Sunday, April 3, 2011
Earlier this year a package arrived for me from London containing Karen's first novel, The Iron Witch (Flux Books). I was taken at once with the book's gorgeous cover and placed it uppermost upon my growing stack of unread novels. It has been a University of Pennsylvania semester, as most of you know, and when I teach memoir I almost exclusively read memoir (or books about memoir's forefathers). Teaching is a discipline; it is also a marathon. All around me, of late, piles of alluring fiction grow.
Still, in bits and pieces I would read from Karen's book, growing more and more intrigued by her protagonist, Donna Underwood, whose forearms have been branded, tattoo-like, with iron and silver and whose history involves a missing father and insane mother—all thanks to an attack by fey spirits. The Iron Witch is an urban fantasy, a composite of high school angst and shape-changing wood elves, first love and alchemical secrets, the pleasures of best friendship and the doubts that arise from being branded unnaturally different. We meet Donna just as her tightly guarded world begins to crack. As she slowly reveals her history (and the existence of dark evils and woodland threats) to both her best friend, Navin, and a beautiful young man named Xan, a terrible series of events ensue.
As a fine writer, Karen gives us much more than mere story here. She gives us carefully calibrated scenes and distinguishing prose. Take this passage, for example:
The two clockwork birds—the size of very large crows—were made from brass and copper and iron, with bright silver eyes and polished wings that reflected the natural light from the high windows. They arced and swooped all the way up to the workshop's roof, finally settling in the rafters with a click of metallic claws.Karen likewise yields, in The Iron Witch, real relationships—a friendship in which you believe and a romance for which you are rooting. It is no wonder, therefore, that this first book in a planned trilogy has been celebrated by lovers of fantasy and romance since its release in early February. Today I join that celebration, sending this blog (and my alchemical tulip) across the seas and across hours, to our new fantasy novelist, Karen Mahoney.