Book Review: Caitlin Kittredge’s The Iron Thorn

Posted February 23, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews, Young Adult readers

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Caitlin Kittredge’s The Iron Thorn

The Iron Thorn


Caitlin Kittredge

steampunk that was published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on February 22, 2011 and has 492 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Corsets & Clockwork, Street Magic, Demon Bound, Bone Gods, Night Life, Huntress, "The Curse of Four", The Nightmare Garden, The Wild Side: Urban Fantasy with an Erotic Edge, Devil's Business, Soul Trade, Mirrored Shard, Dark Days, Black and White, Games Creatures Play

First in the Iron Codex steampunk series for young adults that mixes the mechanical with magic with the steam side fighting it every step of the way. This story is based in Massachusetts in the late 1950s. Just not our 1950s.

My Take

A good story. Kittredge drags you in right from the beginning with an encounter between Aoife and her mentally ill mother followed up by Dr. Portnoy’s warnings and setting us up with her world’s Master Builder religion. It’s a world of Big Brother with everyone encouraged to inform on everyone else for heretical acts. Which are legion.

Cal and Aoife’s trip back to the school for Cal and Aoife further introduces us to the city of Lovecraft and its terrors, which are compounded by Mrs. Fortune’s warning.

Both Aoife and Cal are whiners, especially Cal always whining about going back to the school, about Aoife’s incipient madness, about Dean keeping his distance, putting her down for being a girl. I’d like to build a catapult and send him on his way!

Her father has a lot of cheek! He’s never met her. He abandoned her. All he does is leave cryptic notes demanding she act.

And what is it with Tremaine? He wants her to accomplish so many things,, and he keeps popping up and distracting her when she’s trying to do it??!

For the most part, Kittredge unveils secret after secret tying up numerous loose ends; however, some of the tie-ups just don’t make sense to me. *I’m confused.* I’m hoping that the next installment will help clear that up…

The Story

An encounter with Aoife’s mother, then Dr. Portnoy’s warnings. To see if Aoife is going mad herself. But a letter from her mad, missing brother is waiting for her, and he needs her help.

Threats and taunts and a few lies send Cal and Aoife to the Nightfall Market where they find a guide to help them escape the city. And journey’s end where Aoife is experiencing more mechanical marvels than she had expected…and that magic really exists.

It’s a mechanical wonder as Aoife explores and discovers the many triggers that make the place work. Then she discovers the master trigger and her Weird talent.

Aoife only has Dean to confide in about the magic, as Cal insists she’s going mad. Nor is Tremaine a help, for he threatens her with her friends’ distress.

The Characters

Aoife Grayson is considered an orphan, and she attends the prestigious Lovecraft Academy. Her intention is to graduate as an engineer; her hope is that her upcoming sixteenth birthday doesn’t find her raving mad. Like her mother and her brother Conrad. Archibald Grayson is her father and the fourteenth Gateminder. He’s left a storehouse of journals, grimoires, and objects lying about in his secret rooms.

Calvin Daulton, a.k.a., Carver, is her only friend at the school, and he’s fascinated by the adventure stories on the radio and in print. Dean Harrison fights to be their guide out of the city. He has some talent of his own. Bethina is the maid left behind at Graystone. She’s terrified at all the things that go bump around the house and is happy to have someone to serve after her father and then Conrad left her alone.

Dr. Portnoy cares for Nerissa, Aoife’s mad mother. For years, the doctors have explained that her mother is suffering from the necrovirus. Mrs. Fortune is the house head for Aoife; she seems a nice old bird if too strongly indoctrinated. Grey Draven is the Head of the City and he has some nasty plans in store for Aoife. Carver’s family includes October “Toby” and his mother, Reason.

Captain Harry, a friend of Dean’s flies the Berkshire Belle, a former enemy officer transport airship, with his crew of Alouette and Jean-Marc.

Tremaine is the Regent for the Winter Lands. He is a sneaky bugger who lies like a rug and doesn’t care what he must do to get his way. Stacia is the Queen of Summer; Octavia is the Queen of Winter. Both have been cursed into an enchanted sleep and the sleep is affecting their lands.

The monsters that haunt the Iron Land are ghouls, nightjars, and shoggoths. The human monsters are the Proctors. A type of policeman and guard combined. Everyone must always carry their papers and have the right permissions. God forbid anyone has any fun. They use the mechanical Ravens to help spy on the populace. The Crimson Guard were German witches and the enemy in the war. The Kindly Folk are the elves, fairies, Seelie and Unseelie; those who met with the Gateminder. The Strangers are enemy to the Kindly Folk. The Erlkin, a.k.a., the People of the Mists, are looked down upon by the Kindly Folk and are ruled by the Wytch King.

The Cover and Title

The cover is really deep browns in the lower two-thirds with the upper third a yellow-green sunset fading to dark brown. There are crows wheeling through the sky as a worried-looking Aoife looks back over her shoulder, clutching her chemise before it completely falls off. Thorny scrollwork surrounds the title.

The title is the lands. The Iron Land is where Aoife lives. Where magic is denied, declared as heresy and wins you a burning in the square. The Thorn Land is magic. A dying magic due to a curse laid upon it.