The end of their world begins with a story.
This one.In most fairy tales, princesses are 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 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's triumph…or its demise. It all depends on how they tell the story. After all, stories make their own rules.
Iron Hearted Violet is a 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.
Violet is (as I said) an unusual princess. She is preternaturally intelligent, ugly, obsessed with stories, and has exactly one friend. She (accompanied by that friend, Demetrius) has been exploring her father’s castle top-to-bottom since she was quite young, and over time has found several curious things. One of those things is a myth or a legend – but it’s not just any sort of myth. It’s a story with the power to change, to destroy, and to undo everything Violet knows. It’s a good thing that Violet has help, for surviving this challenge is beyond her. It requires a team of feisty characters blessed with courage and cleverness and love.
Iron Hearted Violet is an attempt to turn the fairy tale genre upside down, and in some ways it succeeds marvelously. There are hints of familiar tales throughout, but Violet herself is never the typical princess (she reminded me a bit of a mash-up of Ginny Weasley and Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, to be honest). Violet deals with expectations and traditions in a believable way, while making her own decisions and learning to bravely face the consequences in order to set things right.
There’s never a sense of safety in this story – it examines loss, deception, obsession, and the danger in believing that you know what is best for everyone else. In addition, the mythology of the mirrored world is original and well-developed. I also appreciated the beautiful illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. As his artwork was what brought me to the story to begin with, I was happy to see sketches throughout that added to the story’s quality.
Having said all of that, Iron Hearted Violet landed flat. I hoped it would have charm akin to Valente’s Fairyland books or Joanne Harris’ Runemarks, but in that I was disappointed. The book suffered from a stilted point of view perspective (the tale is narrated by the adult castle storyteller), an over-long story (tightening the plot wouldn’t have gone amiss), and a deficiency of character development in anyone except Violet (especially noticeable in regards to Demetrius and the dragon). In sum, while Iron Hearted Violet was delightful in flashes, the overall effect was leaden and ponderous.