Donna Underwood is in deep trouble.An ancient alchemical order is holding her accountable for destroying the last precious drops of the elixar of life. Never mind the fact that Donna was acting to free her friend, Navin, from the dangerous clutches of the Wood Queen at the time. But what the alchemists have in store is nothing compared to the wrath of the fey. The Wood Queen has been tricked and Donna must pay. Get ready for all hell - quite literally - to break loose...
Karen Mahoney’s Iron Witch series hasn’t gotten as much attention as many of the other YA series based on fairy mythology, and I think that may be due to the Iron Witch hitting shelves after the fairy trend had begun to run its course, not because the series isn’t interesting or worth reading. As a lifelong lover of anything to do with fairies, I’m really enjoying Karen Mahoney’s take on fairies and the way she’s developed her mythos in this second volume.
As in the first book, I loved the way The Wood Queen combined fairies, alchemy, and the Maiden with No Hands fairy tale (there’s a good author’s note about the fairy tale at the back of the first book if you’re not familiar with it.) We see further development of both the fairy tale and alchemy themes in this second volume, particularly as they tie in to Donna’s relationship with both her parents and the alchemists. Hard to say more without spoilers, but I thought this was well done and intriguing.
As for the fairies themselves, I love the way Mahoney creates her own version of wood elves while still staying grounded in traditional fairy mythology. Her fairies are scary yet alluring, and wonderfully described in a way that ties them to the natural world. One of the reasons I like Mahoney’s books, particularly compared to some of the other YA fairy series, is that she includes evocative imagery without getting overly angsty/descriptive/romanticized the way some of the other books do. I also love Mahoney’s use of names for people and places—they’re simple but still redolent with fairy tale and mythological imagery: Underwood, Ironbridge, Winterthorn, etc.
I really liked the new character, Robert, who was introduced in this installment, and I hope we’ll see more of him. [Little thing, but why was his last name Lee? Kept making me think of Robert E Lee…] As another gay character, Robert reinforced Mahoney’s dedication to diversity of all forms in her books, which is nice to see, especially since she doesn’t place too much emphasis on it—it’s just there. However, as in the previous installment, I found myself wondering if it would be easier to connect with Donna herself if the book was written in first person rather than third. I’m really not sure, and on the bright side, the third person does cut down on some of the angst. I also LOVED the brief mention of the clockwork birds—can we please have more of those in the next book?!
My one major problem with the book, however, had to do with the plot…
WARNING: SPOILER FOR FIRST HALF BELOW
…Donna is given three days to save her mother from the Wood Queen’s curse. Given that time frame, I never felt like Donna’s behavior was quite urgent enough. When she should have been telling Xan what was going on and asking him for advice, she was kissing him and then watching him cook instead. I wanted to yell at her, YOU'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME! Especially on the last day Donna has to save her mother, I felt like the pacing was off—for much of this day I was unclear on what time it was, which should have been crucial considering the hours were ticking down.
In the end, though, Mahoney did achieve some nice dramatic tension and set up an intriguing new drama for the third installment of the series. If you’re a fan of fairy books and you haven’t checked these out yet, I definitely recommend you give them a try!