As you may or may not know, I’m a person who has written an adventure story for 8-12 year olds which is largely set in the Frozen North, a place peopled with all manner of weird and wonderful creatures and natural phenomena to take readers’ breath away (well, hopefully at least – and I promise to return the breath afterwards, once I’ve finished with it). Ironheart is… well. Ironheart is an adventure story for 8-12 year olds largely set in the Frozen North, and there are plenty of weird and wonderful creatures in it, not to mention natural (and unnatural) phenomena, and it certainly takes the breath away at times.
Having said all that, it’s as different from my book as two books can be, I think. It really made me realise that two stories can have incredibly similar settings (in both cases, a post-apocalyptic world which mixes elements from a possible future and an alternative past), and some similar characters (a spirited young girl whose quest to find a missing parent drives the plot) and still be different. Which is great. Reading Ironheart turned out to be quite a strange experience for me, though, mainly because of my own book and its long, complicated, messy and rather painful trek to publication, but also because there were so many things about it I loved, and I couldn’t help but compare it to my own work, sometimes to my own detriment.
Putting all this aside, though, Ironheart is a great read, and one I’m glad to have finally experienced.
Ironheart tells the story of India Bentley, who lives, along with her sister Bella and their odious stepmother Roshanne, in a version of London which has been irrevocably damaged by floods and environmental decay. The girls’ father, John, is missing, presumed dead, in Siberia, where he had been working as a prospector for oil. In this future London, food is at a premium, and there seems to be no respite from the damp, and the cold, and the grimness of life – and India’s life is hard enough, what with her dreadful stepmother and the creepy old man to whom she (India) is to be married. Thaddeus Clench (the aptly-named ‘groom’) is a creature on a par with Professor Pennyroyal in Philip Reeve’s Predator Cities novels, a pure streak of teeth-juddering horror, interested only in self-preservation. I hated him intimately, which goes to show how well he’s written. Just as India seems beyond help, the explorer and old-tech hunter Verity Brown, along with her marvellous friend Calculus (an android, mind, not a robot) appear in her life, looking for information about her father, and India sees her chance. Not being anyone’s fool, India gives her stepmother and Clench the slip, and escapes with Mrs Brown and Calc.
So begins an adventure which brings India to Angel Town, an outpost in frozen Siberia, where she meets enemies and friends alike, loses something precious, and realises what a friend she has in Calculus, a giant metal man who was once a killing machine and who now dedicates his existence to keeping her safe. She becomes part of the crew of a ‘rig’, a diesel-powered vehicle which chugs its way into the icy wastes in search of treasure and oil (or whatever can be found) and learns the truth about her father, and why he was really in Siberia. He wasn’t simply looking for oil, of course; his true quest was to find Ironheart, a mythical place where the secrets of the old world were kept, and which may hold the key to the future existence of the planet. And, of course, there were others on his trail, including the villainous Lucifer Stone and his hapless, trigger-happy son Sid, who try to thwart India at every turn…
The only thing I didn’t thoroughly enjoy about this novel was the fact I felt, particularly near the end, that it was trying to do too much. The story lost me a little as it drew near its conclusion, and I think it had something to do with the secrets surrounding Ironheart (about which I’m giving away nothing, no siree, lips sealed here). I couldn’t help but think there was so much crammed into the last hundred pages or so that it made the action seem a bit rushed and perfunctory, which was a real shame. There were characters who weren’t developed enough, and legends I’d love to have heard more about, and issues (like ecology and conservation) which could have been heightened further if the focus had been changed slightly.
But, in every other respect, I loved this book.
India is great, and so is the spunky Mrs Verity Brown (I’d happily read a series of books simply about her!) and I adored the brave, clever and loving Calculus, and his relationship with India. I thought Sid (despite being a dreadful little twerp) was a sympathetic and troubled character whose less-than-appealing characteristics were perfectly understandable when one considered his father, and I loved Captain Bulldog, and even Mrs Chang (if she was a little on the stereotypical side). It was the characters who made this book so good, for me. They were all fully-rounded, well described, and clearly realised, and the dialogue (more often than not) was great, which always wins me over. Even though the plot and pacing didn’t quite work for me as the book drew to a close, I’d still recommend this book as a fast and exciting read which should grab the imaginations of boys and girls (of all ages) alike, and which has enough thrills, tension and mystery to keep any reader satisfied. I’ll be back for the sequels!