A belated review today as life (and a falling apart body) has got in the way the last couple of weeks. The Iron Crown by L.L. MacRae was released last week, and is the first book in a new trilogy called Dragon Spirits. It is also an entrant in this years SPFBO 7 competition! It was a pleasure to read this book, and a massive thank you to Lauren for the arc.
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
Fenn’s first and only memory is finding himself in the middle of a forest, face to face with a dragon spirit mocking him, all knowledge gone apart from his own name.
Lost and confused, his only hope for answers is Calidra—a woman living on the edge of the world with her partner. Forced to return home when her father dies, Calidra has put off facing her estranged mother for seven years, and she begrudgingly helps Fenn, forging papers for him so he can avoid the Queen’s Inquisitors.
But her mother is the least of her worries when they discover an ancient enemy is rising again. It should be impossible with the Iron Crown in power—and Fenn is terrified he might unwittingly be playing a part in the war’s resurgence.
Surrounded by vengeful spirits and powerful magic, Fenn’s desperate attempt to find his way home might well alter the fate of Tassar, and every power in it.
There are Dragons.
That’s it, that’s the review…
No, I’m only kidding, although to be fair that could be the review because I have a major weakness for anything to do with Dragons – they were my gateway to fantasy, and it’s a love that has never faded and I love what L.L. MacRae has done with them here. Integral to the magic system, the Dragon Spirits felt a lot more Eastern in the way they were depicted, as guardian spirits that could bless or curse, connected to certain places or elements which are reflected in how they act. There was a lot of personality and variation to the Spirits, and each one felt unique which was wonderful to see.
While the Dragon Spirits were prominent, they weren’t the only magical creatures found within the world of The Iron Crown, and I have to say that the worldbuilding was definitely my favourite aspect of the book. It had that magical, almost whimsical feel throughout, and it was richly imagined and expanded out organically alongside the story, which is always one of my favourite ways to discover a world and MacRae leaves us with the tantalising feeling that there is more to come. Besides the Dragon Spirits, we also have Griffins – another creature I love to see in books and don’t feel that we see enough of, so to have them alongside Dragons was fantastic. The Myr are also fascinating, and I certainly want to know more about them, as despite the way they are often viewed and depicted I get the feeling there is more to them and I look forward to discovering if I am right or not in future books. As with the world, the magic is something that we discovered more about as the story progressed and the scale of the world expanded, and again it feels as though there is more to explore and learn, but it was a fun system to experience even at its current level.
The Iron Crown is a character-driven fantasy, with a large, colourful cast of characters that really fed into that feeling of an almost classic adventure-fantasy, with a fresh edge. The characters are as well-realised and individual as the world that they inhabit. I did take a little while to warm up to Fenn who is the first character that we encounter, and I’m not quite sure why I bounced off him to start with because he is a great character, and his thread is a driving force for the story and I ended up really enjoying him as a character – so perhaps it was just timing? Aside from that one – very personal blip – I loved this group of characters – and it would be hard to choose a favourite among them because MacRae does such a good job of establishing them as vivid, believable individuals as well as a party. They all have their own motivations and views on what is happening around them, and it is great to see how they are as shaped by the world and the situations, as the world is by their actions. I think if I was forced to choose, it would be between Torsten – who we meet a little later, but who was an intriguing character and Apollo again a character we meet later and has a roguish charm to him that is hard to resist.
The writing was great, and the author does a brilliant job of weaving together the worldbuilding, the characters and driving the story forward. There were a few predictable bits, but for everyone one of those, there were questions and a sense of mystery, the impression that there is more to learn and explore and I loved the breadth and depth of The Iron Crown.
The Iron Crown wraps up in a way that is satisfying for the first book in a series while leaving many questions and threads open for the rest of the series. As with the Myr, there was very much a feel of things stirring below the surface, as though we weren’t quite seeing everything or not the full truth, and it leaves you content with this book but wanting more of the story. There is already a prequel novella – The Citrine Key – out in the world, and I will be reading that soon, and to bridge the gap until the next book! Overall, The Iron Crown was a fantastic read with DRAGONS (I told you that was the review, didn’t I?), a beautifully realised world full of memorable characters, and full of adventure and whimsy…and Griffins!
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.