I’m glad I’m only now picking up this series. If I’d started it a year or two earlier, I think I’d be driving myself crazy anticipating the next instalment. Maybe for my own sanity I should lay off from The Shadow Wand for a while.
Elloren Gardner’s come a long way since her relaxing youth with her Uncle Edwin, childhood friend Gareth, and brothers Rafe and Trystan. Two bandages she never even knew she was wearing have been ripped off since going to the University at the insistence of her Aunt Evelyn; One, races and cultures outside Gardneria are not actually abnormal or hateful. Two, Gardneria has for generations been slaughtering families and torturing whoever they see as unholy. Elloren’s first year at the university is still ongoing, but this is not your average Harry-Potter-inspiration where most of the rebellions will take place at the safe, somewhat tame, Hogwarts. Marcus Vogel has become the new leader of a Mage Council with a Gardnerian majority, and many factions are now kissing their boots for fear of what will come with voicing objection.
Elloren and her (perhaps) boyfriend Yvan recently rescued a Selkie, half human half sea creature who has been irredeemably terrorized. With the tools that she can, Elloren and her friends begin trying to bring anyone at risk of being arrested and hanged under the new majority to what little safe regions there are remaining. Her aunt Evelyn has been pressuring her to wandfast to Lukas Grey ever since she first arrived but now she’s becoming truly threatening. Gardneria’s never going to be home for her again. Not only do they have to get who they can to safety, especially the rest of the Selkies in captivity because their actual skins are under Gardnerian lock and key and they have the ability to destroy them if they chose, but they have to answer serious questions about what the rest of their lives are going to look like in this war.
Two criticisms I’ll give. The beginning has two characters backtracking on a declared love they gave at the end of the last book, even though it takes place exactly right after. It felt like a past-last-minute story change. And the book noticeably has Elloren constantly furious at her former home of Gardneria, which is understandable. It just seemed like Laurie Forest was in a lose-lose situation, having to really drive the point home, after the attacks the predecessor got for having a flawed protagonist, that she as the author herself was not an advocate for any of those prior beliefs. But those flaws are really tiny and barely make a dent in a sequel that easily stands proud and tall alongside the original.
This book series is a slow burn, but the good kind of slow burn. Rebellions are delicate things, especially when they have to be underground in the face of corrupt lawmakers, and they involve having to be on your toes every day and planning what could happen when an infiltration takes place and the retribution that will show up later. If a slow-burn book succeeds in making you feel in the shoes of the heroes, it probably would be not as good in fast-burn form. Anticipation builds. Anger over what has happened to innocent men, women and children and fear over what could happen later stews inside our stomachs. When it’s time for action, we don’t see it as a step in the right direction but a declaration that could save or doom the world. When something goes wrong, it’s a true punch in our guts and our desires to hope.
I might be sounding like I’m getting off the subject of the actual book, so let me just put it a different way. This book is a ticking time bomb without a clock to display when it will hit zero, Elloren and her friends racing to come up with ways to protect those the Gardnerians have found ways to hate most of all, knowing in the back of their heads if they want to live happily ever after, they’ll have to go on the run, and help their entire families while at it. It is a concept we’ve heard of before, but thanks to Forest’s captivating characters and world where the higher-ups can get away with the most disgusting of acts, it will feel like anything but a knockoff of prior teen fantasies. Books about fighting against an anarchic system can make you feel pity for the characters in turmoil, but others make you so angry you want to make sure our real world doesn’t fall into that sort of horror.
We get more info about the Amaz and their all-female pure-gender system with no exceptions, and we see both they and Elloren’s points when Elloren argues how that is discriminatory against men and how her male friends would never do anything to them, but too many of the Amaz have had bad histories with them. Elloren and the Amaz have definitely had differing histories that make them both adamant. We learn about the true acceptance of Verpacia and The Lupines, and when Rafe and Diana show more seriousness and pride in their relationship, Rafe meets Diana’s family, who hate his ethnicity, but they open up to letting him become part of the family kind of instantly nonetheless.
The last 200 pages of The Iron Flower bring forth some of the saddest and most infuriating debacles imaginable for the heroes, and they don’t accept it standing down. It was such a roller coaster, it was hard to imagine things getting any worse in Erthia, but there are still at least three more books to go. Not everyone was a fan of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But that is what The Iron Flower reminded me of, a world that does not care about happy endings and knows that in rough times, people’s lives can be forever ruptured within a finger snap.
The other day, I scrolled through Goodreads and accidentally set myself up for minor spoilers on the next instalment, not on any plot points that give away the ending or anything, but some gave an attitude hinting I might not like the next one as much. Should I go and find out right away? Maybe. The only way to really know if you’re going to like a book is give it a chance yourself, and if I don’t like it, at this point I don’t think anything can truly taint my love for The Black Witch Chronicles.