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The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

May 18, 2011

If I had to pick one word to describe Karen Mahoney’s The Iron Witch, it would be atmospheric. The atmosphere and mood Mahoney creates are the book’s greatest strength, and they were enough to sustain my interest in her story through a lot of plot buildup and not much in the way of actual story.

If you’ve read the back cover copy, you’ll know that The Iron Witch is about seventeen-year-old Donna, who lives with her aunt after her father was killed by faeries and her mother institutionalized. It goes on to say that Donna’s best friend, Navin, is kidnapped by wood elves, as if this is the book’s main plot. And in a way it is, except Navin’s abduction doesn’t actually happen until about the last third of the book.

Despite this, the book still reads quickly. I kept waiting for Navin to be kidnapped, yet whenever I looked to see what page I was on, I was surprised by how much of the book I’d read. I was still anticipating the kidnapping, but I wasn’t impatient.

Mahoney has a lot of backstory to fill in, and I think this came at the cost of character development—I can tell you what Donna, Navin, and Xan (a hot guy Donna meets) do over the course of the book, but not so much describe who they are beyond the superficial survived-wood-elf-attack-and-wears-gloves for Donna, etc. I also thought the setting was a bit…ephemeral, I guess, in that it seemed more manufactured than organic.

My other major criticism of the storytelling has to do with the excerpts from Donna’s journals. They basically served as big infodumps that, in my opinion, could have been integrated into the story another way.

But, back to the atmosphere. While the above criticisms were definitely noticeable, they ultimately didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. The mood Mahoney builds, the pervasive but not overwhelming sense of foreboding (or maybe that’s just the wait for Navin’s abduction), drew me in and kept me reading.

Book source: public library.

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