I read a lot. I read a lot of YA books, and this alone means that I read books with the fey as characters. They’re popular right now so it’s hard to avoid it, and really, that’s not a bad thing. I am getting a tad dismayed at the prevalance of modern/contemporary/urban fantasy to the detriment of high fantasy, but since I also write modern/contemporary/urban fantasy I really can’t complain too much. (It’s not that I think there should be less of one thing, just that there should be more of the other). I think it speaks a lot of our need for mystery and magic and faith and hope in our currently culture and climate, the popularity of such tales. But that’s not what this post is about.
Browsing the libray shelves a few months back I came across The Iron King, the first book in a series by Julie Kagawa. Now, at first glance, the book doesn’t seem like it should be all that different from what else is out there. A heroine who isn’t nearly as human as she thinks she is? O.R. Melling has done it. Melissa Marr has done it. Holly Black. Oh so many more. It’s actually pretty standard, right? It’s the world shaken up and changed, it’s everything you thought you knew is wrong, it’s the current version of high fantasy’s orphaned boy who goes on to save the world, and we like it because it could happen to anyone. The sense of not-belonging is a large part of our experience, at some point in our lives.
The idea of fey being in the modern world, being in the urban places also isn’t a new idea. Courts fighting — that’s old as faery tales. Fey losing power as technology advances? Not new. (Well, that’s a bad point to make: there really isn’t anything that’s brand new anymore, and I don’t think that we tell stories just to hear something new, anyway). A quest to get an object that will stop whatever bad thing that is going to happen? Not even a little bit new. Furthermore, as soon as Titianna and Oberon are introduced as characters I tend to mentally turn off. Fey as characters are not generally my favorite sort of non-human folks to have, and those two in particular just bore me to tears.
And yet. I’d forgotten about this series after I read the first two books, until I accidentally spotted The Iron Queen on the shelves at the library. I can’t, even now, say what it is about this series that makes me like it the best of the ones I’ve read. Is it because Megan struggles to hold on to her humanity? Is it because of the interactions between her two friends and rivals, one of one court, one of the other? Julie Kagawa’s writing is very well done — I barely notice it at all while I’m reading the story, so there is none of the ‘let’s impress the reader with our mad word skills’ that can sometimes detract from the tale. (I enjoy mad word skills, for the record, but sometimes it gets in the way). I want to say the writing is simple (in a good way, mind you) except, it can’t really be and still manage to get into me the way it does. This series is one of my favorite series that I’m following right now, and the fact that I can say that and have the series be about the fey says a lot. So, if you’ve come across the books and thought about it, but weren’t sure, you ought to give them a go. They won’t disappoint.