"There is no pass or fail. There is only endure. Survive."
Julie Kagawa's epic Iron Fey series concludes with a point-of-view shift as Prince Ash assumes narrative command in The Iron Knight. The switch in perspective pays off as the royal son of Winter tries to gain a mortal soul. He will stop at nothing in order to join Meghan, his half fairy/half human beloved in the Iron Kingdom of which she is now queen. Since no fae can survive in a land of technology and metal, he is determined to forsake his birthright to be with the girl he loves. Yet the question remains - by becoming human, will he gain more than he is willing to lose?
In the final edition to the saga, Kagawa references some of the greatest literary passages of all time while creating something that is uniquely her own. There are shades of Tolkien in the endeavor of the group quest. Forming their own fellowship, Puck, Grimalkin the cat, the Big Bad Wolf and a girl from Ash's past (a surprising twist!) set out on a journey to the End of the World. Together, they believe they can help Ash in obtaining his desire. The single-minded pursuit to aid another is a theme that resonates from The Lord of the Rings giving The Iron Knight its heart.
Upon reaching their destination, the pilgrims are forced to run the gauntlet. A series of physical, intellectual and emotional challenges lay before them reminiscent of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. While Harry, Ron and Hermione faced a series of tests in the basement of Hogwarts, Ash and company are put through the ringer by a mysterious hooded entity. This guardian subjects them to giant stone dogs, a multitude of scorpions, fire-breathing dragon lamps and a swarm of clawing, grabbing ghostly wraiths.
The most intriguing is a room of mirrors that brings to life full-bodied clones embodying the worst features of a gazer's personality. King Ash steps forth from the glass to battle the former Unseelie prince. He is a possible future version of Ash where he fails at obtaining a soul and turns bitter for breaking his promise to return to Meghan. He ends up killing his mother and taking over the Winter kingdom. He even goes to war with the Iron Queen he once cherished. This evil Ash lies beneath the surface, and Ash knows he must defeat this inner darkness so that it does not one day overwhelm him. It is a fascinating plot device that draws out the full possibilities of Ash's character in a realistic, three-dimensional way.
The highlight of the book is when Ash enters the Testing Grounds. The cloaked figure takes on the persona of the ghouls in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. He forces Ash to endure the hardships of what it means to be human. The grim reality of having a mortal body that succumbs to pain, sickness and injury. A body that lacks the power and protection that the magic of glamour provides. The capacity of having a conscience where he is made to feel the weight of his past actions. A vivid account is given of Ash's former transgressions when he played with mortals' hearts and cared nothing for their lives. Finally, he's given a look at the life he could have with Meghan and their future son and what will happen when he grows old while they remain untouched by the ravages of time. The agony he feels is excruciating.
But what makes Kagawa a good storyteller is that she allows Ash to make the ultimate decision concerning his fate. What does he want? What can he bear to leave behind? What can he not live without? He is the master of his own destiny. He is aware of the choices laid before him, and what each will entail. He has his doubts, but at his core he knows what he wants his future to be.
Relationships are what drive a story, and unlike the previous three installments, Meghan only appears in a dream sequence, a fast-forward possibility and the conclusion. However, Puck steps in to fill the breach. His broken friendship with "ice boy" is beautifully repaired throughout the novel. Grimalkin adds his touch of knowing authority and dry sense of humor to the various situations, while the Big Bad Wolf fulfills his potential as the gruff protector. The girl from Ash's past (whose identity will not be given away here) adds a depth to the inner workings of the prince's motivations. She forces him to prove his unflinchingly loyalty to Meghan and whether his utter devotion is to her alone. She is a remarkable addition to an already stellar cast.
Overall, a fascinating portrait of a character that Kagawa dubbed her hardest to write.
The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa is available for $9.99 at Amazon.com and at JulieKagawa.com.
Thank you to Jenn for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.
Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.