The Iron Witch (Book 1) – Karen Mahoney


When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed Donna Underwood’s father and drove her mother mad. Her own nearly fatal injuries were fixed by alchemy – the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. Now seventeen, Donna feels like a freak, doomed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. Only her relationship with her best friend, Navin, is keeping her sane.

But when vicious wood elves abduct Navin, Donna is forced to accept her role in the centuries-old war between human alchemists and these darkest outcast of Faerie. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous guy with faery blood running through his veins and secrets of his own, Donna races to save Navin – even if it means betraying everything her parents fought to the death to protect.

Donna Underwood wears long, velvet gloves everyday to hide what her classmates think are skin graphs. But really, Donna is hiding the swirling silver tattoos that reach from her fingertips almost to her elbows. These tattoos saved her life when she was attacked as a child, but her mother and father weren’t so lucky. No seventeen, Donna has trust issues and she feels like she can’t even confide in her best and only friend, Navin. That is, until she meets Xan.

The Iron Witch, Karen Mahoney’s debut novel, is a blend of the faerie and alchemical worlds. The beginning of the book is a bit slow, but provides back story and introduces the fascinating world of alchemy. Donna belongs to an ancient alchemical order, the Order of the Dragon, and hearing about her world is intriguing, but also realistic. Sometimes I feel like the faerie world is overdone, but The Iron Witch offers a new slant on the fey and doesn’t go overboard. Mahoney does a great job of balancing the real world with a magical one.

I found Donna to be a very likable protagonist. She’s never mopey. Anytime she starts feeling bad for herself, she catches herself and realizes that instead of sitting around sulking, she can actually do something. She is a girl of action. Even though she knows she’s not invincible, she’s also not afraid to take chances. I also enjoyed reading about her budding relationship with Xan. She’s taken care of herself for so long that it’s hard for her to open up to others. When she finds herself reaching for Xan’s hand when she’s scared, she realizes that although she might not need him to protect her, it’s okay to let herself be comforted by others. This realization struck me as very honest and mature.

Navin and Xan are very interesting characters. Navin sounds like the best friend anyone could ask for. The popular crowd at school accepts him, yet he always sticks up and looks out for Donna. Mahoney might be setting the groundwork for a love triangle, but in The Iron Witch Navin doesn’t come across as anything more than a friend. Xan is also pretty incredible, but also much more secretive than Navin. He’s gorgeous, of course, and his chance meeting with Donna at his own party is almost too much of a coincidence to buy, but I’ll let it slide because I like him so much. Donna’s feelings for him seem believable and I like that she repeatedly acknowledges that she’s only known him for a few days, so we know she’s not one of those idiotic girls who fall in love with the first green-eyed, golden-skinned boy they meet. Donna feels the way I’m sure any girl in her situation would feel and she has a lot in common with Xan, enough to build a solid relationship on. I believe Mahoney does an excellent job with character development in her debut novel.

The only things I don’t like about this book is that the entire story takes place in the span of about three or four days and the dialogue sometimes comes across as unrealistic. The characters sometimes speak in an elegant or forced manner that doesn’t fit with their personalities or the time period. Also, all of the action happens in the last sixty pages and is resolved fairly quickly. But one huge question remains unanswered, a question proposed by the Wood Queen, and I’m interested to see where the author takes this story. Now that Mahoney has established Donna’s world, I think her next book will be exciting and even better than the first. I’ll be looking out for it.

Pages: 289
Publication Date: February 2011
Publisher: Flux
Challenge: Debut Author
Rating [rating: 3.5]

Teaser Quote: “There was something about Alexander Grayson that was both strong and vulnerable. Like he had the best reasons anyone could want if they were going to wallow in self-pity, but he refused to do that. He wore his sadness with dignity.”

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