Saturday, December 29, 2012
Iron Hearted Violet - Kelly Barnhill
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Little Brown and Company, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 424 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Started: December 17, 2012
Finished: December 29, 2012
From the inside cover:
In most fairy tales, the princess is beautiful, dragons are terrifying, and stories are harmless. This isn't most fairy tales.
Princess Violet is plain, reckless, and quite possibly too clever for her own good. Particularly when it comes to telling stories. One day she and her best friend, Demetrius, stumble upon a hidden room and find a peculiar book. A forbidden book. It tells a story of an evil being-called the Nybbas-imprisoned in their own world. The story cannot be true-not really. But then, the whispers start. Violet and Demetrius, along with an ancient scarred dragon, may hold the key to the Nybbas' triumph...or its demise. It all depends on how they tell the story. After all, stories make their own rules.
Iron Hearted Violet is the story of a princess unlike any other. It is a story of the last dragon in existence, deathly afraid of its own reflection. Above all, it is a story about the power of stories, our belief in them, and how one enchanted tale changed the course of an entire kingdom.
I love stories which touch on the power of stories, so Iron Hearted Violet was a must-read for me. Aside from a few minor issues, I really enjoyed the novel and think it's a wonderful example of a well-done middle grade fantasy.
First off, I loved having Cassian the storyteller as the narrator. I'm so used to a first-person narration or your run of the mill third person omniscient that it was refreshing to see an actual character as the third person narrator. He has a unique voice with a self-deprecating sense of humour, so his narration is very entertaining to read. It was a little awkward at times though, Cassian obviously doesn't see everything so his credibility is questionable (I assumed he gathered information from everyone after the fact), and half the time you forget that it is actually Cassian narrating so when he's referred to by name by Violet or Demetrius it's a little jarring.
I liked the themes of the power of stories and how being a 'true princess' isn't about beauty. Stories are rightfully shown to have power based on people's belief in them, and Violet spends most of the novel learning that even though she doesn't look anything like a stereotypical princess (and is actually described as ugly), that she embodies every aspect of a 'real princess'. I did have a beef with the illustrations though (done by an illustrator, not the author), Violet is described as being quite ugly and having chipped teeth, mismatched eyes, freckles, super frizzy hair, and a pug nose. She's drawn as a cute and perky girl with awesome curly/wavy hair. I understand that no one wants to see a truly ugly character in pictures, but I believe in staying true to content, and Violet's homely appearance and not fitting into that princess ideal is a big part of the story and the illustrations should reflect that.
I liked how the Nybbas was actually disturbing and scary, something you don't see too often in a villan/antagonist in a middle grade book. I also liked that there was no love interest angle with Demetrius and Violet, but considering it's middle grade I would have been severely disappointed if they had taken that angle as opposed to the innocent friendship aspect.
A few small issues, but overall an excellent novel with enchanting writing, wonderful themes, and endearing characters.
Thoughts on the cover:
Again, my issue with the illustrations is how Violet isn't portrayed as described, but the actual cover is nice and dynamic and not typical at all (both in terms of images and colour scheme).