to become utterly thrilling with the war between Unseelie and Seelie courts – but it never happened. Yes, it offered us some great faerie stuff, but overall it seemed like Holly Black didn’t know how to wrap it all up. And when it did happen, I was kind of like… is that it?

“I thought you were her knight, but you have become only her woodsman–taking little girls into the forest to cut out their hearts. ”
– Roiben

Regardless, there were some nice side-plots in this one such as Corny getting cursed and the kidnapping of Ethine. What I liked most about this book, however, was getting to see Holly Black’s signature style finally making itself known. It was the first book in this series to really ‘feel’ like a Holly Black story (as I know it from her later books) and I could see shades of The Curseworkers, etc. beginning to emerge.

All in all, it was an okay book. It was more faerie-centric, but I never felt like I was a part of the action. Ironside didn’t seem to have much direction, nor did it feel like a conclusion story. It’s not my favourite Holly Black book – or series – but it was a fun revisit to early YA. I’m so glad many authors since have gone to ‘faerieland’ and made some pretty top notch books since.

About Holly Black

Holly Black spent her early years in a decaying Victorian mansion where her mother fed her a steady diet of ghost stories and faerie tales. An avid collector of rare folklore volumes, spooky dolls, and crazy hats, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.

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