I was intrigued by The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney because it a) had a pretty cover and b) was about a girl who survived a horrific fey attack. I was wary of The Iron Witch because I knew it contained a) two guys in the girl's life and b) alchemists. While this certainly isn't one of my favorite books I didn't end up hating it. The writing didn't work for me but I didn't have the problems with it I thought I was going to have.
Summary (from Goodreads):
Freak. That's what her classmates call seventeen-year-old Donna Underwood. When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed her father and drove her mother mad. Donna's own nearly fatal injuries from the assault were fixed by magic—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. The child of alchemists, Donna feels cursed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. The only thing that keeps her sane and grounded is her relationship with her best friend, Navin Sharma. When the darkest outcasts of Faerie—the vicious wood elves—abduct Navin, Donna finally has to accept her role in the centuries old war between the humans and the fey. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous half-fey dropout with secrets of his own, Donna races to save her friend—even if it means betraying everything her parents and the alchemist community fought to the death to protect.
I very nearly stopped reading after the third chapter of this book because it looked like Mahoney was using the same recipe as everybody else for writing a YA paranormal: take one lonely practically friendless angst ridden girl, add two boys (one should be a good friend who is supportive of her and been there with her through thick and thin, if this one can be of some other ethnicity so much better; the other should have a dangerous air, beautiful eyes that speak to the heroine without words, and also be friendless and angsty, if this one could be ridiculously rich and yet choose to drive a Volvo so much the better*), when you have these three sufficiently stirred up add in a whole mess of supernatural shenanigans for them to bond/fight over and watch as people become ridiculously interested in which boy the heroine should live happily ever after with once the bodies are counted. That is what it looked like I was in for, the first three ingredients were all in place. I forced myself to keep reading though because I have given up on several books in the past month. Turns out that while Mahoney used all the typical ingredients, she mixed them together differently and I was pleasantly surprised by those differences.
First off, this really doesn't look like there is a love triangle brewing to me. I think Donna and Navin actually really are just friends and both of them are on the same page regarding that. There are a couple of times Donna thinks Navin might be jealous of Xan and that makes her uncomfortable so she tries not to dwell on it, but it seemed to me that he was just honestly concerned about her safety. The interactions between Donna and Navin are very brother/sister like and not at all romantic. Xan and Navin act around each other a lot like a guy with a crush on a girl and that girl's brother act when they are sizing each other up. The book has its share of angst but none of it is romantic. (Well, except for the regular sort felt when two people are attracted to each other and starting a relationship.) Second, while Donna and Xan have one of those insta-lust connections that are oh so common neither of them confuse it as a sign that the other is their one true love for all time. Their relationship consists of one date, one kiss, quite a bit of conversation (gasp!), and then a lot of working together to foil the forces of evil.
Third, and to me the most important, Donna is nobody's doormat. Xan is not the super dangerous one in this YA paranormal. He does have something special about him, but Donna is the one with the super human strength and ability to kick monster butt. When either one of the boys try to order her about she tells them where they can stuff it. In the end Donna knows she is the only one who can face down the evil elves and save the day, and the boys know it too. They are not super happy about the idea of leaving her but they realize heroic intervention will only mess things up and they TRUST HER AND LEAVE HER TO DO HER THING WITHOUT INTERFERING. YAY!! It is really sad that this is so rare that it made me that excited.
I was also happy with the way the alchemists and their quest for immortality were portrayed. There are shady things going on and Donna's coming to realize she wants little to no part of it.
Given all that I might have really liked the book but for some things about the writing that didn't work for me. There are quite a few information dumps. They are disguised as journal entries and, once, as a conversation between Donna and Navin (12 pages long!), but info dumps are what they are and I found myself skimming a lot. The overall style was awkward for me to read as well. I had a hard time settling into the flow of the book.
While not something I would go back to again I would certainly recommend it to others who are fans of YA paranormal. The second book in the trilogy, The Wood Queen, is scheduled to be released in February of 2012.
*Xan really is a rich boy who drives a Volvo. And yes, I rolled my eyes.