A sequel to her first novel Tithe, Holly Black’s Ironside finds pixie Kaye caught between the world of Faerie — and the Seelie and Unseelie courts — and ours, the one she grew up in. Roiben’s coronation as head of the Unseelie Court brings with it war and estrangement from Kaye. The events of Tithe still weigh heavily on all involved, particularly on Kaye’s best friend Corny. You guys know how I hate plot summary, and this one is complex enough to not boil down easily without me spoiling it for you. It’s about family and friendship and pain and redemption. It’s riveting and dark.
As far as I’m concerned, this novel further cements the fact that Holly is writing some of the most compelling fantasies being published. These books aren’t just redefining faery stories, they’re helping stake out new territory in urban fantasy and in literary YA writing. These are brave, bold novels that achieve exactly what they set out to do — and it just so happens that, mostly, at the moment, no other books are quite doing what they are.
I often find that fantasy novels fall down on the issue of consequences. Too frequently, characters literally get away with murder with very little difficulty. The rules of the world may be such that the characters just aren’t made to suffer greatly, and yet are often rewarded with greater than great prizes. That is a recipe for boredom. For staleness. For disinterest. It attracts cliche.
Which is why writers should flock to these particular novels to learn how consequences — and plotting — are done. And it’s not by skimping on character either. I can’t remember the last book I read where the stakes ratcheted up in each chapter, without feeling like a phony escalation. Where the character’s betrayals of themselves rang so true; these characters have real flaws, not the idealized ones so common to fantasies (and other types of stories). Flaws that hurt. Holly is willing to put her characters through hell, unflinchingly, and that makes for good reading.
There’s no higher compliment a writer can give another writer than to admire their book so much they wish they’d written it. There are a handful of books I feel this way about. Books that I’ve reread almost as soon as I finished them. Ironside is one of those books. I’d call it perfect, but that would make it sound less interesting than it actually is. I’m even planning to write a paper on it, just for the fun of deconstructing the pieces to see more clearly how it all works.
Plus, this little bit on page 68 made me laugh and laugh:
Kaye rummaged around in the stacks of clothing until she came up with a dark brown T-shirt with the black silhouette of a man riding a rabbit and holding a lance.
She held it up for Corny’s inspection. He laughed nervously. "It looks tight."
Ellen shrugged. "It’s from a book signing at a bar. Kelly something. Chain? Kelly Chain? … "
Hear also: A recording of the prologue.