To Bear an Iron Key by Jackie Morse Kessler

Posted by Mrs Giggles on May 31, 2014 in 3 Oogies, Book Reviews, Genre: Fantasy & Sci-fi

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To Bear an Iron Key by Jackie Morse Kessler
To Bear an Iron Key by Jackie Morse Kessler

Month9Books, $12.99, ISBN 978-1939765192
Fantasy, 2014


Okay, imagine that fairies exist, only they live in their own world and come over to our world once a year – on Midsummer night – they can come over and have fun through the World Door. The Key to the World Door is held by the Guardian, usually a witch, whose job is to make sure that these fairies behave. After all, these fairies love to eat human flesh and steal human babies to raise as their own. The Guardian keeps ordinary folks in ignorance of the more malign nature of these fairies and ensures that the fairies frolic with minimal collateral damage.

Bromwyn Whitehair, our seventeen-year old heroine, is the apprentice of her grandmother Niove, the current Guardian. Bromwyn isn’t the ideal apprentice, however – she has no filter and says a lot of things that earn her all kinds of punishment from Niove, a hard taskmaster, and she even caused her mother some permanent and thankfully not fatal damage in the past, causing her grandmother to curse her for her action. While Bromwyn tells herself that she needs to watch her temper, she continues to be what she is. Bromwyn is also mad that she is to be wedded off to a guy who distrusts magic, and she is initially oblivious to the fact that her friend Rusty, a light-fingered boy a few months older than her, is infatuated with her.

Bromwyn’s true test comes when Rusty steals something that turns out to be Niove’s Key, therefore making Rusty the new Guardian. Niove doesn’t even bother to stay, skipping out of town and leaving a note basically telling Bromwyn to deal with the matter. With that night itself being Midsummer night, our twosome have only a few hours to get ready, and the fairies don’t play nice. Will these two doom the entire village or would they come to their own and become superheroes of some sort?

To Bear an Iron Key is a simple, uncomplicated, but interesting story, pitting two kids against some far older and more cunning creatures. I don’t have any issues with the pacing and the plot. However, I feel that the main characters could have been defined more strongly. Rusty can be charming, but he’s a bit flat, existing mostly as a trophy boyfriend for Bromwyn. Bromwyn is the more well-drawn character of the two, but that’s a given as the story is entirely from her point of view even if the author uses third person narrative here.

Now, I can deal with Bromwyn’s tendency to talk before she thinks, or that she’s often angry with the world. She’s 17. Most of us have been there. No, my issue here is that the story seems to overestimate and, therefore, overpraise Bromwyn’s achievements, especially towards the end. Bromwyn’s character growth – which is actually quite realistic in that she doesn’t go from full angst to full zen by the last page – doesn’t merit the whole “Oh, you’re now so awesome and I can totally rely on you to make the world a better place!” plethora of feel-good sentiment coming from other characters especially in the last few pages. She doesn’t grow up that much to be that amazing a person, so to have Bromwyn’s mother claiming that she knows how Bromwyn can love better than she is… oh dear. Bromwyn is 17 and she has a crush on a pretty boy – how is that a testament of her ability to love? Her powers aren’t that awesome, her “maturity” aren’t that remarkable, so all the fanfare on her has me scratching my head in befuddlement.

It’s the same with Rusty. The story acts like he has transformed into this awesome superhero by the last page. However, all I see is two kids who would have screwed up everything if the heroine hadn’t come up with a sneaky way to outfox the fairy king at the last minute. This is an impressive feat, and it shows that these kids may have something awesome in them. But the story acts like they’ve already achieved that plateau of awesomeness, and I don’t buy all this.

If the author had done less overselling on the main characters’ achievements and maturity, To Bear an Iron Key would have been a far more compelling read.

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