I have never read any H. P. Lovecraft. He’s been on my reading list, but as new books keep coming out his books keep slipping down the list. I think I need to move him a little higher though, because his name has been coming up everywhere lately, it seems. And I got to read a nice homage to him in this week’s book, The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kitteridge, which hit stores on February 22nd, 2011.
Aoife Grayson lives in the great city of Lovecraft, a steampunk-inspired town running amok with corsets, manners, and machines. Oh, and we can’t forget the Proctors, men in high places that control the town from the ever-lurking evil with an iron fist. A lot of the city has gone mad, thanks to the necrovirus, turning humans in best case crazy, and worst case into monsters that dwell in darkness and deceit. Aoife’s mother is one of the mad, as is her brother Conrad. Of course, nothing is easy, and in her family things are a little bit unusual. They have a different strain of the virus, which attacks the brain on their sixteenth birthday. Conrad rang in the occasion by trying to kill his sister, then disappeared before the Proctors could get their hands on him. With Aoife’s sixteenth birthday lurking around the corner, all she can feel is dread.
That is, until one day she receives a mysterious note from her now MIA brother, stating simply Find the witch’s alphabet. Save yourself.
With her best (and only) friend Cal, she sets off to discover what the note means, leading her out of the protected boundaries of the city (a big no-no to the Proctors). They hire an underground guide, the rough and rude Dean who lives his life in constant danger. The path? The home of her long-lost father, who hopefully might have some answers. And the clock on Aoife’s sanity is ticking.
As the story progresses, I noticed the seamless balance of danger, adventure, romance, mystery, magic, and wonderful descriptions which brought this story to life. There were some tense moments while trying to escape the city, and even more as they drew closer to her father’s mansion. The further they go, the more the truth leaks out, bits and pieces that the reader needs to tuck away until the picture becomes a bit clearer. The big reveal part-way through the book wasn’t what I was expecting, and I had a moment where I worried that once the truth was known the story would become another stereotypical YA book. But Kitteridge takes it in stride and adds steampunk elements to traditional magic, great introspection with the constant threats of danger, and lots of surprise revelations that I honestly didn’t see coming. That wonderful blending of ideas also meant that none of the aforementioned story elements dominated for too long over the others.
I also loved the way the author created the father’s mansion. New discoveries and inventions lurked around every corner, and it was great to see what Kitteridge would come up with next. A large part of the character development happens at the mansion, and this is where the reader really gets to know them intimately. I think it was wise to keep the characters in such a significant place for a good bit of the book, because this is where the meat of the story is revealed, and the setting only adds to the discoveries. The mansion is almost a character on its own, with all the hidden secrets it contains.
This book had the layers and depth I’d been missing from a lot of YA books as of late, and I am extremely impressed with the level of success in which the author pulls them off. This is a unique, fun, adventure story (with some nice romance thrown in) with lots of surprises, and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the story. This is the beginning of a series, which makes me happy; this is one story I’ll continue to follow. I can only imagine the layers and new depths the author will take the reader in the next book. If it’s anything like this book, it will be well-worth the wait.