Book review: “Ironside” by Holly Black

Ironsidebuy it
by Holly Black—her website
Recommended Ages: 14+

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Subtitled A Modern Faery’s Tale, this companion-book to Tithe and Valiant brings back characters from the previous two books in a climactic tale of magic, romance, court intrigue, and hard-hitting action. Once again, the Bright and Night Courts of Faerie collide against the urban backdrop of New York City and its down-and-out New Jersey suburbs. Once again, a spotlight shines on the spine-chilling side of fey creatures—the child-stealing, pain-dealing, backstabbing, amoral side of beings that are just like sociopathic killers except that they are unnaturally beautiful, they can’t endure the touch of iron, and they cannot lie. Fun, right?

Kaye, who only lately found out that she is a pixie who swapped places with her human mother’s real child, figured that things would go smoothly once her boyfriend Roiben became king of the Unseelie (or Night) Court. But really, her troubles have just begun. Tricked into declaring her love for him, Kaye is dispatched on a seemingly impossible quest: to find a faery who can lie. Since she cannot see Roiben again until she fulfills this task, this seems to be a cruel way to break up. Not that her life “ironside” (i.e. in the human world) is flowing any better. After Kaye reveals the truth to her mother, she fears her family life may be over too. Now she must make a deal with the devil—well, all right, the Seelie Queen—to bring the real Kaye back to the mother who never knew her.

Meanwhile, Kaye’s best friend Corny is still doing his best, without magical powers of his own, to exact revenge on the world of Faerie for the death of his sister, drowned by a kelpie. Corny’s anger issues get him in trouble when a faery whom he roughs up in a nightclub bathroom puts a curse on him. Now everything he touches with his bare hands, withers. On the upside for Corny is a gay romance with Luis, the boy who can see through magical glamours; which reminds me—in case you haven’t already picked up on this—that an “adult content advisory” is in order.

It’s just another service you can expect from the author who draped the dark, edgy, needle-scarred, smog-stained mantle of ghetto-ness around the shoulders of Faerie. It’s a story set in the no-man’s-land between things ancient and modern, grown and cast in iron: a borderland of shadow and conflict, of pain and change, of the small daytime struggles of ordinary people caught up within the epoch-making motions of mythical, magical beings. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. Rather, it is a stiff shot of an unusual viewpoint on fairyland folklore. Some day I would be interested to discuss, and maybe debate, with the author her take on this lore, the purpose it serves, the values it promotes. For now I can only appreciate the twistiness of the plot that unravels in this book, as befits the twisted characters vying for control of Faerie. If you find this trilogy to be all that and more, check out Holly Black’s other titles, including Doll Bones (coming in May 2013) and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (coming in September 2013).

This book was okay. Depending on the themes, you may or may not like this book. Give it a try…but only after reading Potter again.
This book was okay. Depending on the themes, you may or may not like this book. Give it a try…but only after reading Potter again.