This book is about a girl and her boys. Meghan, our heroine, thinks she’s an ordinary high school student. Her friend, Robbie (also known as Puck), doesn’t quite agree. Their arch-nemesis, Ash, just wants to kill them both. Ordinarily, this is how I feel about love triangles:
But this particular story worked for me, and I think it may be because the romance was fairly light, none of the parties spent a large time waffling, and–while I wouldn’t say they had camaraderie–they all developed mutual, grudging respect for each other by the end. I think. Love triangles in which all the principles are likable go a long way towards assuaging my wrath. Take notes, aspiring writers, because this is how you make love triangles non-fury inducing.
While I don’t believe The Iron King is everything it could have been, it did manage to surprise me in a major way. Going in, I expected to like the funny, nice second lead better–you know, Puck, the student formerly known as Robbie–and rail about the heroine ending up with the wrong guy, like I always do, but Ash kept growing on me in his weird little way. If I had to describe Ash, I would go with “ice queen with a heart of gold.” Ice king. Ice prince. Whatever. In this case, literally (literally an ice queen. Not the heart of gold part). Since he’s a Winter fey and a prince of the Unseelie Court, he has ice powers and a fancy ice sword.
He obviously has issues, considering that his idea of a pick-up line is,
“I have to be on top of my game if I’m going to kill things for you, right?”
Barring his demented hobbies, which include killing stuff, part of Ash’s appeal may lie in the fact that he’s smart enough to be jaded by life and loss, whereas Puck remains completely comfortable with the casual cruelty in fey society. So is Ash, for that matter, but at least everything he does is weighed on a scale and assessed, not the next in a string of oh-so-hilarious pranks. Wait, is planning out misdeeds better than committing them for the hell of it?
Huh. Anyway, casual cruelty in fey society. Yes, that is a way better topic than which guy Meghan should pick and why. (On the other hand, what else do we read these books FOR?) Ahem, moving on. The fey are terribly shallow in The Iron King, as in the old myths. They drink enchanted wine, they chase humans for brief flings, they have lots of half-fey children who will never be accepted in the human world or the faeries’ realm, and they never weary of this behavior even after hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The humans don’t seem to have a say in these relationships; both a fey character and his human one night stand describe sexual encounters as dream-like and not real. But guess which one ends up with the baby.
All of the humans that Meghan sees ensnared by faery magic don’t seem to be aware of what’s going on, either.
Sitting at the foot of a chair was a human…, his eyes blank and bemused. He was shirtless, and a golden collar encircled his neck…. The group of fey girls swarmed around him, kissing his bare shoulders, rubbing their hands over his chest, whispering things in his ear. One of them ran a pink tongue up his neck, her fingernails drawing bloody gouges down his back, making him arch with ecstasy.
Does all of that seem just a wee bit non-consensual to you?
The fey are also emotion-feeders. They live off human creativity, seeking out extraordinary mortals so they can absorb their imagination and hopes and fears, which fuels “glamour,” the stuff faery dreams are made of.
So, we have a very dark backdrop. That’s fine. I like dark fantasy. I even write dark fantasy! But an author can’t just establish a lovely, twisted society and then leave me hanging with no discussion of the unsavory parts. When Meghan has to use glamour, she doesn’t think twice. Those are other people’s emotions you’re sapping! THINK ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS, DAMN IT. I’m not saying Meghan should go hide in a cave from the bad faeries, of course not, but can we please have some reflection before she drains some poor soul of its feelings? Meghan was seriously disturbed by the faeries’ world, yes, but it was mostly in reaction to goblins trying to eat her, not the basic underpinnings of the society itself.
Instead of a plot line to suit the story, we get a traditional fantasy narrative that doesn’t mesh with the setting. Meghan realizes that she’s special, she gets help defeating the villain, but ultimately she does it alone, and she comes to terms with her heritage. I didn’t want that story. I wanted a story that was darker, more mysterious, more ambiguous. Sadly, it was not, but I still found it worth reading. Why? Because Ash, duh. Turns out, all it takes to dethaw an ice queen is love. Who could have predicted that? Not only that, but Meghan is pretty cool too when she’s not being controlled by the Standard Fantasy Plot TM.
By the way, is dethaw a word? Please let me know.