Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
Beautifully and richly written, artfully avoiding the purple, and wholly, shockingly original, The Iron Thorn gained a place on my favorites shelf within the first fifty pages, and staunchly stayed there through the end. My pet peeve is first-person narration--it's been grievously overused and it's been turned into something lazy by most of the authors that use it in YA--and it's a testament to Kittredge's talent that I barely noticed the narrative device, and when I did, it actually serves to make the characters deeper, as it ought to.
Steampunk has always made it a habit to straddle the line of dark fantasy, horror and historical fantasy, and Kittredge embraces and runs with all genres, creating an entirely unique tale involving Lovecraft mythos, faeries, steam-powered devices and airships, while encroaching slightly on what it typically considered "nuclear punk" (it takes place in the 1950's, but keeps the steam aesthetic.)
Characters are what usually suffer most in steampunk, in my experience, and I think Kittredge took the smarter path by making the characters feel more like classic young adult or middle-grade type characters; they're not tropes, and they're thankfully not defined by their quirks and special snowflakeness, like most YA. They're allowed to develop as characters, as people, in a subtle way. The author doesn't hit you in the face with MOTIVATION, with CHARACTER TRAITS; she leaves them there, lets the reader figure them out themselves. It feels more natural for some over others (Cal's revelation is rather jarring, and I'm not sure it entirely works, and Aoife's insistence to naivete towards the end is the only time that I felt the author was trying to tell me rather than show me.)
The book works best when it's an adventure, the action fast-paced, exciting; it drags just a little when they reach Graystone and stay there for a good third of the book, only Dean and Aoife's growing relationship really holding the book up here, and that avoids the typical YA tropes enough that it as pleasant and sweet to read.
The end drove me nuts, in the best way. Can't wait to get my hands on the sequel!