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Book Review: The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge

Woo hoo! It’s Saturday, and I couldn’t be happier! I’m that much closer to vacation and spending a sleepless plane ride taking down one book at a time from my to-be-read list! Don’t forget you can help me decide my vacation reads!

The Iron Thorn was my first ever steampunk novel, and I had high expectations. This book did not disappoint…

Title & Author: The Iron Thornby Caitlin Kittredge

Genre: YA/Fantasy- Steampunk

Release Date: February 22, 2011

Series: Book 1 in the Iron Codex series; Reported to be a trilogy

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

How I Got the Book: Bought

Description: “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.”

Overview

Aoife (pronounced EE-fa) Grayson is terrified of her upcoming birthday. She may go mad when she turns 16- just like her mom and brother. When Aoife’s missing brother Conrad sends her a coded note that simply says “Help,” Aoife suddenly has a lot more to worry about than visiting her insane mother and working her way up the ranks of her male-dominated school.

As Aoife and her best friend Cal speed off to find Conrad and some answers about her brother’s mysterious departure from school, Aoife’s internal clock ticks off the remaining time of her sanity.

Haunting, Dark & Suspenseful

Before reading The Iron Thorn, I could safely say that no book had ever caused me nightmares. Well, that reign has ended. Three nights in a row, I had weird and/or disturbing dreams. There isn’t any content that is overly extreme in the book, but the menacing creatures and the dark otherworldly beings really got to my subconscious apparently!

From the very beginning, the mood of the book is set: “There are seventeen madhouses in Lovecraft. I’ve visited all of them.” Spooky, right? From there, Aoife and Cal walk through thick fog, pass watchful crows and meet a daring travel guide, Dean.

This book is packed with action and doesn’t fall into the trap of a go-go-go mentality. There’s plenty of background information interspersed between running from authorities and escaping from ghouls. You know, the usual. :)

Book Mechanics

In trying to think about how I felt after I finished reading this book, I came up with one word: confused- but in a good way. This books raises a lot of questions: Why is Aoife’s family infected with a dormant strain of the necrovirus that causes madness? What happened to Conrad after he went mad and left the Lovecraft Academy? Can Aoife reach him before she succumbs to madness too?

A lot of answers are given, but then even more questions are raised. I really enjoy that kind of plot device. Just when I’m given the answer I’ve been reading 100 pages to find out- BAM, I’m left wondering what’s really going on all over again.

The only thing that didn’t sit right with me was how Aoife handles certain decision-making situations. Without getting too spoilery, Aoife has to decide to trust someone or not. Dean warns her over and over that this person cannot be trusted under any circumstances. Without very much reasoning, Aoife makes the exact decision Dean warns her against.

Aoife is touted as being a clever girl, and the decision she makes seems to fly in the face of that intelligence without much cause. At the very end of the book, Aoife makes another decision seemingly without realizing it.

Aoife is a strong character- she rejects conformity and stands up for herself throughout the whole novel- and to just sort of say, “Oh oops, my bad” at the end felt a little bit like a cop out to me. Even though that small aspect of the book bothered me, it in no way interfered with my enjoyment of The Iron Thorn.

Speaking of book mechanics…I loved the romanticized idea of steam technology. Aoife describes it best:

“There is a sound to an Engine, the particular hiss and clank of steam and gears that is like no other sound on Earth. It’s a heartbeat more than a machine, and it pulsed and thrummed through my feet, so that I felt it from my toes to the top of my head.”

Overall

This YA steampunk was riveting. The world is rich and complex, and I loved learning about how machines hold this society together. I also loved Aoife- she’s intelligent and strong yet vulnerable. She’s unafraid to take what she wants from a world that calls her weak just because she’s a woman.

The Iron Thorn is a well-written tale with a fascinating mix of mystery, machines and monsters that will leave you haunted long after the last page is turned.

P.S Confession- I said Aoife’s name wrong the whole time I was reading this book. I figured I should look it up to inform everyone else, but I didn’t realize just how off I was. Me= A-oh-fa; Reality= EE-fa. It reminds me of when I called Hermione “her-me-own” for like 4 books. :)


What steampunk books have you read and enjoyed?

About Lisa Parkin

I'm a hardcore lover of young adult fiction and have been reviewing books since 2011. Other interests include Downton Abbey, heat lightning storms, Harry Potter land and (begrudingly) one orange tabby.
  • http://essord.net Essord

    A very engaging review. I liked it. For a YA book it sounds rather non-YA in the way you describe it. Do you consider it YA or could it have been a normal SF novel as well?

    P.S.: Pronunciation in SF/Fantasy can often lead to troubles when talking about it with friends, but it all depends on the author providing such details, which rarely happens. Personally I think it funny when differences appear. I would never have guessed EE-fa myself either.

    • Lisa

      Hi Essord!

      Thank you! :) I think I would classify this book as YA because what typically defines a book as YA is if the main characters are in their teens. These characters are around 15 to 18 years old, and there are some elements that have a coming-of-age feel. That being said, I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone my age (20’s) or older. This has a lot to offer in general! :)

      I definitely agree about the pronunciation issue. I read a lot of books my Juliet Marillier, and she writes a bunch of Irish folklore re-tellings. There are TONS of Irish names, but she usually provides a pronunciation key at the back of the book. I guess it just depends. It does seem like characteristic trait of fantasy/sci fi books though!

  • http://melissa-melsworld.blogspot.com/ Melissa (My World…in words and pages)

    Oh, I want to get this one. :) I love Caitlin’s writing style in her adult books. :) So glad you enjoyed this one!

    • Lisa

      I saw that she has written other books too, but I hadn’t really heard of her before The Iron Thorn! I’ll definitely have to check those out!! :)

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