What a turnaround!
If you tried to tell me a month ago I’d be a certified Black Witch fan, I would have been very worried for my future. Now I sit here quite excited for the next book in the series, and quite certain it’s good to have a bit of fun.
There’s still some negatives I’ll talk about, but on the whole I had a blast. The characters grew on me. I understood the large world better. The drama and storytelling was up a notch. It’s YA, but good YA.
I even drew fanart (possibly the first ever for the poor series).
THE HORSE IN THE HOSPITAL: RACISM PART THREE
I’m a fan, I’ve established, and gave this book a high rating. Still, we can’t forget the clumsiness of the last book, so let’s talk about how Iron Flower deals with this.
It’s notable that by the end of Black Witch, Elloren was already making huge strides in understanding her privilege, prejudice, and the world around her. She was a sheltered girl raised on racist beliefs who had to work to understand half of her knowledge is built entirely on lies.
Still, Iron Flower makes a point of being far more tactful about Elloren and her role in the world. She already was at the point where she felt disgusted by her people’s actions, angry at her government, and close to her diverse range of friends. Still, the book right in the prologue has her recognize that, while her own position has issues, many of the people she’s close to have it and have had it far worse. She puts her own thoughts into perspective.
Really, this right away was a very good sign, and the book really does ease its issues well. Of course, part of the problem with Black Witch was the general perspective of then-racist Elloren, and without it, we are seeing and understanding far better on the side of the oppressed. Elloren is an ally, yes, but she also understands this and risks and works everything to help her friends- who are not powerless without her, mind you, but appreciate what she can offer. It’s not a ‘white savior’ narrative, is what I’m saying.
Speaking of issues, this book deals with the homophobia concerns (which were never an issue honestly) by ramping up the gay. Elloren is still slightly surprised at first (hilariously, she’s surprised an Amaz woman, aka a solider in a country of only women, is a lesbian), but entirely supportive. She’s worried about her gay brother Trystan because her culture, and a few others, are cruel- she’s relieved to hear and see places where people are accepted.
Honestly, I actually thought for sure Elloren was going to kiss another girl while they were in the Amaz lands. There was a bizarre amount of tension between her and Valasca, and now I have a strange never-canon ship.
Anyway, the book makes great strides and careful care in portraying the characters and working with a narrative involving many oppressed/hated people, and also Elloren who is on their side. I think it’s all handled very well. I saw in acknowledgements sensitivity readers were used, and think that might have helped.
Like Black Witch, this book is kind of too long. It’s another meaty 600 pages, but like before it flows quite fast due to the engaging writing and story, even when not much is happening. Luckily, however, this book has much more happening in it than Black Witch.
While the beginning starts out with more trivial (and admittedly fun) family/romance drama, the middle section of the book is a quite involved quest centering on my favorite pick of the characters, and it contains a perfect amount of drama, action, and events. The girls head to Amaz land for a while, and this was easily my favorite part of the book. Beyond the sheer enjoyment I get from Sapphic Utopia, there’s a few interesting characters and developments in this bit, and a whole book’s worth of plot happenings.
The book is slightly, similar to Black Witch, episodic, but the episodes are longer and more meaty. There’s Yule Dance, Family Night, Keltlandia, Amaz, and then a bit I like to call ‘Aw Jeez’ AKA the climax. The various events do work together well, even if they have arc-like pacing, and in between the major events various outstanding plots (Lukas Grey, whatever is happening with Elloren and Yvan) develop.
The climax of this book (hilariously, starting around page 420 which is precisely 69% into the book) is brutal, long, and excellent. I got quite attached to some of the main characters, and seeing them struggle and suffer rather suddenly (in a way I both saw coming and didn’t) was prime. Unlike last book, with its ‘not really a climax’ climax, this is a proper series of events that sets up for the third/last book in a way that makes me hype.
(‘Too many cooks’ begins playing)
Like before, this book has too many characters. Admittedly the same, too high amount of last time, but there’s still a solid few new ones who hang around. I grew attached to some of them (mostly the North Tower Crew, AKA ‘My Gals’), and somehow managed to keep track of them all, but I do wish there wasn’t such a high number in the main cast. I suppose it’s more realistic for a rebellion to not just be six teens, but I would have preferred to get to know a few characters well than many, sort of.
