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Monday, March 7, 2022

SPFBO Finalist review: The Iron Crown (Dragon Spirits #1) by L.L. MacRae

Read FBC's interview with L.L MacRae
Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Lauren is a fantasy author of character-driven stories and epic adventure. She lives in a tiny village in the UK, has a degree in Psychology, and was a professional copywriter before going full-time as an author - swapping corporate copy for magic and dragons! For signed paperbacks, visit www.llmacrae.com

Publication Date: May 28, 2021 Publisher: L.L. MacRae Page Count: 587 Cover design: Pen Astridge Cover: Psycat Studios



JENNIFER

The Iron Crown is one of those books that captured my attention months before it hit our group. I’d been seeing it on Twitter and knew I wanted to read it just because of its striking cover and title combo. (I’ve a weakness in titling for anything involving crowns.)

This is a fairly chunky book at almost 600 pages but it doesn’t read like one. 
It’s a lighter feeling read, I think partly because of the way the information is fed to us- little bits here and there in small doses as we need it- which I loved, keeping it from feeling info-dumpy and adding a bit of mystery that kept me motivated to find out more. Combine that with the story pacing, the pages move fairly quickly. 

(Fenn, one of the initial characters has no memories, so this works well for the slow feed of worldbuilding as we learn along with him until that point where other events and characters, are able to take the reigns.)

The story did have some rough patches for me in the beginning. For one, I didn’t attach to our characters right-off, and some of their interactions didn’t have an ease to them until later in the story.

But those interactions, and the story itself, get stronger as the story builds. The characters settle-in and come together in a found-family kind of friendship, that had me eventually rooting for them. The ending leaves us intrigued- wanting to know more about the world and needing to see how it works out for our group.

*
The other thing that makes this feel like a breezy kind of read is the characters. 

They all seem to be connected or brought together in that fantasy ‘we’re here for a greater purpose’ sort of idea, and occasionally I found things pretty easy in the way that they happened or they were united. But it also saves us from the useless wandering around doing nothing filler, while we wait for them to join-up, so it’s a trade-off that I’m ok with.

 We learn about the characters in much the same way, as we learn about the world- in little bits here and there. Which may be why it took me awhile to warm up to some of them- especially Calidra who comes off very brash, on the surface. But like the world they inhabit, they become more complicated as the story unfolds, and we get to know them outside of those initial impressions. 

I do really like this style of information building of the world and people in it. 

*
One of the biggest strengths of this book is the world itself. It’s very cool. But the neatest part for me was the Spirit Dragons.

These spirits are made of pure magic which forms in an area that gets large enough to give them life, therefore giving power to that area/place as the magic coalesces. (If I am understanding this correctly).

If the spirit gains enough strength, not only can they can gift their followers with boons, and even choose to bond with a person, they can also use the magical element that they’re strong in as a type of tool. 

So, for instance, Queen Surayo is the chosen of Torisken, the spirit of Iron. Her Iron dagger allows her to speak to her inquisitors, that she has sends out on missions and she is to keep an eye on the whole country. (This was described like a big spider web sending back vibration to the queen which I thought was a great visual description that explains the whole process easily)

The other thing I thought was interesting was that just as the dragons can gain strength from the size of their area and followers etc. it can just as easily go the other direction, weakening as they lose popularity, or an area becomes contaminated (or any other scenario that could weaken that spirits domain).


The dragons are not the only neat thing, there is also the Myr. These creepy beings the Queen has kept at bay over the years are now making an appearance again. We don’t have all the who, what, and why’s about these creatures, yet, other than everyone is afraid of them- which makes sense when they are like big shadowy things that cause chaos when they appear. But they get even more intriguing as the story unfolds, and we learn about how they were kept at bay.

 (Everything to do with Apollo’s quest was probably my favourite part of the book)


The Iron Crown has some very cool ideas, it’s different and I like that about it. It was a bit rocky, to begin with, but does nothing but get stronger as it progresses, which I consider a really good sign of things to come from the next book. 


JONATHAN

Crown concerns the world of Tassar, where the Porsenthian Empire, united in defense of its citizens struggles against the Myr, dark magical beings that were defeated and driven away before, only to return.

