In the second installment of Julie Kagawa’s Evenfall series — the latest addition to the Iron Fey universe — the three main characters of the original series must return to stop the “new” threat (but in reality, an ancient species) of fey and their leader, the Nightmare King. Another war is coming to Faery, and the world is at stake. Ash, Puck, and Meghan reunite to battle more monsters and discover the roots of the conflict.
Along the way, Meghan and Ash must attempt to find their son Keirran and protect both their kingdom and the family they’ve created. While The Iron Sword is a continuation of the events set out in The Iron Raven, it’s told through Ash’s point of view instead of Puck’s.
The story and the threat of fey manipulating mortals towards evil through technology is especially relevant in this time and age, when social media can breed more discontent than it does satisfaction. Kagawa follows up to her previous books with the latest developments in how the internet is influencing modern life. It’s a strong grasp of subject material that again showcases Kagawa’s inventiveness and creativity in the universe that she’s crafted. As a whole, The Iron Sword is charged with exciting fantasy elements, as is custom of Kagawa’s vivid writing.
There is a downside to the story: when read as a follow-up to The Iron Raven, The Iron Sword lacks the distinct central voice that so enlivened its predecessor. This might be because of the shift in protagonist. Ash’s voice here feels comparatively less rich than Puck’s, in that Puck’s narration flowed much more easily. While the writing of Puck’s character seemed more effortless, one gets the sense that Ash’s perspective in this novel is somewhat strained. It’s an issue that was somewhat present in The Iron Knight (the fourth book of the universe narrated by Ash), but really comes to the surface in The Iron Sword.
This does make sense in the wider context of the novels — after all, fans of the original series know that Ash’s character is intended to be emotionally unavailable. He was a cold ice prince that had to suppress his emotions in order to succeed at court. That darker side of Ash is still there, and it’s something he struggles with throughout this novel. Yet it’s evident that Ash has grown to become more empathetic and caring as a husband and father. It’s part of why he was the ideal romantic interest in the first three Iron Fey novels; readers were able to see Ash’s changes over time as he fell in love.
It’s commendable that Kagawa wants to provide Ash with some interiority once more and to show that he’s more than just a cold and broody ice prince, literally and figuratively. He’s a family man now, and Kagawa makes a valid point of getting that across. It could be argued that Ash was more intriguing as a character, though, when readers didn’t get that inner sense of who he was. When only his actions and words were present in the books, Ash was enigmatic, his motives more of a hint than spelled out for the audience; he was more dynamic.
That’s not to say that readers don’t need to hear his point of view. But the way his inner thoughts were written in The Iron Sword felt repetitive: a never-ending variation of I love my son and I need to protect him, I love my wife and I need to protect her, and I thought I’d lost my dark side, but he’s back. It was tiring to read, and the narrative often got tripped up on these cheesy internal thoughts. Eventually, this led to a lull in the story’s actual momentum. In paradoxical fashion, Ash became more one-dimensional in the attempt to explore his three-dimensionality.
That redundancy is the main weakness of The Iron Sword, although Kagawa’s writing of the actual story is still as strong as ever. Kagawa has a great concept for this series. The idea of a different species of fey born of mortal nightmares is twisted, a necessary addition to the Iron Fey universe. Kagawa’s incorporation of the current digital world in the narrative is unbelievably insightful and all-around cool, and there’s a strong sense of when the human world intersects with the faery world. The imagery of the monsters is truly cinematic, and it’s very clear that Kagawa is a skillful visualizer in her rendering of action.
Of course, there’s something to be said about any novel that wants to follow up on stories in the existing universe. Sometimes, additional stories are too reliant on nostalgia. In these cases, such books feel more like an unnecessary extension of the original series, forced out, and wrangled into a cohesive storyline.
The Iron Sword isn’t immune to this dilemma; the return of prophecies and threats of a new king do occasionally come across as trite. Ash struggles with his dark side in this book, much like Puck did in the previous, and the conflict is perhaps overdone. Readers familiar with the Iron Fey will have witnessed the way the story unfolds more than once.
Unlike other cases, however, nostalgia wins in this one. After the events of the prior books, the characters are still alive and encountering new experiences. Rather than letting them fade out like the fates of the Forgotten in her books, Kagawa gives us a gift by returning to these characters. It’s a gift that, unlike many of the “favors” in the fey world, demands only a desire to enter the world of Faery again and enjoy what’s in store.
For our review of The Iron Raven, check it out here.