Author: C.M. McGuire
Publication date: August 25, 2020
Genre: young adult fantasy
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Queer besties! Welsh mythology! Fae and magic! Adorable little shadow creatures! Ladies, gentlemen, and nonbinary pals, Ironspark is a solid urban fantasy with a lot of heart. It may not be a perfect book, but it was one I had fun with–with the exception of the ending, but hey, you can’t win ’em all, right? (Plus, there is an ace character, which, you know, is a huge plus for just about any book in my opinion.)
A teen outcast must work together with new friends to keep her family and town safe from murderous Fae while also dealing with panic attacks, family issues, and a lesbian love triangle in C.M. McGuires’s kick-butt paranormal YA debut, Ironspark.
For the past nine years, ever since a bunch of those evil Tinkerbells abducted her mother, cursed her father, and forced her family into hiding, Bryn has devoted herself to learning everything she can about killing the Fae. Now it’s time to put those lessons to use.
Then the Court Fae finally show up, and Bryn realizes she can’t handle this on her own. Thankfully, three friends offer to help: Gwen, a kindhearted water witch; Dom, a new foster kid pulled into her world; and Jasika, a schoolmate with her own grudge against the Fae.
But trust is hard-won, and what little Bryn has gained is put to the test when she uncovers a book of Fae magic that belonged to her mother. With the Fae threat mounting every day, Bryn must choose between faith in her friends and power from a magic that could threaten her very humanity.
The opening scene of this book–Bryn and her mentor, a priest, hunting a changeling that had replaced a human baby–gave me big-time Supernatural vibes. Tons of action, herbs and iron, creepy evil things pretending to be human, all that good stuff. That scene in and of itself was enough to thoroughly hook me, and the rest of the book held my attention as well. The plot wasn’t what I would call twisty, but it threw in some unexpected sources of inspiration, drawing directly from, among other things, the King Arthur mythos and the works of Shakespeare. My inner literary nerd geeked out a lot at both of those.
Bryn’s narrative voice is very distinctly teenager, laced with sarcasm and emotion in equal measure, depending on the situation. Her feelings of isolation, longing for friends and normalcy and a place to really call home, are very clearly rendered even as she insists on putting up a brave face to the world. Her conflicted feelings regarding her ex–who, by the way, is definitely not human–are a convincing blend of awkwardness and appreciation, in a way that really works. (As an aside, though: the blurb for this book emphasizes a “lesbian love triangle,” but honestly, it didn’t feel like a triangle at all–just a girl getting over her ex while also becoming interested in someone new.)
Speaking of that ex: this book was one of those rare titles where I actually liked all of the characters, or at least found them all interesting. From flirty, optimistic, research-obsessed Dom, to the serene and dutiful Gwen, to Bryn’s mischievous and upset little brothers with issues of their own, the majority of the characters were convincing and engaging. When the plot started to get weird, the characters were what kept me invested in what was going to happen next.
Also, quick note: THE SHADELINGS. Oh my god, these tiny little two-foot-tall, perpetually hungry creatures with bat wings whose sole purpose is to keep Bryn and her family safe. They’re just amazing. Every time they came on the page, I smiled, and most of the time, they’re just plain funny. But one line from one of them, maybe around a third of the way in–I won’t tell you what it was, because spoilers–made me feel a little bit choked up. So pure and sweet, if not always entirely innocent. A certain purple shadeling has completely stolen my heart, not gonna lie–and also allowed for a brief but affirming comment on gender identity, which was a nice touch.
While we’re on the subject of queer rep, as has been mentioned a few times, this book does a nice job of normalizing queer characters without making their queerness a central focus. Without spoiling things, just know that there’s a f/f relationship, a character who identifies as bi or pan, a character who knows they’re queer but is still figuring out their sexuality, and a character who is ace. There’s a nice scene around three-quarters through the book where the characters, who are close but relatively new friends, actually discuss their sexualities and identities, which was a tad awkward, but also made me happy, because it explicitly put labels on them instead of leaving it to the reader to guess. With ace characters especially, if they’re not the main character, that aspect of their identity can be hard to determine if you just go based on their actions, so this upped their visibility.
All that said, this book did have some shortcomings. I was a little hesitant on some of the mental illness representation in the book–Bryn’s panic attacks were depicted very well, and I have no issue with those. However, her father was depicted as having schizophrenia…sort of. We learn very early on that he was cursed by the Fae to see fairies everywhere, regardless of whether there are actually any present. Because of these hallucinations, they say that he is schizophrenic. I could understand them saying this just to people outside their family (let’s be real, there’s no “socially acceptable” way to tell people that the poor guy was literally cursed by fairies), but they internally refer to it that way as well, which struck me as a little insensitive, especially given that his symptoms do not even fully meet the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia; he only has one major symptom, and a minimum of two are required. As someone who is big on mental health advocacy and a major psychology geek, this rubbed me the wrong way.
There were also some moments where the narrative strained believability–not the magic itself, but the choices made by some of the characters. For example, there’s a brief plot point involving a friend with a sick family member, where Bryn is very easily talked into making some questionable choices. Yes, teenagers do stupid things on impulse, but (a) Bryn typically comes off as more rational, except on things where her mother is involved (which this was not), and (b) this specific choice was for a reason that she literally just found out about and didn’t really have any personal stake in. This is just one example; things like this happened several times, where characters made out-of-character decisions, or where characters’ voices in dialogue started sounding like…not themselves. You know, like the quirky, old-school shadeling suddenly talking in casual, teenage English.
And my biggest annoyance: what the heck was that ending?? I thought this would be a standalone, but apparently there’s going to be a sequel, and the setup for it involved transportation to a location previously only discussed in dreams (I’m still a little fuzzy on how that worked) and a character making a choice that truly made no sense, given all of their values, even though they have an extended monologue leading up to that moment with repeated heavy-handed use of an analogy about a chess game. I was loving the book up until that point, but the implausibility of that part pulled my rating down from a 4-star to a 3.5.
With the exception of those quibbles, though, I really did like this book. Urban fantasy tends to be hit or miss for me, but I think this one was especially helped by its emphasis on family, its excellent diversity, and its minimal romance. That last point especially was refreshing–romance wasn’t absent from the book, but it didn’t become a central point. This really is mostly a teenage girl and her friends fighting Fae, kicking ass and taking names. And that’s exactly what I like to see.
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About the Author
When C.M. McGuire, author of Ironspark, was a child, she drove her family crazy with her nonstop stories. Lucky for them, she eventually learned to write and gave their ears a rest. This love of stories led her to college where she pursued history (semi-nonfictional storytelling), anthropology (where stories come from) and theater (attention-seeking storytelling). When she isn’t writing, she’s painting, crocheting, gardening, baking, and teaching the next generation to love stories as much as she does.
The other hosts on this tour have a ton of great work to show as well–interviews, quotes, moodboards, playlists, and more! Check out their posts HERE.
That’s all for now, folks. Is this book on your TBR now? Have you read it already? Leave a comment and let me know!
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review, and to TBR and Beyond Tours for allowing me to be a part of this blog tour!