Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Iron Thorn (Iron Codex, #1) by Caitlin Kittredge

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): 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.

And here's what I thought:  Two words:  Completely captivated.  I know that's not much of a review, so I'll tell you a bit more.  As you can tell from the summary above, this sounds like a dark book (I mean, setting it in a city called Lovecraft tells you something already).   It's got a completely steampunk feel to it, which I love, and it's dark, which I also like.  There are wondrous and frightening things that hide in the shadows, although none more frightening than the unknown -- and which might await Aoife, whose 16th birthday is coming soon.  She's driven by her search for her brother, but also by her need to understand herself.  And once she begins to grasp just what kind of talents she has, things become really interesting.

Aoife's a captivating sort of character; she's off balance at times, and faced with uncertainty, she sometimes stumbles.  I liked that she wasn't an overtly sentimental or emotional character -- she's logical and smart, puzzling out answers when things don't make sense.   She's got her friends Cal and Dean to help her, but really, she's on her own most of the time, especially in her battle to stave off what she fears is impending madness.   And speaking of Cal and Dean, they're interesting, too.  I'm not going to say too much, but these are two boys where first impressions don't tell you everything.  I initially was more drawn to Dean's rakish, street-smart personality, and was a bit impatient with Cal ..... and as I kept reading, I actually started to be more impressed with Cal.  While this is Aoife's story, Cal and Dean are well-written and developed characters, as well.  I didn't feel like either of them were completely predictable, which was nice.

The world this story is set in is a character unto itself.  There are certainly elements in it that are recognizable to our own world -- mention of San Francisco and Seattle, for example.  However, things are skewed -- this is not our world.  It's not really like this is completely set in the future.  Rather, it's a bit like the alternate world in Fringe (see the link if you've no idea what this is) --- it's like our world, but there are differences, such as the technology, or the buildings.  They have zeppelins, for example, which we knew once in our world, but don't have any more.  This lent a really interesting feel to the book, as I'd come across something I would recognize.   Things in this world can be powered by clockwork or aether (something which made me reflect back to some of China Mieville's works), but there's more going on than first meets the eye; there is some magic.  And, of course, this is dangerous, because in Aoife's world, anything magical is forbidden.  However, just because something is forbidden doesn't mean it ceases to exist....

What really made this an enjoyable read for me was the writing.  I'm somewhat familiar with some of Kittredge's other books, so I was expecting something along those lines --- and I wasn't let down.   She's an incredibly descriptive and evocative writer.  I made a lot of notes about certain paragraphs, or sentences, that I just savored when I was reading.  I also liked how the author worked a mix of real details (such as Charles Babbage, who invented the "difference engine") and folklore into the book - resulting in something not unlike the complex workings of a watch --- many small things moving together, creating a whole.  She gives us a shoggoth, completely expected in a city called Lovecraft, as it hails from cthulhu mythos.  She also works in Miskatonic University, which is a fictional university in the fictitious town of Arkham --- but it exists in this world.   Completely cool.   Here's an example of some of the writing I enjoyed: "Like one of Conrad's hidden picture puzzles, the Night Bridge revealed itself to me by degrees.  I saw the struts, the dark iron towers reaching for the bleak velvet sky, piercing it with sharp finials." (p. 77-78)    Or how about this:  "The raven's feathers gleamed liquid black in the cold starlight.  Their eyes blazed with yellow aether, burning up the night sky like a flock of sparks.  Their beaks were glass and their talons were sets of tiny gears and rods that clacked and grasped as they swooped in a low V over the river.  Their feathers were hammered aluminum, painted black, and their innards were marvels of clockwork that printed everything their burning eyes saw onto tiny lanternreels."  (p. 90)

This was a story that I became completely immersed in.  The quote on the cover, from Richelle Mead, calls this "A stunning, breathtaking novel."  Yes.  If you pick this up, I believe you're in for a wonderful read.   I will admit that at first, when it seemed like magic started creeping into the story, I was like, "Magic?  Really?  Is that completely necessary?"   But it's actually very cool --- it's kind of like one of those salted caramels -- sounds a little weird, but turns out to be completely tasty.

First sentences:  "There are seventeen madhouses in the city of Lovecraft.  I've visited all of them."

Thoughts on the cover: Dark and completely suited to the story. 

Please note:  This book is due out in February, 2011.  I received this book as part of the Book it Forward Arc Tours from Dark Faerie Tales.  Thus, any quotes/page numbers may be changed by the time the book is published in final format.


Jen (@ Jens Book Closet) said...

This book sounds AMAZING! I simply cannot wait for it to be released. Lately it seems that so many books are so similar, but this one seems different and that makes me so excited! Great review!

In the Closet With a Bibliophile
For The L♥ve of Reading

Jen said...

Wow -- fast comment! I just posted this! :) I hope you enjoy this one, too!

Linna said...

Thanks so much for the insanely detailed and thorough review! Seriously, I was excited before, but now I'm DYING to read this. The setting, world-building, characters, all sound so good... I'm going to have to set aside a good deal of time for this. :D

Unknown said...

You lucky lucky lucky goose. I am literally dying to get my hands on this book. Ok, I'm being melodramatic. *looks around* It is just us, possibly. However, I can't wait to read it.

If you are looking for something different stop by for a guest audio review of the Mortal Instruments for the Morbid Romantica Challenge 2011. We are starting off with
January:  Nephilim/Fallen Angels. 

Mad Scientist
Steampunkery & Book Reviews
Forbidden Steam
Where the Mad Scientist can be found behind the bed chamber doors!

Good Choice Reading said...

I have it sitting on my shelf for more than a month now and I keep looking at it like "should I?"

Great Review! Might have to read this one next.

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