Review: The Iron Flower

The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

It's pretty darn hard to write this review without massive spoilers. But try, I shall.

The Iron Flower picks up Elloren Gardner's story right where The Black Witch left off. Elloren remains at the University in Verpax, still sheltering Marina, a rescued Selkie, and rooming with her friends, Diana, a Lupine, and Wynter and Ariel, who are Icarals. She still resists being wandfasted to Lukas Grey. And she is still drawn to the mysterious Yvan Guriel, who she's beginning to think is hiding more than she previously realized. Her affinity lines continue to strengthen and her feel for power moves beyond just earth and fire. While her Amaz friend, Andras, and Ariel try to heal the rescued military dragon Naga, Elloren ponders how to help her friend Tierney escape Council-mandated wandfasting and iron-testing, the unthinkable happens. Overnight, Marcus Vogel becomes High Mage on the Gardnerian Council, and events are set into motion that will change Erthia forever. If you thought the sexism, racism, and hatred were bad before, you haven't seen anything yet. Pogroms, genocide, and other atrocities begin to occur, all with the horrifying support of Elloren, Rafe, and Trystan's despicable Aunt Vyvian. Most importantly, the Shadow Wand appears at last. Its bearer comes as no surprise.

Against this backdrop of terror, with Mage Council Rulings one after another, each viler than the last, the Gardnerian Mage Council is poised to pass Vyvian's edict that would result in the execution of all Selkies. Meanwhile, Elloren is shocked to find that Marina is learning to speak the Common Tongue and has quite a lot to say. Elloren also finds out that her childhood friend Gareth has Selkie heritage, and that even in a university town like Verpax there is a terrible sex-trafficking trade in Selkies. Someone needs to help the Selkies but that would mean returning them to the ocean with their skins. Marina needs the help of Elloren and her friends to rescue the captive Selkies but how on Erthia is the task to be accomplished? It's going to require far more power than this group of student dissidents has at their disposal.

To try to find aid, Elloren is willing to risk leaving Verpacia in order to seek assistance for the Selkies in neighboring realms who are harboring other threatened groups like the Urisks, Fae, Kelts, and Smaragdalfen. While in Amaz she encounters her friend Sage, the Light Mage who gave her the White Wand, and who broke her wandfasting vows. Sage is hard at work trying to break the wandfasting spell that keeps her in constant pain, dulled to bearable levels by Amazian rune magic. (A point I can already see is going to be vitally important to Gardnerian women's future. I can think of more than a few wandfastings that need to be broken ASAP.) Elloren ponders yet again what role she can play in opposing Vogel. As the action ramps up, she finds herself having to make the hard choice to appear more Gardnerian in order to best help her friends. That path is fraught with danger since she looks so much like her infamous grandmother, the Black Witch, but appears to have none of the actual power of Carnissa Gardner to safeguard herself. Elloren is equal to the task as she begins to fight for everything she believes in. There are sorrows and losses in this book, but they only strengthen Elloren's resolve.

While I enjoyed this second book, I did feel that some of the plot points were less smoothly handled. There were plenty of further daring adventures with the varied band of friends. (Elloren's journeys, especially to Amaz, were fascinating. Forest's world building is just terrific. Even her choice of names provides delight.) There was also genuine horror. But I was less enamored of the love interest dynamic in this book and thought that if Elloren and her paramour said just one more time that they couldn't, shouldn't be together I was going to pass out from all the eye-rolling I was doing. We all knew how this was going to go and a good hundred plus pages of "we shouldn't, oops! we can't, oops!" was getting mighty old by the end. Also, the two big reveals of the book come in such short order, in the last twenty pages of the book, and at least one of them just felt unrealistic, since if Elloren saw him so unguarded, anyone could have? The other, well... if you haven't been expecting that since the beginning of the first book, you haven't been paying attention. I guess I was just expecting something with a bit more gravitas and I'm still wondering how it never happened before (view spoiler below).

Many things are still unresolved, not least of which is what Jules and Lucretia aren't telling Elloren about the fate of her parents. They clearly know something that Elloren and her brothers don't. And I have a few other questions, especially about that famous prophecy. Don't you ever wonder why the prophecy doesn't say anything about the White Wand and the Shadow Wand? I do. I want to read original prophecy and know more about who prophesied it. Because if history is written by the victors, it seems like prophecies are subject to the same kind of bias.

The Black Witch Chronicles continues to be a series that encourages young people to learn as much as they can about everything and everyone they can and to fight for what is right, while being pragmatic enough to know when they'll need help doing so.

"The Wand knows you have her power in your blood. It chose you anyway." - Sage Gaffney

I received an Uncorrected Proof of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Spoiler, if you dare: ....since she's been carrying around some premium wood for quite a while now....

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