The book is pretty good at giving me a rough personality for each of the many characters, though I don’t think I could diverge some of the minor characters from others beyond plot purposes. Still, Ariel, Wynter, Marina, and Diana are the strongest leads, and it’s wonderful to read such a girl-heavy YA book. The boys are more lackluster in personality, and also there’s far fewer of them- that’s actually pretty rare and awesome.
There’s solid friendships and bonds between the main characters, especially the North Tower Girls. Diana of course steals the show, with edgy Ariel close behind. I’d die for those two.
We do see and understand more of the other characters, of course, enough that I can vaguely like them too. Andras was a very late addition to the crew in the last book, but has more importance and focus in this one. I didn’t care for Yvan, but seeing him just chill with the others made him far more likable. Lukas became interesting, instead of ‘evil’.
Maybe it’s because I’m a strange bi/ace/aro-spec person, but it was surreal how pretty much everyone in this book was paired off romantically. Especially early on, when there’s a lot of concerns about pairings, pretty much everyone in the main cast had clear romantic interest in/was dating someone else, and also all these couples had barriers due to the current hostile political climate.
Let me list them off (not all of these are ‘seen’ but are hinted at, implied, said)
*not actually dating, implied or one-way
Not to mention the unfilled Lukas/Elloren and Yvan/Iris ships.
It’s surreal that the only characters without an apparent love interest is Gay Brother Trystan (he’ll find one next book!).
It seemed sort of like overkill, and unneeded, to have this many romantic relations. I mean, I’m in a relationship, so I get they are neat, but I still value friendship far above romance, and would rather seen some of these be based on that. Of course, I’ve marked a number of these ships aren’t dating, but it feels like its inevitable and slightly implied they will be fulfilled.
Of these, Ariel/Wynter most concerns me. I love both girls, and in canon Ariel tells Wynter she loves her. Wynter family-zones her. I think that’s a good, interesting dynamic, and I’m actually slightly worried they’ll end up together. Ariel loves Wynter for always supporting her and being there for her, but she’s been her only friend for so long, and I hope Ariel finds a new home and more friends and someone else to date, while still being super close to Wynter.
She’s precious to me, and I don’t want the mark of ‘inevitable romance’ to fall down on them. They deserve happiness and acceptance and Ariel would be best finding someone else.
Main romance, right.
Yvan grew on me more as a character in this book, so I didn’t hate his romance with Elloren. Of course, I still found him phenomenally not interesting, and the constant dialogue of ‘he pulled on my fire lines’ ‘I felt his fire’ ‘he raced through my affinity lines’ was… well, constant and non-titillating for me. He’s a good, helpful, caring lad, which I have to appreciate in my YA love interests, and the fact that their dynamic is based on ‘we shouldn’t date because we’ll just be driven apart by war’ is fresher than jealousy/deep secrets/other such tropes.
Still, I found him generally unappealing, but he’s decent. Nothing wrong with the boy, I suppose, though I do dislike how quickly characters in YA fall in love.
Other side of the coin is Lukas Grey, Elloren’s other love interest. Or, er, not. Refreshingly, Lukas and Elloren’s dynamic takes a major turn. He’s no longer a love interest, but rather a possible-ally/complicated relationship. He holds a very powerful position in the army that is marching in and taking over the land, right under the fascist dictator Elloren despises. If he’s on the rebellion’s side, that’s a wonderful help, but figuring that out is frustrating and difficult.
Lukas only respects power and believes everything is part of the cycle of history, and you best be somewhere advantageous, no matter what it takes. He is both a help and a concern, and while I think he’s more interesting than Yvan as a love interest, his turn to ‘dangerous ally…?’ was unexpected and quite welcome.
Lukas is the very problematic aromantic representation I never saw coming.
The Iron Flower addresses its issues, is honest in them, and then goes on to tell a fun, large, women-centric story about finding your place in the world, resisting a growing fascist government, and friendship.
Really, I sincerely liked it a lot, even if it was so long and so full of character and place names.
Only thing I must part with, which is ridiculous:
It takes Elloren two giant books, over 1200 pages, to realize she has magic- something the reader knows from the prologue of the first book. That’s just wild.