Rating (out of 5): 4 stars
Donna was attacked as a child by a fire-breathing beast. Alchemists replaced her scortched arms with iron, flesh and magic. She’s stronger, colder and from time to time the iron tattoos on her forearms move with life. The Order of the Dragon, the alchemist secret society her parents had belonged to, took care of her. They made sure she was protected and home schooled her at the Order’s HQ. She’s expected to learn the magic, the science and join the Order and the war with the fae.
Donna has the weight of her parents’ legacies and the expectations of the Order that she be the next big thing pressing down on her. She doesn’t even know if she wants to be an alchemist. No one has asked her. But they do expect her to hide her enhanced abilities stemming from her iron-laced arms. The duality of being expected to act based upon DNA, but hide other parts of the self is a nice allegory for teenage life in general. And Karen Mahoney manages to do it while keeping The Iron Witch light in tone.
As if her life wasn’t complicated enough, she finally meets a hot guy who’s interested in her and that’s when dark elves begin attacking her and her friends. Next thing she knows, she’s falling for Xan, her best friend is kidnapped and she has some new and serious concerns about the guys leading the Order.
Karen Mahoney brings together two people working against what others expect from them with Donna and Xan. We won’t spoil Xan’s surprise, but his heritage comes with gifts and prejudices equally. Adding in some less than involved adopted parents and Xan comes with his own baggage in accepting who he is and what that means for his future.
In other words, these two are right together. (Also, if Xan wants to take his shirt off more, we’d let him.) Their quick attraction feels legit and not just in a hot boy meets hot girl kind of way.
The Iron Witch gives tastes of alchemy, action and a sweet, blossoming romance. Mostly, though, the book is a great character study. Spending the few days spanned in The Iron Witch with Donna (and melting for Xan) was a delight. She may not kick as much physical ass as other YA heroines, but we expect someone will teach her to fight soon enough. She’s got iron arms, and we’re looking forward to seeing her step up and use them in the forthcoming sequel.
Sexual content: Kissing