Ethan, brother of Megan Chase, the Iron Queen, has spent his life hiding from the fae and hiding that he can see them. When they notice him, chaos ensues. School buildings are destroyed, people are hurt and he inevitably lands him up to his neck in trouble
This has left him friendless and isolated, determined to drive people away. It’s also left him a little bitter. Not least of which towards the sister who abandoned him
But when a half-breed at school disappears, he finds himself drawn in despite himself, he and Kenzie, a girl who refuses to be driven off. They may be the best able to take down this new threat – but on the way Ethan learns just how much his sister has been hiding from him
When I reviewed the Iron Prince I said that I wasn’t a big fan because I just didn’t like Ash. But it’s not just Ash. I just don’t like his character Archetype. I don’t like the broody, angsty, male hero whose every other thought is about how tortured and sad he is, how much his life sucks, what a terrible person he is, what a terrible person everyone else is, etc etc etc.
I also don’t like the broody, angsty, male hero who decides that, because of some curse or powerful enemy or sheer poutiness, that he can’t possibly have any friends or loved ones because they will get hurt. The whole “I want them but I can’t have them waaaah!” has been done often and every time I’ve read it I have loathed it. It leads to endless navel gazing, endless self-pity and when coupled with point one up there, it makes me want to tear my hair out.
I also don’t like the broody, angsty, male hero who thinks he’s cursed so not only is alone, but preserves his “protective” solitude by being a complete and utter arsehole to everyone around him. It is actually possible to be a loner without lashing out at everyone like a rabid warthog; no, really, it is. And then we have the inevitable female love interest who, despite the rabid warthog behaviour, finds him interesting and intriguing and keeps coming back no matter how he tries to drive her off.
To finish all this, we have Ethan also hating his sister for leaving the family to save the Nevernever from a multi-sided war leading to inevitable genocide. Which I could have dealt with if he then didn’t feel guilty because of that.
That last one I wouldn’t have made an issue of because it’s a very human reaction; we’re not all saints and it’s perfectly reasonable for a teenaged boy to resent the sister who abandoned him when he was a child in favour of a load of fae who have since spent his life making him very very miserable. It’s a very human, very real reaction
But it’s another layer of pouting, stomping petulance on top of an already quite large heap of pouting, stomping petulance.
Which is my main problem with this book – I don’t like the protagonist. It’s not necessary to like a protagonist to like a book – but it helps a lot to get truly invested in the story if you don’t want to slap the protagonist every other page.
There were elements of the book I enjoyed a lot more. I liked that Kenzie was very resistant of Ethan being protective of her. I like that she was adamant that she wouldn’t have her choices made for her, that he didn’t need to save her and that she didn’t need to be kept ignorant for her own good. I like the fact she was determined to live her own life, she was determined to make her own choices and she wasn’t going to let Ethan’s anger or fear or paranoia control what she did or got involved with. I like that she wouldn’t accept Ethan’s guilt for “getting her into this mess” since it completely removed her own agency in the matter. I also liked her story and her motivation – how it made sense for her to live as she did and demand to be part of the adventure. I liked that, even as she couldn’t fight, she intervened during battle, effectively. She was an excellent character.
I didn’t like that she and Annwyl both were used as hostages to force their men to comply, there was just a bit too much delicate female vulnerability going on there.
I liked that Ethan’s martial art’s teacher, Guro, was a POC and had some sense of culture and experience behind him that helped make this small character much more of a character in his own right – but, alas, he was just a small character providing advice and weapons to Ethan.
Like the rest of the series, there are no GBLT people – yet, despite this ongoing erasure, the book still uses “fag” as an attack for the violent bullies in the school. If you can’t be bothered to include even a token GBLT person in 5 books and several short stories, then you could at least erase the homophobia as well.
The story itself wasn’t bad – but it was a pretty standard quest arc directed very closely by a Deus Ex. It began shakily with the humans getting involved through near co-incidence of being noticed followed by some very typical foolishness with Ethan, Keirron and Kenzie running away on their own to solve all of the problems… somehow. How? Who knows (I also have to question why Ethan, fae hater extraordinaire, trusted Keirron even slightly). They lucked into tripping over the Leanansidhe and she then led them around like pets on a lead for much of the rest of the book.
The pacing was decent, there was little dead time and the world continued to be the excellent, rich experience I’ve always enjoyed. The Forgotten were a nice touch that drew very well on actions that had taken place in previous books, adding more depth and texture to the world building. I also liked the nuance presented – which has been a good element throughout the series. The bad guys aren’t just terribad evil monsters to be destroyed, there’s a rhyme and reason behind their actions that drives them more than evil for evil’s sake.
This is definitely a “your mileage may vary” book. My dislike of Ethan pretty much set the whole book back for me. However, if angsty, moody protagonists don’t put you off as much as they do me, the book could come in at a solid 3 – maybe 3.5 but the plot is a little linear and clumsy for that and it certainly precludes a 4.