6 November 2011

Review: The Iron Thorn (Iron Codex #1)

The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kittredge
Series: The Iron Codex, book 1
Genre: YA, Sci-fi, Steampunk, Dystopia
Published: February 2011
Pages: 492
My Rating: 

This book is a Must-Read! It’s got something for everyone: steampunk, romance, adventure, dystopia, secrets, mysteries, great characters, monsters, strange worlds, faeries, a beautiful written story, a plot with unexpected twists…

Here’s the short(ish) version of the review:
* The cover seems very fitting, it projects the grim feeling of dark fantasy in the story, while bringing across the lonely feeling Aoife must have had many times, surrounded by those grey skies and spying Ravens. 5/5 stars
* Caitlin Kittredge has a very poetic writing style, beautiful sentences string the pages of this book together. However, the story wasn’t overwritten: I found every word interesting, every word was where it needed to be and added only to the plot and story. The style and use of prose enhances and complements the feel of the story completely. 5/5 stars
*The characters are very interesting and very real. They have good and bad qualities, they doubt themselves, they grow, they make mistakes, their relationships change. They’re actual humans, not just stereotypes, and you really care what happens to them. 5/5 stars
*The story itself has many different elements: steampunk, adventure, dystopian, mystery, romance, dark fantasy...
One minute you find yourself in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie with all the secret chambers and flying airships, the next minute you’ve landed in a grim, alien-like Fairytale world. Madness and alternate worlds battle over one another, which one is the actual reality? Never a dull moment, but all is blended together perfectly with some unexpected twists. The action is not too overwhelming, or at cost of the story/feelings/characters. The story puts quality over quantity (despite it being sizable enough with almost 500 pages) and lacks no depth, thankfully. The ending is not disappointing, it is truly epic in proportions. 5/5 stars
*The plot and the alternate worlds built here were immensely thought through and well described with many details. The whole thing has a dystopian feel to it and steampunk it definitely is. Slowly the story develops, with surprising twists that keep you interested the entire time. It’s kind of like reading an old-school adventure, with secret chambers, traps, airship-travels, and so on. Until the story takes a turn one did not see coming, seemingly unfitting the steampunk elements. Until the author made it fit, logically and extremely well. Convincing us of the strange reality of this strange world where time ticks to a different clock. Where there is darkness, there is light. Where there is reason, there is magic. 5/5 stars
*All in all I find it a very original idea, an original world. The real world, the ‘Iron’ world, is scary with its rules and demands. Dictatorial, cold, scientific; medieval even in the sense of punishing so-called heretics who do not accept their truth as the only truth. The ‘Thorn Land’ may even be scarier with its unpredictability; inhabited by corpse-drinking Mists, the treacherous ‘Folk’ and trees that could swallow you whole and turn you into part of them. 5/5 stars

Here's an even longer review:
Already in the first chapter, a dizzying amount of info is being dropped on the reader. Necessary info, for building the world our main character ‘Aoife’ lives in. The story is being told from Aoife’s point of view (in the first person). The city of ‘Lovecraft’, Massachusetts, is a grim place, with its 17 asylums due to the immensely consuming ‘necrovirus’ which has infected many people. One of those infected people is Aoife’s mother Nerissa, whom she visits her every week in the asylum where she is committed as a charity case. Aoife never knew her father.
The necrovirus slowly consumes ones brain until its victim becomes a ‘nightjar’: a ghastly creature who in turn can infect someone, after biting them.

Lovecraft runs on a big machine at the heart of the city, built by the ‘Master Builder’ who has become the ‘God’ of Lovecraft. There are strict rules provided by the government concerning what ‘aether tubes broadcastings’ inhabitants are allowed to listen to, where they can and can’t go, what they can read and what ‘religion’ they must have. Heretics are people who do not believe in science and reality, but practice magic instead. Therefore, they are severely punished (old style, by partial or whole burning rituals) for their ‘lack of ignorance’, when caught by the ’Proctors’. Ravens (mechanically engineered ravens who have the ability to recreate an image which can be seen my a magic lantern of some sorts) are the Proctors’ little flying spies.

