In the city of Lovecraft, the Proctors rule and a great Engine turns below the streets, grinding any resistance to their order to dust. The necrovirus is blamed for Lovecraft's epidemic of madness, for the strange and eldritch creatures that roam the streets after dark, and for everything that the city leaders deem Heretical—born of the belief in magic and witchcraft. And for Aoife Grayson, her time is growing shorter by the day.
Aoife Grayson's family is unique, in the worst way—every one of them, including her mother and her elder brother Conrad, has gone mad on their 16th birthday. And now, a ward of the state, and one of the only female students at the School of Engines, she is trying to pretend that her fate can be different.
Epic was my disappointment in The Iron Thorn, it was by turns boring, convoluted and confusing. I felt no real pull to any of the characters, and only loosely understood what was going on most of the time. All very bad traits in a book, but horrible traits in a book which you're hoping to entertain you for a four and half hour flight.
For starters, the blurb is not really truthful. I thought I was getting a steampunk book with madness. Not so much. The Iron Thorn is really a fairy book, with a touch of steampunk, and some dabbling in madness. How do those three things fit together you ask? Such a good question! Not very well, would have to be my answer. At no point did I feel Kittredge took her seemingly endless supply of disparate story threads and worked them together to form a whole. More like they were pulled into a messy knot, and left to be sorted out in the next book.
One of the greatest issues I took with this story was how things tended to cycle back in repeats of a situation, with no advancement of the plot or development of characters. For instance, Tremaine, a sinister member of the Folk, kept cropping up and threatening but each of his appearances were just more of the same without any new reveals. What is especially strange about Tremaine's story arc, was that after his first appearance he lets Aoife know she has a week to live up to her end of their agreement, but then he crops up two more times in less than 24 hours just to repeat himself. Why? It was never clear to me, but I was starting to feel like there was a glitch in my Matrix.
A convoluted story can be both confusing and mind-numbingly boring, but somewhat excusable in a debut author if they redeem themselves with characters you can invest yourself in. There have certainly been authors I've given the benefit of the doubt to, and carried on to book two because I loved their characters and the relationships they had built. Sadly Kitteredge didn't sell me on this point either. Cal is patronizing and annoying, and I spent most of the story (even after his big reveal) wondering how desperate Aoife must have been to make him her best friend. Dean was simply uninteresting, I mean at least Cal evoked an emotion from me, but Dean was just there. And his cowboy talk was ridiculous, especially once it's discovered he's part mystical creature of some fairy-type descent. Cowboy/Steampunk/Fairy/Madness tale was just two too many combos for the story. I can only imagine how much fun it must have been to fit this baby into a genre.
Most shocking of all was the Acknowledgments at the end, where Kittredge goes on to thank an extensive list of authors I greatly respect, including: Cherie Priest, Mike Mignola, and Holly Black. Although it seems some of these she's just quoting as inspiration, Cherie Priest and Tiffany Trent seem to have helped her at points with the manuscript. How this is possible is one of the many, many mysteries of The Iron Thorn.
It was such an intense challenge, and downright pursuit of boredom to finish this book I am greatly relieved I didn't buy book two when I picked up book one. I can't see myself ever becoming desperate enough to give it a chance. Though I would be curious to know if any of you have read it and found it an improvement on The Iron Thorn.
So tell me, what did you think?
The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kittredge
Published by Delacorte Books, February 2011