The Iron Witch is based upon a piece of folklore sometimes called the ‘Girl With Silver Hands’ or the ‘Armless Maiden’, among many other names, in which the girl’s hands are severely damaged and replaced with silver, though the details surrounding that change from story to story. Mahoney’s story follows a teenage girl called Donna Underwood who is not your ordinary teenager. Kicked out of high school, she is home schooled in the art of alchemy. Born into a secret order, she isn’t given much choice in the matter. She has to wear long gloves to avoid drawing attention to the silvery-iron intricate tattoos that her hands and lower arms are made up of. The story begins with her best and only friend Navin dragging her to a party full of people from her past at Ironbridge High, she doesn’t want to be there and so escapes to an empty room and finds her way to the roof where she meets Xan.
Initially, I wasn’t all that impressed by this novel. It took what felt like half of the book to get anywhere and it’s lucky that I’m so adamant on not dropping books unless I really can’t stand them because then I might not have got to the part that was a joy to read. Sadly, this really was too much of the book to salvage the rating, if the entire book was as good as the last half, it could easily have been a 3.5. I found throughout that a lot of the plot points were glaringly obvious to the reader while the characters remained ignorant, which was a little frustrating, and a lot of the dialogue felt forced and unnatural – mostly that between Donna and Nav.
The story itself, although a little slow going and could have used a few more twists, is excellent. As mentioned, Donna is born into a secret alchemical order sworn to protect the secret of immortality and guard the mortal world from that of the fae, who are pretty darn sinister. I wasn’t actually expecting alchemy in this book, I thought it was a faerie based paranormal novel when I picked it up for some reason, but I was pleasantly surprised. Since watching Full Metal Alchemist I’ve been intrigued by stories based on or including alchemy, so it was a nice read. While there was a romance in it, it didn’t feel quite so bad. There were no mystical powers drawing them together, no love at first sight, just your usual budding teenage romance.. as usual as a paranormal based romance might be. It was awkward and a little shy, and that’s great, that’s how it is. In fact, it was the times that Donna was with her love interest that her voice was the strongest in my honest opinion.
Throughout the book I found myself thinking that it would really have benefitted from being written in a first person narrative because Donna’s voice is so strong, we are seeing the world through her eyes. Her voice just works as a narrative because she comes across as any other teenage girl, having the same thoughts and feelings that any of us would have felt in her position, and in the process she does her darndest to keep away from the self pity. It’s a shame that it wasn’t a first person narrative. The imagery in The Iron Witch is brilliant. Mahoney really makes the world come to life.
While I didn’t find it amazing personally, I would definitely recommend it to young adult paranormal fans.