The tale hops POV between four main characters: Fenn, a teenager who has lost his memory; Calidra, a self-exiled, paranoid young woman; Apollo, a retired thief with a lot of dark secrets; and Torsten, leader of the Queen’s personal enforcers. The POV characters are diverse and distinct. There are also a number of secondary characters with varying degrees of development. I found Torsten to be an effective antagonist and his bouts with increasing instability are quite intense. Of the protagonists, Apollo’s story was the most compelling to me, though sadly he is introduced much later in the book. His desire to leave behind his haunted prior life and just live in peace, even as the events of that past life come roaring into focus, is a familiar character arc and one I never get tired of. On the other hand, I never did manage to connect with Fenn or Calidra very well.

Something positive that stood out for me was the world-building. I got the idea that several of the cultures in the Empire were distinct and different, and there was some cultural animosity between them. The concept of the dragon spirits granting power to those they bless—or impeding those they curse—was well thought-out and worked really well in the context of the story. I thought it a neat concept that the spirits waxed and waned with the fate of the area that spawned them. For example, one dragon that arises from the life energy of a lake grows much weaker when the lake ends up being salinated. Little details like that just added depth and made the world feel fleshed-out. The few times the magic of the Myr (the central antagonists) is encountered, it feels otherworldy and alien when compared to the magic imparted by the dragons. There are arcane locations with various hazards the characters traverse. Intelligent, talking griffins play a key role at pivotal points in the story. It’s a complex world and it has a “lived-in” feeling, with depth and history.

The pace of the plot builds to a fever pitch in the last quarter of the book, as things start to come to a head … but the early parts were quite slow by comparison. There felt like there was an awful lot of characters meandering around the land before the plot started to cinch down and get to the important details. I also felt like I tripped over the prose a lot at the beginning, especially before getting to some of the more interesting plot events (after which, I stopped noticing). This kept me from fully engaging; between that and my neutral reception to two of the four principal characters, I didn’t connect with this book as well as some of the other reviewers. It’s an interesting story that I think many will enjoy but overall, was not to my taste.

Crown should appeal to anyone looking for an epic-style fantasy, mutli-POV, cool worlds, and dragons.

 

ŁUKASZ

The story begins with Fenn facing a dragon spirit that taunts him. He remembers nothing but his name. Confused, cursed, and unsure of what to do, he meets Calidra. She lives with her partner on the edge of the world and reluctantly agrees to help Fenn find answers.

The Iron Crown quickly drew me in - I liked its adventurous and upbeat tone. The characters are well-written and compelling, and the plot is engaging. Fenn quickly finds out that he may have a role in the resurgence of the Myr - an ancient race of spirits. He hears voices in his head, and his story is compelling and imaginative.

Calidra, on the other hand, prefers to run away from her problems. She's not the bravest character ever, but in the end, she faces her fears and learns what's important. There is also a retired thief, Apollo, and Torsten - the Queen's Master Inquisitor. I thought most of the characters, including the secondary ones, were well fleshed out.

The dynamics of the hero's journey have essential fantasy components that will be very familiar to genre readers: An unlikely hero emerges and, with the help of friends, navigates a world of epic battles, spirits, and magic. Beyond that, the author's commitment to her characters makes the book interesting. The central mystery surrounding spirits is also good. Why would they be interested in making deals with mortals, and what do they really want? Even if the fantasy elements seem a bit played out, the struggles, motivations, and emotions of McRae's characters enliven the story.

Although I enjoyed The Iron Crown, I had a few issues with it. First, it's a long book, and it feels long. The characters get from A to B and then to C, and I admit that not all of it was exciting. Second, McRae's writing style is quite detailed and wordy, and I firmly believe that a more concise style would improve the pacing of the book. Finally, I prefer books that trust readers to fill in the details and invite them to exercise their imagination. Iron Crown gives too much of everything, and such an approach doesn't always serve it. There are several scenes here that increase the word count but don't add much to the story.

All in all, though, The Iron Crown is a solid and adventurous story with lots of heart and passion. While not perfect, it provided me with solid entertainment. Well worth a shot.

OFFICIAL SPFBO RATING



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