My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Disclosure: I am a colleague and friend of Laurie Forest as well as a devoted fan. If I didn’t love the book, I wouldn’t have read it, and I wouldn’t leave this review. I paid full price for my hardback copy.
Laurie Forest’s sequel to her 2017 debut The Black Witch extends the primary storyline and invokes new points of view to add to the epic scale of the conflict. Elloren Gardner is now firmly ensconced in the Verpacian resistance to encroaching Gardnerian rule. Her aunt has kept up the pressure for her to marry (wandfast) and the harassment of non-Gardnerians increases. Her small cadre of teen revolutionaries is secure and expanding, but Elloren finds herself caught between feelings for a boy she can’t be with, and her duty to the resistance. If she fasts to Lukas Grey, she might be able to turn him to the resistance, and make him a powerful ally. But her true feelings lie with Yvan, a Kelt whose secrets become harder to hide.
The action really heats up when the Gardnerian military cadets refuse to hide their prejudice, start riots, and attack members of the other races. Everyone makes an escape plan, and Elloren plans to stay behind to help whoever she can.
This book is an incredibly complex epic fantasy with an original take on fantasy races. There are so many reasons I wouldn’t like the Black Witch Chronicles: it’s YA; it uses stereotypical fantasy races like elves, dragons, selkies, amazons and so on; it’s overtly political, possibly even allegorical. But dig beneath the surface and you’ll find a well-written story with a compelling character and a compelling conflict at its heart. Thanks to Elloren’s hazy memories, we know she’s powerful, but she cannot access her power, leaving her at a disadvantage and feeling useless. The Iron Flower traces Elloren’s rise into her own power over the course of the Spring following the events of The Black Witch.
As for conflict, this is again, on the surface, the same conflict brought up by so many Tolkien-derived fantasy books of the nineteen-seventies and eighties, but Forest puts a twist on everything by introducing new races and giving unique qualities to the ones we’ve already heard of. At least two of the races, the icarals and the Gardnerians, are her own creations, and they are the most crucial. The final third of The Iron Flower reveals just how unique Forest’s creation is, and how far she has come in introducing and maintaining tension.
Laurie Forest knows how to build suspense, specifically tension, and Elloren’s growth to power is just one of the ways she does it. Other examples: what’s going to happen with Lukas Grey? What is the deal with Yvan? You’re going to find out. You may have your suspicions, but you’ll be surprised. And you’ll find all of that amid one of the most turbulent and troubling third acts I’ve read in a long time. Not predictable, not gentle. INTENSE.
The impression I had at the end of The Iron Flower (other than “WOW”) was this is an intense, complex epic masquerading as a YA fantasy drama. The choice of point of view gives an impression of the emotional intensity we expect for a teenage girl character (and yes, it verges on melodrama sometimes), but the conflict she’s embroiled in is huge, and she won’t be able to solve all these problems herself. At the end, we’re left with a character who’s embroiled further in the conflict, and further torn by the necessity of doing what’s right.
Read the book. It’s excellent.