Aoife and her best friend Calvin Daulton both go the Academy of Engines, Aoife as a charity case or 'ward of the state'. As a young girl she is not afraid to admit when she’s scared, especially now her 16th birthday is coming up. The necrovirus is latent in her family; Aoife’s brother Conrad has already been infected and was committed to an asylum after trying to kill his sister. However, he escaped. About 4 times a year he secretly writes her a letter to let her know he is still alive and ‘well’. When he sends her a letter telling her to go to ‘Greystone’ (their biological fathers house) in order to save herself and help him, Calvin and Aoife go on a secret mission. Will she find Conrad in time, or has he been lost for good? Maybe even dead?

After seemingly saving Aoife and Cal from becoming ghoul dinner because of their initially chosen guide, the attractive but illusive Dean Harrison leads them out of the city. Dean is somewhat of a mystery, a heretic in his own way, but very loyal when it comes to standing at Aoife’s side. Aoife is not sure what to make of him at first, a liar, or not? Here’s a quote from Dean that illustrates both Aoife’s doubts as well as Deans perspective on life: "A touch of truth makes a lie worth believing." Their journey involves places Aoife has only heard rumours about, such as the Nightfall Market, the ghost of a bridge that supposedly crashed years ago (taking 21 victims along with it…) and an eventful flight in an actual airship. Encounters with deadly mud-like monsters called Shoggoths, causing one of the characters serious (possibly lethal) injury by injecting them with the virus. The ‘mad’ flashes and visions are beautifully written; truly painful, poetical craziness.

The evolving relationships are written very believable and natural, the characters seem very real.
Aoife discovers and unravels more and more about her father; his strange, secretive clockwork driven house and her lost brother. When she learns of the ‘Land of Thorn’ she doubts herself even more at first. Could she really possess a power, a ‘Weird’, like her father before her? Or are these the first signs of madness, seeing how Nerissa spoke of the Land of Thorns as well? Aoife’s self-confidence and fear keep altering, the hope to find her brother keeps her going, even though the fear for the lurking necrovirus stays with her. Learning the truth, discovering who really is the bad guy, experiencing her father’s memories, realising nothing and no one is what it/they seem(s); all these things only seem to make Aoife stronger. She intends to fulfil the destiny which has been forced upon her in order to protect her loved ones.

The author really takes you along the journey of feelings Aoife develops for Dean, slowly but steadily. Since Aoife is afraid she has no future besides the one in the madhouse, she doesn’t allow herself to get involved with anyone at first, not even Dean. She doesn’t need distractions from her quest either, after all. But Dean is the first person who does not judge her for her family’s burden en believes her without a doubt. He’s an outcast, like herself. More than once he risks his life to save hers, mind you despite the fact Aoife is not your typical damsel in distress! (She’s independent, smart, brave, not afraid to speak her mind, good with machinery and doesn’t act the way a ‘properly brought up young lady’ should.)

Calvin finds it hard to believe in anything besides the Proctors’ truth and is convinced that everything happening to Aoife is just another sign of her upcoming madness. The way he looks down upon the ‘common’ people, even if Aoife is one of them too, is not a nice personality trait. The way he feels towards women’s behaviour and future may be considered ‘normal’ during the fifties, I find Calvins expectations degrading. I actually didn’t understand why he befriended someone like Aoife at first, because associating with heretics (Nerissa) is punishable and he keeps throwing that knowledge in Aoife’s face in one way or the other, practically saying she should be thankful to have him. I find him quite nasty and unbearable and cannot comprehend why he sticks to Aoife’s side. Until things finally become clear... He’s the guy you expect to turn on his friends in the end, because of his allegiance to his country/beliefs/so-called righteousness/whatever. (You know the type…) But maybe he is not what he seems after all…

I did not expect what was happening in the end. At all. Some important things turned out right, other things spiralled out of control into a huge, epic disaster.
The only downside I can see? The book ENDED. With a major cliff-hanger! I am seriously DYING to know what will happen to Aoife, Dean, Cal and even Bethina. What will happen to Thorn and Iron, though we saw disturbing glances already. I’m not ready to leave this world yet, to leave Aoife and Dean behind. I wanna go along with them on their journey and I certainly will, once the sequel is out. Which hopefully will be soon. Yesterday, if possible. Pretty Please, Caitlin Kittredge????

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