Sunday, October 3, 2010

Paranormalcy versus the Iron King

Just finished reading these two very different YA books, both largely about faeries (the fey). Now, I'm not brave enough to pit the ultimate YA bestsellers, the Twilight series against the Hunger Game series. But I'll give it a go with these two: Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White, and The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa.

Okay, I admit I wrote the title and the first line as an attention grabber. I don't actually compare books like I compare clothes while shopping (or while watching the Academy Awards).

Well, maybe just a little bit with my best friends over coffee.
But regardless, on Goodreads, I gave both Paranormalcy and the Iron King five stars and lengthy reviews.

I was struck by the very different tone of the two books, both written in first person.

In Paranormalcy, you have sixteen-year-old Evie, with all her vampire and gremlin ass-kicking attitude, her personality perfectly defined by her blinged-out pink taser that she uses for a weapon.

In the Iron King, you have sixteen-year-old Meghan, who has almost no attitude at all, except maybe a sort of brave stubbornness.

In Paranormalcy, the story is built around the main character and her Buffyish look on life. The paranormal elements and world-building feel more like tacked-on ornaments (though certainly very interesting ornaments, don't get me wrong).

In the Iron King, the story is built around the fey world, and Meghan sometimes just feels like a vehicle to move us through it. The emphasis is totally different, as is the tone. Paranormalcy: despite some tension, insecurity and tragedy, the tone of this book is pure fun. The Iron King's tone is deadly serious, with a occasional sprinkles of humor to keep it from being too dire.

Here's an example of character-centric, voice-centric Paranormalcy:
He [the vampire] hissed. Just as he reached for my neck, I tased him. I was there to tag and bag, not to kill. Besides, if I had to carry separate weapons for every paranormal I took out, I'd be dragging around a full luggage set. Tasers are a one-size-fits-all paranormal butt-kicking option. Mine's pink with rhinestones. Tasey and I have a lot of good times together.

Here's an example of world-centric Iron King:
We walked for hours, through a forest that seemed to be constantly closing in on us. In the corners of my eyes, branches, leaves, even tree trunks moved and shifted, reaching out for me. Sometimes I’d pass a tree or bush, only to see the same one farther down the path. Laughter echoed from the canopy overhead, and strange lights winked and bobbed in the distance. Once, a fox peek at us from beneath a fallen log, a human skull perched on its head. None of this bothered Grimalkin, who trotted down the forest trail with his tail up, never looking back to see if I followed.

I want to emphasize that while Iron King the focus is the strange and fantastic faery world, from the twilight shadows of the Wyldwood, the troll-kitchens of a faery court, a dance-club portal, and the steampunky world of the iron fey, there are also great characters in this book. Puck and Ash are well-developed opposites of impish fun and icy reserve. Grimalkin is a sly reinvention of the Cheshire Cat. A book can't make five stars on world-building alone: it must have a great plot (in this case, a harrowing quest) and great characters. But the world-building is still the core of this book. Even the main villain is defined by world-building, in a sense. Here's an amazing description of the Iron King, Machina:

The figure on the throne stood tall and elegant, with flowing silver hair and the pointed ears of the fey nobility. He faintly resembled Oberon, refined and graceful, yet incredibly powerful. Unlike Oberon and the finery of the Summer Court, the Iron King wore a stark black coat that flapped in the wind. Energy crackled around him, like thunder with no sound, and I caught flashes of lightning in his slanted black eyes. A metal stud glittered in one ear, a Bluetooth phone in the other. His face was beautiful and arrogant, all sharp planes and angles; I felt I could cut myself on his cheek if I got too close.

In Paranormalcy, you get some world-building as Evie describes how she sees various paranormal characters. Her description of the shapeshifter, Lend, is wild and beautiful. But it's all very much filtered through her voice, as opposed to the characters being filtered through the fantastic settings of the Iron King.

I loved them both. Though if you really pressed me, the Iron King feels like it has a slightly wider range, because everything isn't filtered through one super-distinctive voice, like in Paranormalcy.

Which do you like better? Hearing a story entirely filtered through one strong voice? Or do you prefer a slightly less dominating voice that lets you see the world-building and characters more through your own eyes?


  1. I can enjoy both, but if pressed (as you say), I would probably claim a preference for the single, strong, filtering voice. There can be more of a sense of wonder with the other, but I lean towards the immersion and intensity you get with a single, controlling voice.

  2. I haven't read either, but I loved reading this review. Besides giving me two new books to read, it really made me think about my work in progress and how it might be defined. Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking post!

  3. Personally, I like multiple viewpoints. Maybe because there are so many interpretations of given events.

  4. Voice is such an interesting and crucial aspect of a book. Not having read either of them, I guess I can't really say... A single pov has to be excellent to be better than a wider scope, I think. They're both difficult in their own ways.

  5. Great question! I don't like a voice so stylized that it overwhelms the content. Where you draw that line depends on your individual taste. For me, _The Help_ crossed that line. I could not continue reading because the dialect struck me as mannered.

  6. Margo, I have read both, and though I cannot state a preference, I will say that you hit the nail on the head in your descriptions of the strengths of each book.

    Well done!


  7. I really like the way you did your review. I haven't read IRON KING ... yet (it's on my TBR list). I loved PARANORMALCY though. I actually liked the strong distinct voice. It was the first time that I've read a book and felt like I was in the character's head the entire time. I mean, I can get losts in books and they're believable, but this was the first book I've read that had such a distinct voice.

  8. I'm so sorry but I've not read either but going through your descriptions alone I am truly drawn to Iron King more. I think it's my old age speaking more than anything - I love the languidness of the paragraph you chose for Iron King, it sounds like a book taking it's time revelling in atmosphere and detail.

    Take care

  9. I haven't read either of these books. I enjoy humor and light-heartedness that seems to be Paranormalcy. But I also like the mysterious descriptive qualities of Iron King. It's about mood. I enjoy reading many kind of books that evoke different moods.

  10. After reading your reviews, I'm tempted to read both. I loved first-person viewpoint and they both appeal to me in very different ways.

  11. I own both, but haven't read them yet.

    Great compare/contrast.

  12. I am reading PARANORMALCY right now and haven't got too far yet, but it is a lot of fun! And the voice is VERY distinctive and strong. I think perhaps if "pressed" I'd go for something with elements of both these types of stories. (Is that possible?!)

    And thanks for coming by and following me!

  13. I enjoyed Paranormalcy but haven't read the Iron King yet (partly because I am just not a big fan of fairies). I love world building when done well, so maybe I will check it out.

  14. I've read Pararnormalcy and loved the voice, but The Iron King is on my list of TBRs. I like both styles. For me, it depends on my mood. :)

  15. I love the way you did this review and you turned me on to some new reads :) Voice is so crucial and makes or breaks a book. It's also very hard to define. You explained these very well.

  16. Ooh that's a tough one. I guess I'm a cop out but I'm going 50/50 on this one. I have only read Paranormalcy out of the two books, so I really can't compare. Even in an overbearing MC/POV I think you have to let the other characters and world shine through.

  17. I LOVED The Iron King (and the next one in the series) but I haven't read Paranormalcy yet. I think it's tough to choose, since both styles have their own strengths and weaknesses. I'm going to cop out too and say that it depends on what mood I'm in. Some days I want to experience the world through someone else's eyes, other days I want to *be* a different person.

    Great post!

  18. Oh my are the covers stunning or what!!!



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