Ironside: A Modern Faery's Tale
by Holly Black
Cover Artist: Sammy Yuen, Jr.
Review by Drew Bittner
Margaret K. McElderry Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0689868200
Date: 24 April 2007 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Webpage / Show Official Info /
The tale of Kaye, Roiben and many more continues in Ironside. The story opens with an episode from years past, when Roiben was given as a hostage into the hands of Unseelie Queen Nicnevin. He learns brutal lessons at her hands, his virtue twisted and his honor all but ruined. Yet he retains the ability to love, which may yet redeem him.
Back in the here and now, Kaye is at loose ends. Her situation with Roiben is distressing, for her low station would make a relationship with the Unseelie King scandalous. Nevertheless, she goes to his coronation with her friend Corny (aka Cornelius Stone) and endures cutting remarks, until, drunk and goaded by faerie gossips, she demands a quest to prove herself to Roiben. Shocked, he grants her request: she cannot see him again until she finds him a faerie who can tell an untruth.
This is a flat impossibility; faeries cannot lie.
Horrified at her rash deed, Kaye seeks solace at her mother's home in New York City, where an agent of Seelie Queen Silarial points her to a mysterious youth known as the Fixer. This individual proves to be Luis, last seen in Black's second novel Valiant. He works as a free agent for the Seelie, using his Sight and knowledge of faerie lore to help where needed. He is pressed into helping Kaye and Corny, after Corny assaults a faerie at Kaye's mother's concert and is cursed.
Meanwhile, Roiben finds his sister Ethine now works as a messenger for Silarial. The Seelie Queen makes an offer; she will forswear her war for a short truce if Roiben can overcome her champion. If he loses, he returns to serve her and the Unseelie lands are hers to rule. Suspecting treachery, Roiben ups the stakes and demands that Silarial step down and name Ethine her successor if Roiben triumphs. And if he loses, he forfeits his life.
Silarial seeks Kaye's help in forcing Roiben's hand, but their history is not a happy one and Kaye names a high price for her assistance. When the time comes, Kaye finds herself in a dilemma: even if she succeeds in finding a faerie who can tell an untruth, can she betray Roiben if it means her mother's happiness? Can Corny overcome his hatred of all things faerie—-a hatred that taints his friendship with Kaye—-before it consumes him? And can Luis find a way to save his brother, who was once hooked on the faerie equivalent of heroin?
These individual quests come together in a fateful climax, after which nothing can be the same.
Holly Black has become one of the rising stars of young adult fantasy. Her words ring true, whether they come from a faerie lord or an alienated girl, and her storytelling prowess grows with each new book. The subject matter she deals in is undeniably adult, but she has mastered one very basic but often overlooked truth: faerie tales are not about comforting kids. They are meant to warn children about the dangers of the world and prepare them to fight, with honor and bravery.
Kaye is a complex and fascinating character, at once a very modern teen and at the same time a pixie, equipped with magical powers that are almost entirely unsuited to solving her problems. (In a way, this is a great relief, because Kaye cannot find easy answers in using magic; indeed, it often only makes things worse.)
Corny is also deeper this time around. He has been damaged by his contact with the faerie, their casual cruelty leaving scars on his soul, and he wants revenge; how he sets about achieving it is very clever. Likewise Luis has grown up some from when we last saw him in Valiant, burdened with adult responsibilities and yet yearning for something more out of life.
And Roiben is a fit match for Kaye, no less deep and somewhat tragic for having been a paladin in ages past. He may or may not have feelings for Silarial, but her betrayal of him has left him heartbroken; Kaye is the only one who may be able to redeem him from the depths of evil demanded by the Unseelie hordes. But will the cost be more than he can bear?
It is always a pleasure to read Holly Black's work. It is not always comfortable or easy—-strong fiction rarely is—-but it is honest, sophisticated and elegant. Fans of thoughtful urban fantasy, be it marketed for a YA readership or no, will enjoy this book… but seek out Tithe and Valiant first, just so you don't miss the rich back story of these characters. (Plus, it's fun to catch the "walk-ons" made by characters from the earlier novels-- there's a lot of them!)
[Note: the dust jacket to Ironside gives an incorrect URL for Holly Black's website; it should be http://www.blackholly.com]