Book Reviews, Fantasy

Review: The Iron Crown by L.L. MacRae

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. 

First of all, how stunning is the cover for this book? I’d want it on my shelf just for that, but the premise of the story also sounded incredibly interesting, and I’m a sucker for anything involving dragons, and these dragons are particularly cool! In fact, I’d say the world building for The Iron Crown is some of the best in my recent reads. Macrae has a vivid imagination, and she’s skilfully translated that to the page to create a fascinating world: dragon spirits arise from natural landmarks such as lakes, forests, mountains, etc, and grow in power based on the size of their environment as well as the worship they receive from humans. The most powerful dragon spirit is Toriaken, and because he inhabits iron, his reach is vast and his bond with the Queen allowed her to expand and create her kingdom.

Dragon spirits can also choose to bless an individual, who can then harness some of the spirit’s power, though the spirit can also exert their influence to achieve their own means. We meet such a dragon in the very first pages, when the protagonist Fenn awakens in a forest, and finds himself sinking into a bog. In trying to free himself, he attracts the attention of Hassen, the dragon spirit of the Isle of Salt, and I simply love the way he embodies his kingdom.

‘Its skin was mottled green, like the forest around it, with darker stippling along its back and legs. Its wings were thin and membranous, the pattern on its skin identical to the tree’s leaves. Four large horns protruded from the back of its head, and long, green vines dangled between them.’

Though we don’t spend much time with Hassen, his influence continues throughout the book, when Fenn meets Calidra and Jisyel, who live on the Isle of Salt, and the three of them travel to the mainland of Bregalia. I enjoyed Calidra and Jisyel, who are partners, and have an easy relationship in which they each support one another through their difficulties; Calidra with her fear of reuniting with her controlling mother, and Jisyel with her curse from Hassen, which means she can’t feel anything physical and can’t always tell when her body needs rest, food, or warmth. I liked how their relationship was never a source of conflict, as well as the way their friendship with Fenn developed over the ouches of the novel.

Having a main character with memory loss is an easy way to introduce the readers to a new world, and this is useful particularly when you throw in curses, a new threat from old enemies, and multiple magic systems. There were a few moments of info-dumping –though it’s hard to not have any in epic fantasy– but also a few moments when I felt certain elements needed more emphasis. For example, though the Myr are the main enemies within the story, I felt I still didn’t know enough about them or whether they were a real threat until they suddenly were. Granted, the mystery is part of their persona, as nobody seems to know exactly what they are or how their magic works, and maybe it’s just that I prefer to know a bit more, so hopefully that’s explored further in the next book!

I also had moments when I felt the characters were a little flat, or rather that their inner monologue was a little too repetitive, and certain scenes felt unnecessary, but overall that’s me being nitpicky and MacRae actually does a really good job with creating a varied cast. My favourite character has to be Selys, the priestess of Neros, spirit of the Laseen Ocean. She’s devoted, yet isn’t afraid to follow her own path to find answers that might help her land, and she’s very cool in her travel gear and her warrior skills. Warrior priestess will never not be cool. I liked the way all the key characters crossed paths throughout the novel, and I do love when separate points of view come together, and that happens a few time during the story, which I enjoyed!

Overall, I think this series has great potential, and with a lot of the set-up, characters, and world-building being established now, I’m really looking forward to seeing where the story goes next. If you’re looking for a new adventure that takes its characters through high seas, great cities, cold northern towns, desolate plains, and a village built into a forest, and if you love dragons, griffins, magical constructs, and a mystery to solve, this book is for you! You can order it directly from the author on her website, as well as get access to a free short story set before the main action, to get a feel for the world!

Book Info

Published: 28th May 2021 by L.L. MacRae
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 563
Series: Dragon Spirits, book one
Narration style: third person past tense, multiple points of view
Format read: paperback
Content Warnings: torture, violence, parental neglect, murder

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