Ok, I know it's superficial and whatnot, but this cover is absolutely stunning. Breathtakingly stunning. The golden swirls around what appears to be a terrified girl clutching a... well, it's something gorgeous, whatever it is. Not to mention, the special Waterstones version of this book has gold paper edges. Fierce.
Unfortunately, the book itself is not so fierce.
Let's start off with the good stuff. The beginning of the book is absolutely swoon-worthy. The world and its characters are dark, mysterious, and gothic - rather like its cover. It was like Florence and the Machine put into words. We meet Donna and her (male) BFF heading to a party where she is far from welcome. (Why said BFF would drag her to along to such an event is but one of the plot holes that will become evident soon enough.) There, Donna meets Xan and there's a spark - literally, a spark - between them. It's not insta-romance, but it is insta-connection. But I felt it through the pages, so I was not complaining.
But after that fabulous opening scene, the book starts to show its rather unfortunate flaws. There are absolutely no explanations for anything in this book. For example, the alchemists are seeking out eternal life at any cost. Donna knows this. Donna was taught this. It's basically the bedrock of their alchemist community. And yet, that never bothered her?
Then there are the wood elves - cast as the ultimate creepy villians. And yet, we never find out why they are evil. Why did they kill Donna's parents? What is supposed to be motivating them? And if they're so bad, why is half-fey Xan such a sweetheart? And speaking of sweethearts, was there supposed to be some sort of romantic triangle going on here? Because, if so, I missed that altogether. This is just basic plot stuff that The Iron Witch just doesn't have.
Bottom line? If this book had been about 10x longer - giving the characters, universe, and relationships the fleshing out they deserved - it would have been fantastic. This book is getting stars for its potential, not for its content. Alas.Reviewed on Dead Book Darling