rating: 4 of 5 stars
Kaye, Corny, and Roiben are back in Ironside, the last in Holly Black’s dark YA fantasy trilogy. Thanks to numerous and subtle references to Tithe, I was able to piece together what happened without feeling too guilty about not rereading it and understood the timeline to Valiant a lot better.
After having won the Unseelie crown at the end of Tithe, Roiben’s coronation is about to begin. He steps up to a throne on shaky grounds: the Seelie and Unseelie courts are near to war with each other despite the uneasy truce between the two. Nicnevin’s dead and Silarial’s beyond angry, willing to do whatever it takes to win both courts for herself.
As Kaye struggles to remain loyal to her Faery self and the human world she was raised in, she makes a drunken declaration, goaded by cruel Faeries at Roiben’s coronation party. With her love declared, Roiben has no choice but to send her on an impossible quest to save her from being bound to both him and his court. In the meantime, the death of Janet, Corny’s sister, is still a fresh wound and in his attempts to heal, he takes drastic measures. He captures a Faery, using torture to glean vital information and intentionally provokes another into placing a Midas inspired curse on him. Now Kaye is on a mission: solve Roiben’s quest, un-curse Corny, and decide if it’s really the right time to let her mother know her real daughter is a changeling.
What I really like about these books is the casual carelessness and selfish behavior of Black’s Faeries juxtaposed against the humanity of Kaye’s world above ground. Ironside introduces Kaye’s final struggle to finally close the gap between her two worlds. As a teenager, it’s easy to believe life goes on forever; as a Faery, compared to human longevity, it might as well. To explain all of the weird, uncomfortable, and awkward changes of being a teenager with something as fantastical as being a Faery is a much better one than reality and a fantasy easy to fall in love with. Of course, teenagers never have inner personal battles about telling their parents, “hey, I’m a Faery,” but there’s loads of other dramatic adolescent moments that makes for difficult confessions and worrying over how parents will really react. One of the most touching moments of the book (and there are a few) was Kaye noticing the crow’s feet around her mother’s eyes, the lines around her mouth, and other signs of human aging. It pangs the heart to imagine, for all intents and purposes, being immortal and never having to deal with aging, but doomed to watch loved ones fall to that fate. As a teenager, it’s equally damaging to realize aging, and death, are a part of life. Parents will grow old and won’t always be there for us. Kaye’s shock is the shock of all youth when that cold realization hits, but what’s truly empowering is she never stops moving forward and ushers in a new evolution of an already existing relationship with her mother.
The characters from both Tithe and Valiant are brought together as their plots merge to finally make sense of each other. It’s both good and weird to read about Luis, Dave, Val, and Ruth meeting Kaye and Corny. Tithe and Valiant were such different books that it almost seems like a violation that their worlds should collide with each other. Combining the two creates even more of a dynamic between the characters as they decide how best to help each other.
Black deals with loss, love, friendship, and family. The most interesting relationships she writes about are the families. No one has it easy, there are no picture perfect Norman Rockwell families. The great ones are those we work hard at cultivating, making good of what we’ve been born into and finding comfort in friends, the kinds of families we choose to grow into. She’s very respectful of all relationships and for that, I’m incredibly grateful. It offers a warmth to counteract the cruel and wicked Faeries of the courts. The courts themselves have an aura of fantastical, dream-like whimsy and terrible, nightmarish beauty. I wouldn’t mind visiting, but staying is out of the question. Fortunately, Ironside and its predecessors are great places to mentally crash for a few hours if you’ve got the time and need an escape. The furnishings are probably all eco-friendly, too.
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