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Ironside: A Modern Faery's Tale by Holly Black
Cover Artist: Sammy Yuen, Jr.
Review by Drew Bittner
Margaret K. McElderry Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0689868200
Date: 24 April 2007 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Webpage / Show Official Info /

In Tithe, Holly Black introduced Kaye Fierch, a restless New Jersey teenager, who becomes ensnared in the war between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Kaye discovers her faerie self and falls in love with Roiben, who rises to the position of Unseelie King.

The tale of Kaye, Roiben and many more continues in Ironside. The story opens with an episode from years past, when Roiben was given as a hostage into the hands of Unseelie Queen Nicnevin. He learns brutal lessons at her hands, his virtue twisted and his honor all but ruined. Yet he retains the ability to love, which may yet redeem him.

Back in the here and now, Kaye is at loose ends. Her situation with Roiben is distressing, for her low station would make a relationship with the Unseelie King scandalous. Nevertheless, she goes to his coronation with her friend Corny (aka Cornelius Stone) and endures cutting remarks, until, drunk and goaded by faerie gossips, she demands a quest to prove herself to Roiben. Shocked, he grants her request: she cannot see him again until she finds him a faerie who can tell an untruth.

This is a flat impossibility; faeries cannot lie.

Horrified at her rash deed, Kaye seeks solace at her mother's home in New York City, where an agent of Seelie Queen Silarial points her to a mysterious youth known as the Fixer. This individual proves to be Luis, last seen in Black's second novel Valiant. He works as a free agent for the Seelie, using his Sight and knowledge of faerie lore to help where needed. He is pressed into helping Kaye and Corny, after Corny assaults a faerie at Kaye's mother's concert and is cursed.

Meanwhile, Roiben finds his sister Ethine now works as a messenger for Silarial. The Seelie Queen makes an offer; she will forswear her war for a short truce if Roiben can overcome her champion. If he loses, he returns to serve her and the Unseelie lands are hers to rule. Suspecting treachery, Roiben ups the stakes and demands that Silarial step down and name Ethine her successor if Roiben triumphs. And if he loses, he forfeits his life.

Silarial seeks Kaye's help in forcing Roiben's hand, but their history is not a happy one and Kaye names a high price for her assistance. When the time comes, Kaye finds herself in a dilemma: even if she succeeds in finding a faerie who can tell an untruth, can she betray Roiben if it means her mother's happiness? Can Corny overcome his hatred of all things faerie—-a hatred that taints his friendship with Kaye—-before it consumes him? And can Luis find a way to save his brother, who was once hooked on the faerie equivalent of heroin?

These individual quests come together in a fateful climax, after which nothing can be the same.

Holly Black has become one of the rising stars of young adult fantasy. Her words ring true, whether they come from a faerie lord or an alienated girl, and her storytelling prowess grows with each new book. The subject matter she deals in is undeniably adult, but she has mastered one very basic but often overlooked truth: faerie tales are not about comforting kids. They are meant to warn children about the dangers of the world and prepare them to fight, with honor and bravery.

Kaye is a complex and fascinating character, at once a very modern teen and at the same time a pixie, equipped with magical powers that are almost entirely unsuited to solving her problems. (In a way, this is a great relief, because Kaye cannot find easy answers in using magic; indeed, it often only makes things worse.)

Corny is also deeper this time around. He has been damaged by his contact with the faerie, their casual cruelty leaving scars on his soul, and he wants revenge; how he sets about achieving it is very clever. Likewise Luis has grown up some from when we last saw him in Valiant, burdened with adult responsibilities and yet yearning for something more out of life.

And Roiben is a fit match for Kaye, no less deep and somewhat tragic for having been a paladin in ages past. He may or may not have feelings for Silarial, but her betrayal of him has left him heartbroken; Kaye is the only one who may be able to redeem him from the depths of evil demanded by the Unseelie hordes. But will the cost be more than he can bear?

It is always a pleasure to read Holly Black's work. It is not always comfortable or easy—-strong fiction rarely is—-but it is honest, sophisticated and elegant. Fans of thoughtful urban fantasy, be it marketed for a YA readership or no, will enjoy this book… but seek out Tithe and Valiant first, just so you don't miss the rich back story of these characters. (Plus, it's fun to catch the "walk-ons" made by characters from the earlier novels-- there's a lot of them!)

Strongly recommended.

[Note: the dust jacket to Ironside gives an incorrect URL for Holly Black's website; it should be http://www.blackholly.com]


Our Readers Respond

From Katie:
    Oh my god! I just finished reading Ironside a week or so ago. It was AWESOME. I had read all the Spiderwick books last year, which presently, I have the whole collection, including the Field Guide. When I first came across Tithe, it looked weird, but I decided to get it. It was awesome and I absolutely loved it. Then I got Valiant. I loved it. Then I recently got Ironside. LOVED IT. Yeah, so, I love Holly Black's series and I think she is an AWESOME writer. I hope she keeps writing more miraculous stories!!!
From: Sunny Solomon:
    It's the last one? That's depressing. I've ejoyed the books since I was about 12-13 (now 16), when Tithe first came out.Valiant was my favorite. The setting in each of Holly's books always grabbed me (I live in New Jersey). I remember going to the mall, and passing a bookstore with Ironside in it's window. I swiped it and bought it right away. I loved the book. So good. Really. Read it.
From: Alex O-H
    Ironside is by far my favourite of the three novels, which is saying a great deal considering the depth of my love for Tithe and Valiant. It read very much like the last of the series - what with the characters coming together, the culmination of all their deepest problems, and the fantastic closure at the end. Deeply moving, but reading the first two books is a must if you want the full effect.
From: Kaitlin Cronin:
    I so love the books they are some of the best iI have ever read... I just wish that this was not the last one in the series they are just so good.
      From: Victoria Harvel
        Well i feel i must first tell you my age, i am of 34 years now and have not read any fiction since I was about 12 years of age. I was in my local library one day and came across the Tithe...the cover is what caught my eye because I collect fairies and its really hard to find the ugly ones, as my husband calls them lol, but I do have a few in my collection, anyways the cover had a faerie on it and not the usual sweet looking fairies that are so easily found so I checked it out and once again was hooked on fiction. I wanted to tell you Ms. Black that you have brought this mid 30's woman back to a world that I had long forgotten and I wanted to thank you so much...your writing is so wonderful and real yet magical in the way that I have so needed in my life for a long time...I must tell you also that my husband,36 yrs of age, has gotten hooked as well on your work now and he doesn't read fiction either. We have both now finished the series and are trying to get our library to order the Spiderwick Chronicles so that we may fly off into another magical tale in which you have done a spectacular job in writing. My oldest son is 10 years of age now and we plan on introducing you to him so that he may begin the same magical tales that we have most recently wondered into and discovered, for himself. Thank you again and we hope to read more of your work very soon.

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