Donna is a freak. An outcast. Branded with iron tattoos that cover her hands and arms, she is cursed with a magically-enhanced strength that she does everything she can do to hide.
But now, the dark exiles of Faerie are coming and Donna must choose between saving her best friend – or betraying one of the world’s greatest secrets.
Forced to wear gloves over the iron tattoos that cover her hands and arms, 17 year old Donna Underwood’s gifted with great physical strength thanks to the new hands made for her by the Maker (an alchemist and member of the Order of the Dragon) after she was viciously attacked by wood elves as a young child – an attack that killed her alchemist father and left her mother strangely affected.
Viewed as a freak by the students at Ironbridge High after “the Incident”, Donna’s lives with her Aunt Paige and is homeschooled at the Order’s headquarters in the town, combining normal school work with alchemy studies in the expectation that she’ll start as an Initiate when she turns 18. Her only friend is Navin, who knows nothing of her secrets but when he’s kidnapped by wood elves and replaced by a changeling, Donna must trust Xan, a Halfling raised in her world but who seems to have an agenda of his own in her quest to get him back. Doing so though means questioning everything she’s been brought up to believe and making a bargain that risks one of the world’s biggest secrets.
Karen Mahoney’s debut novel (the first of a trilogy) draws on the legend of the Armless Maiden to form a tale where faerie meets alchemy and a girl must find the strength within her if she is to win the day. The idea is great and I was really looking forward to reading this but for me the premise is let down by the execution.
There is a lot of telling rather than showing in this book and the exposition to explain the backstory is (for me) clunkily handled and largely consists of Donna literally sitting down to explain the set-up of her world to Nav. The key characters of Donna, Nav and Xan lack depth – Donna is conflicted and lacks confidence, Nav is the newbie who wants to know more, Xan is the mysterious hotty and love interest. While attempts are made to introduce conflict, the relationships are so cosy that little is at risk.
The plot itself doesn’t get going until almost half way though and with the set-up failing to hold my interest I had little invested in discovering the outcome. The book ends with a clif fhanger but on the basis of what’s here, I’m not that interested in reading the resolution.
The ideas underpinning this debut YA fantasy – specifically the legend of the Armless Maiden and the combination of faerie and alchemy promised a great deal and I really wanted to enjoy it. However the execution simply did not work for me – the text is exposition heavy, with the foreshadowing dropping like anvils and the characters too cosy to be completely believable. The book ends with a cliff hanger for the sequel but on the basis of what’s here, I won’t be rushing to read on.
Cross-posted to bookish, books, bookworming, fantasywithbite, urbanfantasyfan and yalitlovers.