There’s good and evil and a lot of grey in-between.
Fans of Epic Fantasy and The Hero’s Quest will enjoy this offering from L. L. Macrae. Having personally grown tired of long epic fantasy reads over the years it was refreshing to crack open The Iron Crown and discover that my enjoyment for the subgenre had returned.
If you have a physical copy of The Iron Crown on hand the first thing you’ll notice other than the cover art is it’s a chonker. Coming in at a hefty 563 pages The Iron Crown provides plenty of hours of reading enjoyment. But the surprise for me is it didn’t read like I expected a tome of this size to read. I don’t remember a single time I ever sat bank and thought things were getting too slow or bogged down. The prose and the dialogue is pretty straightforward and at no time did I feel pulled out of the story due to a writing choice.
The book opens with a scene I loved, and it’s a scene that breaks one of those stupid “writing rules” you’ve probably come across…namely that you’re not supposed to start a book with a character waking up. Fenn, one of the main POV characters, comes to in a bog in the middle of a forest after having been asleep or unconscious. He has no idea where he is or how he got there and soon discovers he’s upset a local dragon spirit. Macrae gets away with breaking this writing rule because hey it’s exciting and it’s a great way to just drop the reader into the story. Fenn’s character who we discover is suffering from some form of amnesia becomes a great device by which the world is explained to the reader without the usual irritating method of info dumping. The reader picks up on the worldbuilding right along with Fenn so it feels a little more natural. As someone who hates info dumps I appreciated this writing choice.
So what about the rest of the book? There was a lot I really enjoyed and not much that I didn’t. I’ll start with the negative (or slightly negative) and work my up to the good stuff.
First – the characters. Now I know you may be saying, “hold on…if the characters were a problem how can you like the book?” That’s not what I’m saying so hear me out. The characters were for lack of a better descriptor…fine. For the most part I didn’t love anyone nor did I hate anyone. My absolute favorite character was Apollo who came in like halfway through the book. I kind of wish he’d arrived sooner but I get the decision here based upon some reveals that happen first. But Apollo was the most intriguing for me and I was drawn to his decisions and character arc the most, especially as more of his back story was revealed. Apart from that Fenn was the next most intriguing for me because throughout the narrative there is the question about what happened to him, how did he end up in that bog/forest, why does he have amnesia, and how is his story tied to the overarching narrative plotline. As Fenn goes the story goes so-to-speak. The rest of the characters were just fine though. Not a lot of character development (which I know will bother other readers) but they moved the story from point A to point Z and seemed to serve moving the plot along at the expense of deep development. Now, that also means the reader may not get very emotionally attached to the characters and that’s definitely a consequence…it’s just not one that bothered this reader. The only thing that bothered me about any of the characters was that one can’t feel. As in literally can’t feel anything like heat or cold or pain or well, anything. As I thought about it I wondered how difficult it would be for such a character to go adventuring and not keep falling over and injuring/killing themselves because they can’t feel. Like, have you ever tried to walk after your feet/legs go numb from sitting down in a certain way for too long and that first step your leg gives out because it’s totally numb? That’s what I imagine it would be like.
I’ve already mentioned the writing above so I won’t dwell on it too much now other than to say, no it wasn’t purple prose or flowery, and that wouldn’t work in a book like this one. It was very functional and for me at least it read easily and kept things moving at a clip. It did the job of getting from page 1 to page 563 while keeping me turning the pages and actually wanting to keep turning those pages.
So what did I enjoy the most? The worldbuilding.
Tassar, the world of The Iron Crown is filled with kingdoms and empires and though only a few regions are actually shown you get the feel that there’s a bigger wider world out there waiting to be explored. As with many epic fantasy stories it starts small (on one island, in one forest, in one bog) and more and more is revealed as the story progresses and the protagonists move along in their journey. What was really cool were the dragon spirits. In this world dragons are spirits tied to the land and the elements. Their power waxes and wanes based upon the number of followers they have. They may be very localized like in a particular lake or forest, or may be more far reaching like an entire land region or ocean. They can grant magical powers to human champions who serve them and they have massive power within their particular realms at least as long as people remember them and follow them. I loved this idea of dragon spirits who are like gods, but gods who might be forgotten and die out as newer younger versions gain popularity. And like I mean c’mon…DRAGONS! who doesn’t like dragons?
I also loved the Myr. The Myr is the mysterious enemy. Part horror and nightmare, part spirit, and just kinda scary. They had been defeated by the queen and her iron dragon years ago never to return, or so people thought. But return they have, yet nobody wants to admit it because that would be next to blasphemy. As they move across the land fear grips the populace and the power of the queen and her dragon comes into question. Just enough is revealed about the Myr to let you know they are to be feared but there’s always a mystery about who/what they are and what their motivations are. The amount of unknown about them makes them even scarier and a great threat to the safety and security of everyone even beyond the primary antagonist character our heroes are set against. It soon becomes obvious the Myr are the great threat to civilization and must be overcome. It’s here where the narrative begins to make up for the lack of character depth/development for me. I got hooked by the plot and the worldbuilding even if it does move along kind of as expected at times.
Ultimately the story hit right for me at the time I was reading. There’s good and evil and a lot of grey in-between. There’s mystery and secrets that are only partially explained by the book’s end leaving many questions still to be answered by the next installment. This was an epic fantasy read that didn’t lose me half-way through because the author got the characters lost wandering in circles for no reason. It moved and I could tell it was headed toward a climactic conclusion. I can’t say I was ever hit in the feels with this read but that’s OK. Sometimes I just want a good adventure story that doesn’t have to be overly complicated by emotion or complex characters. I love it when those things happen, but books can be great and enjoyed without all that too.
Score: 8 out of 10 stars