Endicott's Journal of Mythic Art about the fairytale "The Armless Maiden" and its different narratives called "The Armless Maiden and the Hero's Journey". That really got me excited. Anyone who knows, or refers to, the Endicott's Journal of Mythic Art deserves extra points for awesomeness in my book. Unfortunately, I must say, the awesomeness stopped there.
At age seven, Donna Underwood went through a nightmarish attack from the dark elves that killed her father and left her mother mad. It also left her almost fatally injured. Her survival was only due to the alchemical arts possessed by The Order of the Dragon's members to whom her parents belonged, which gave her iron and silver tattoos on her hands and arms. Now living with her aunt and ostracized from school the only thing helping Donna get through her days is her best friend Navin. But the dark elves are coming back into the city and are looking for something that she might possess ,and when they kidnap Navin, Donna will risk everything to get him back.
I am going to be honest here and say that I generally do not quite like YA paranormal books, with some exceptions, as I find that they often lack characterization, engaging writing (to me), and are too cliché when it comes to dealing with love stories and love triangles. I was hoping for this book to be different, but it wasn't. Not enough for me anyway.
Let me first start with what I like. I was genuinely intrigued by the world in The Iron Witch. I thought that the darker elves and the complex and mysterious (maybe even too mysterious as so many things are left open, probably to be revealed in the sequels) Order of the Dragon and its alchemical secrets, were a brilliant idea. That was for me the only thing that kept me reading.
The character of Donna had so much promise. She was strong-willed and loyal, and generally bright, but somehow fell flat. There were glimpses of her independent nature, especially in one of her journal entries, scattered through the book, where she rants about the patriarchal nature of The Order, and talks about wanting to study English and loving Daphne Du Maurier. I so wanted to know that girl, but instead I got a strong-willed girl who could never avoid blushing when her love interest brushed her waist with his arm, or was close to her in any way. Sure she felt silly, but seriously, nobody would blush and be embarrassed by these things when they are busy trying not to get killed. Speaking of love interests, the author gave us Xan. He is a nice older boy, who has secrets of his own (of course) but seems to care for Donna and at least doesn't feel the need to assert his masculinity over her. Unfortunately, he felt quite bland to me. While I am grateful that he is not one of those tortured, mysterious, dark but sensitive boys you sometimes (too often) see in those novels, he definitely lacked personality. But of course he is still gorgeous, with bright green eyes and nice abs. Donna and he liked each other way too fast, way too early in the book and I couldn't believe in them. At all. I caught myself rolling my eyes too often to ignore that fact. Navin was probably one of the most interesting characters in the book. While still possessing some sidekick clichéd characteristics, he at least was funny, loyal and more engaging than Xan and Donna. And bonus points for being a character of color. The three together are definitely reminiscent of the main characters in the John Hughes' movie Pretty in Pink. There could be a love triangle in the sequels. If that's the case, I hope Donna ends up with her best friend, even if he's not squared-jawed gorgeous.
There were other things that annoyed me like Donna taking three years to tell her secrets to her best friend, supposedly to protect him, then taking too many pages to tell him everything, and spilling the beans to Xan after only knowing him for two days. I couldn't wrap my head around it.
The plot was fast-paced and the book easy to read, but it was not redeemable for me. Donna's voice was not new or engaging, and the lack of characterization overshadowed the most interesting parts of the book that could have held my attention, and the love story took over any world-building elements that could have made me love this book. For me anyway. If on the other hand you are a fan of these books in general, I believe you will like this one, as I think the premise is at least a bit new.