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A whole sub-genre of urban (feral) fairy stories seems to have evolved in the blink of an eye, and Holly Black is one of its more vigorous exponents. The Modern Faerie Tales series includes the excellent Tithe, Valiant and the newest volume titled Ironside, which ties together the plot lines of the previous two books while being of a more direct sequel to Tithe.
Kaye Fierch is a sixteen year old girl, high-school drop-out with a rock'n'roller mother. Or so she thought until recently. In fact, she is a changeling, a green pixie who has grown up as a human child and only recently discovered her true nature.
Ironside picks up two months after the momentous events of Tithe, the winter solstice (and Christmas) is approaching and in Faerie, Roiben is being crowned as a King of the dark Unseelie Court. Kaye, insecure in her new pixie identity, full of love for Roiben and drunk on faerie wine, declares herself to him and ends up sent on a seemingly impossible quest. She can't see or speak with Roiben unless she can find a faerie who can lie.
Her life, insecure at best, seems to completely fall to pieces. She confesses to her mother and sets off to the Seelie Court to recover the original changeling. But in the world of faerie courts, war is brewing and Kaye and her gay friend Corny find themselves involved in the intrigues between Silarial, queen of the Seelie Court and Roiben. The quest takes Kaye and Corny to New York, where they have a go at exploring the urban part of the faerie world, where exiled fey deal in drugs and a boy with True Sight tries to help people deal with the feral curses.
I loved Tithe for its mix of vivid downbeat imagery, small-town teenage life grittiness and a confident use of all faerie tropes. I found Ironside less of a climactic read, but it's still a very good one and it tugs proficiently at more strings of the teenage soul than the previous book did. There is the main Kaye-Roiben love story, of course; there is a growing-up-into responsibility theme; there is one about rebuilding the connection with family and meaning of maternal love; there is even a sub-plot of a (subtle) gay love story so beloved of female teenagers with slightly Gothic proclivities.
I liked the way that the faerie and human worlds mixed and intertwined. I suppose the whole convention somehow harks to Buffy and other urban vampire stories, but I prefer the feral faerie convention as it's less uncomfortably near the fetish titillation, while allowing plenty of scope for dark, bloody and decadent machinations of the Faerie courts.
The descriptions of the Other are far from glossy: although fascinatingly compelling, the faerie world is also cruel and capricious, in some fundamental way truly inhuman. I think that making the main character a pixie who grew up on the Ironside is particularly effective here: the pull of the Faerie is thus stronger on her, but, paradoxically, she's also in some ways more able to resist it. The unhealthy attraction of the Courts (particularly the Dark one) are made manifest in the story of Corny, whose earlier entanglement in the decidedly BDSM style relationship with a dark Faerie knight leaves him traumatised for quite a while, until he finds a hope of happiness with somebody more of this world.
Despite all the swearing, drinks, drugs and rock and roll (and at least hints at sex) Ironside is aspirational in a fundamentally un-threatening and un-subversive manner which perhaps places it most firmly as the member of the 'Young Adult' niche rather than completely grown up book, but, although aimed clearly at the older end of the teen market, it can be very much enjoyed by anybody else that likes to step into a modern feral faerie tale.
This review was originally written for www.thebookbag.co.uk.
When pixie Kaye declares herself to Roiben on the day of his coronation, he is forced to send her on a seemingly impossible quest. Now Kaye is forbidden to see or speak to him unless she can find the one thing she knows doesn't exist: a faerie who can tell a lie. Miserable and convinced she belongs nowhere, Kaye makes a rash decision to reveal the truth to her mother - that she is a changeling left in place of a human child. Her mother's shock reaction sends Kaye running back to the Faerie realm in search of her human counterpart in a bid to return her to Ironside. But Kaye once again finds herself a pawn in the games of the Seelie Court. Queen Silarial wants Roiben's throne and she will use any means necessary to get it! In this twisted game of wits and power can a pixie outplay a queen?