03 February 2014

The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge

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.
The Iron Thorn was one of those books that I desperately wanted to read when it first came out because the cover was pretty, the dust jacket promised wondrous adventures, and everyone was talking it up on the blogosphere.  Yet, it was also one of those books that exuded some strange aura that kept me from buying it.  I think now that it was a small instinct telling me that this book would disappoint.

There were two things that kept me from getting into Aoife's story: Aoife herself, and the writing style.

When I pick up a steampunk, I expect a certain combination of elements: an awe-inspiring world, an edgy character set, an intriguing adventure, and I expect the writing style to reflect that.  So overall I want the impression of smoke and sharp corners and deep shadows.  Not the bland murkiness of The Iron Thorn.

To me, the writing style lent the impression of wasted space.  Though the plot moved forward in a logical cause-and-effect way, I was left feeling bored, as if I were reading words churned out just to take up a certain word count.  There was plenty of smoke, but no sharp corners.

So perhaps it was the writing style that made me dislike Aoife so much, but perhaps not.  I've seen Aoife described as "strong."  Hmm.  I think not.  A character who goes to the forbidden underbelly of the city at night and unarmed on the mere hope of finding someone to help her screams of her utter stupidity.  I do not see bravery or strength in Aoife's character.  I thought her flighty and childish.  I did not care about her, or her personal goals.

While those goals were outlined well -- find brother, avoid madness and incarceration -- and though everything seemed pointed towards those goals, I felt a lack of focus and attention.  I think it was mostly because I sincerely doubted she would get to her goals as a result of her creativity and determination and more as a result of convenient inconvenience and other people's help and sacrifice.

The one thing that piqued my interest, though, was the world.  It is a brilliant concept.  One, I think, that might have flourished more thoroughly were the writing a bit more finely honed.

Overall, The Iron Thorn did not inspire a love of steampunk.

Book Info
  • pages - hardcover, 492
  • published - February 2011
  • publisher - Delacorte Books for Young Readers
  • genre - steampunk
  • received via - Half Price Books
  • rating - 3/5
  • series - Iron Codex
    • The Iron Thorn
    • The Nightmare Garden
    • The Mirrored Shard