The Iron Crown
M.A. Grant’s The Iron Crown is The Sixth Sense meets Vikings plus magic. Grant takes an outlandish mash-up and handles it with intelligent writing, but doesn’t treat the central love story as central, which means the book – though marketed as one – ultimately doesn’t feel like a romance.
Lugh is the third of three sons of the faerie Queen Mab of the Winter Court. Lugh, who has the ability to perceive the spirits of the unhappily dead, has spent the last few centuries as a seidhr “the eyes and mouth of the gods” (a kind of shaman/priest without medical responsibilities), to the Sluagh people, a culture of mortals. Keiran, a human whom Lugh saved as a child from a slaughtered village, is his partner through it all. Lugh, Keiran, and The Hunt (their own mini ‘band of brothers’) roam the land while Keiran concocts Homeric tales about their deeds. But conflict is brewing – Lugh’s older brother takes off for the Summer Court, his other brother is abducted, and the Sluagh lands are experiencing a mass “vanishing” of their military-aged youth. Soon, Lugh’s gift becomes an integral part of solving the mysteries and he and Keiran become pivotal players in the upheaval of the social order of their world.
The Iron Crown is a very well-told story. The pace is fast and the writing, while it isn’t in any way poetic like The Odyssey, Aeneid, or Beowulf – to which it which it alludes – is commendably smooth. Grant doesn’t so much world-build as world-assemble with pieces of actual reality and fiction; it’s Viking Scandinavia with a touch of Shakespeare (Freyja and Valhalla are mentioned, and King Oberon rules the Summer Court). Lugh and Keiran are equal protagonists who each narrate the story through their first-person points of view, but interestingly (and surprisingly to me), while Lugh appears to be The Hero at the start of the story, events conspire so that part way through, he basically cedes the role to Keiran (a quibble is that their voices are nearly interchangeable – perhaps they’ve simply spent too much time together. I know after only living with housemates, I started to pick up and use their phrases, which explains why I occasionally say ‘Huzzah!’).
The handling of Lugh and Keiran’s romance is the most unsatisfying part of the book. In some ways, they share an astonishing depth of intimacy; when they fight together, they use each other’s bodies as launching platforms to tackle their attackers, and grab spare weapons off the other mid-fight. They share a bed consistently (not sexually) and easily. Lugh has long desired Keiran, but Keiran lives preoccupied with feelings of “worthlessness” that Queen Mab has instilled in him. When Keiran and Lugh do pursue a romance, it seems to surprise Keiran, as if he spent almost years sleeping skin to skin with Lugh, who at one point literally offers Keiran his naked body, and never considered him as a romantic partner. And the incredible intimacy they have in daylight translates not at all to their bed – Keiran has a hesitancy that Lugh respects, but never addresses.
It’s never clear why, precisely, Keiran and Lugh’s romance has such a hard time transitioning to the physical, though one can winnow down the possibilities. Male-male partnerships are accepted in this world, so it’s unlikely Keiran has internalized any homophobia. There’s the power dynamic, which is acknowledged but unresolved – how can Keiran consent with a person who provides him with all the facets of his existence in terms of physical safety, social position, etc.? And there’s Keiran’s abused sense of self-worth. As this is a romance, I’d expect a large portion of the story would be related to Lugh and Keiran developing their relationship, grappling with its consequences, and getting to relish the enhancement the addition of sex could add, but it isn’t. It’s disappointing, and it makes the romance and happily ever after somewhat unbelievable.
If The Iron Crown had been a fantasy story only, I would have given it a higher grade, but because it courted a romance audience and then didn’t employ the tenets of romance which say the love story should be the main focus, I can’t do more than commend it for its better parts, of which the writing and the fantastical stand out.
Buy it at: Amazon
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