Karen Mahoney – The Iron Witch

Donna is a freak. An outcast. Branded with iron tattoos that cover her hands and arms, she is cursed with a magically-enhanced strength that she does everything to hide.

But now, the dark exiles of Faerie are coming and Donna must choose between saving her best friend — or betraying one of the world’s greatest secrets.

The Iron Witch is Karen Mahoney’s debut novel. Set in the imaginary US town of Ironbridge, it is a supernatural YA novel, whose main supernatural element is the Fae. But these faeries aren’t nice, sparkly and shimmery; no, they are dark, twisted and very much creatures from your worst nightmare. The Iron Witch was a fun, immersive read that drew me in from its first few pages— as a matter of fact it did so again when I just went and looked something up in the text, before I knew it I was ten pages along just enjoying the story again!

Our main character is Donna Underwood. At seventeen, she’s living with her aunt, being home-schooled by the mysterious Order of the Dragon, which tool her in after her parents were taken out of the equation. But that’s not all that makes Donna different from your regular teen. No, what really sets her apart are her arms. They are seemingly covered in silver tattoos, though these tattoos go far beyond skin deep. They are what rescued her arms after an attack when she was seven, but in addition also give her an unnatural strength she tries desperately to hide. I really liked Donna’s character. Her past and her secret isolate her. Few people know her story and those who do are all adults, who, while supportive, just don’t get what it’s like to be a teen in Donna’s situation. She can’t even share her secret with her best friend Navin, as she doesn’t want to put him in danger, never mind having him decide she’s nuts! Despite this, she doesn’t get sulky and desperate, she just gets on with life and I really liked that. We get glimpses into Donna’s inner world not just through her regular viewpoint, but also through excerpts of her diary, which clarify events in the past and provide more background on Donna’s feelings. I liked this mode of storytelling, as it allowed Ms Mahoney to give us background information without it coming across as a major infodump.

The other two main characters are Navin and Xan. Yup, there’s a love triangle in this book. Which wouldn’t bother me a lot normally, but in this case, I thought it diminished the friendship that exists between Nav and Donna. Why can’t he just be her best friend without there having to be some kind of romantic tension or unrequited love there? Though, if I had to choose, I’d totally choose Navin over Xan. The latter was just a little too mysterious for me and while I see his attraction for Donna – here’s a guy she can be completely open with, as he’s got similar dark secrets as well – I didn’t like the feeling of insta-attraction I got from their interactions. Thankfully it wasn’t inst-love, that would have ruined the book for me, but as it was, the attraction between Donna and Xan was a little too immediate for me.

Another aspect of the book, which I truly loved, was the alchemy Ms Mahoney has included in her story. It centres on the Order of the Dragon, which her parents belonged too and which her Aunt Paige is still part of. In fact, Donna is being home-schooled by the Order and expected to be inducted into the Order when she grows up. I really liked the details the author included, she teaches us elements of alchemy, without becoming infodumpy.

I realise I haven’t really said much about the plot of the book, but that is because to do so, would easily lead to spoilers. Suffice it to say, the book keeps moving at a rapid pace and surprises are around every corner. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Iron Witch. If you like darker, supernatural YA, it is definitely a book you should check out. The good news is, if you do and you like it (and you will!), the second book in the series, The Wood Queen, was released at the beginning of February from Corgi.