K. Bird Lincoln's Reviews > The Iron Witch

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney
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Feb 27, 2011

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The author writes in the afterword that this book was inspired by the many tales of the "handless maiden" (a heroine who loses her hands in some horrific sacrifice-ish way and then gains new silver or other metal ones and triumphs) in mythology.

So I guess I went into this story expecting serious, grim, trauma and angsty sacrifice a la those mythological tropes.

Unfortunately, what I got instead was a pretty average YA love triangle with fey and alchemy thrown into the mix.

Not to say that the idea/image of this book's particular version of silver hands (Donna Underwood as iron/silver alloy tattoos that go all the way to the bone as a kind of reconstructive surgery) wasn't way cool....I think I just didn't get drawn into Donna's particular mix of past trauma (lost parents and nightmares due to being chased through woods by dark elves and a monster)nor did the sacrifice really loom its head.

Donna Underwood has one friend; Navin, and is being homeschooled because of an incident at school with a bully. (She basically mangled a metal locker with her bare hands).

She's kept secret all these years the fact that she's grown up in a secret alchemical society and has these arms and hands that are superstrong (she wears gloves all the time.)

Oh, poor me, I am a freak, and oh poor me I have no friend but my most bestest tell everything to friend who is a boy who is also in love with me but I don't know that.

You get the picture.

Then she's invited to a party and meets Xan, a popular, gorgeous boy who not only likes her, but knows about the elves and magic.

Together they must find a way to defeat the elf Wood Queen when she demands Donna steal the elixir of life from the alchemists in return for Navin's life.

What gets me is that within the competent writing, somewhat cliched portrayal of high school (for once can a cute popular guy act like he knows he is cute and popular? And what is up with all the rampant bullying of "different" kids? When I was in high school different kids all hung out with eachother and had their own social thing going on, the popular ones didn't deign to notice them) and somewhat over-expository word building are great teasing banter between Navin and Donna, cool alchemy tidbits, and the start of a great story/mystery surrounding who Donna really is and what happened to her and to Xan in the woods.

Those tidbits are buried. And unfortunately the story only really gets going like two thirds of the way through.

While enjoyable, the book didn't reach in and wring out my heart like Melissa Marr's fey wickedness, or set to resonating my myth detectors in the way Robin McKinley's myth retellings do.

This Book's Food Designation Rating: An iceberg lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes that you eat most of the way down only to find the bacon bits and blue cheese crumbles gathered at the bottom.
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