By: L.L. MacRae
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Self-Published, L.L. MacRae
Content Warning: Torture (magical/spiritual)
“What belonged to thine
Now stolen as mine.
Memories once crystal clear
Are lost, leaving only fear.” L.L. MacRae, The Iron Crown
Do you love dragons? Magical creatures? Exceptional character development? Beautiful world building? Then I highly recommend The Iron Crown by L.L. MacRae, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There were so many unique and wonderful elements in this epic fantasy. The characters were well-developed, the magic system was beautifully imagined, as was the world building. We meet the main protagonist, Fenn, trying to escape from a bog. He only knows his name, but has no memory of anything else, including how he managed to end up in a bog fighting for his life. Enter two other protagonists, Calidra and Jisyel, who find Fenn and eventually help him. Here begins an amazing, page-turning adventure that that takes them from a small island to the mainland, where they meet up with other characters along the way. The Iron Crown is classic epic fantasy at it’s finest. While dragons are certainly not unique to fantasy, the way in which Ms. MacRae incorporates them truly is. The story takes place in the kingdom of Etrovia, ruled by Surayo, The Iron Queen. The dragons, also called spirits, are of course magical, but each has their own distinct magic, which is tied to the land on which it lives. There are dragons that give life to forests. There are dragons that are spirits of the water, and control the forces of water. The dragons choose whom they “bless”, which can bestow magic onto that individual. The most powerful of the dragons is the Iron Dragon, drawing its strength from iron and bound to the Iron Queen. She and her dragon, Toriaken, have kept the Myr away. They are a race of shadow beings, once at war with the kingdom of Etrovia, and a race the people fear. Etrovia, while it can be interpreted as a Euro-centric land, is so much more than that. I felt it was different because of the way the dragon spirits are tied to the land. In addition, the towns the characters visit, while having the taverns and the usual city elements, did not, at least for me, have a strong Euro-centric quality. I think this is because not much time is actually spent in the cities, but traversing the land around them. Did I mention the Griffiths? They are here, too, and just as magnificent. If you love all of these qualities in your fantasy, The Iron Crown is a must-read.
Fenn, Calidra and Jisyel have great chemistry throughout the book. They play off each other so well. Fenn is very likeable. He is frustrated at having no memories, and then some who meet him tell him he’s Myr cursed. This makes him wonder what he was truly like before he lost his memory, and what he will be when and if it returns. I love the LBGTQ representation in the book with Calidra and Jisyel being partners. You can feel the love between them and their protectiveness of each other. I think diversity in fantasy, and all books, is very important and was much needed in the genre. I’m am always happy to see this in the books I read. Calindra and Jisyel compliment each other. Calindra in less trusting of people, slightly aloof and abrupt, while Jisyel is always smiling and is far more trusting. They get separated in the book for a brief period. Their love is palpable when they reunite, and here we see Calindra’s gentle and loving side:
“They crashed together in a tight hug-laughter and crying. Calidra could hardly believe Jisyel was real…
“Your face!” Calidra ran her thumb gently over a slash across Jisyel’s cheek…
“It’s nothing, Cal. It’s nothing.” Jisyel grabbed Calindra’s face in both hands and kissed her fiercely.” L.L. MacRae, The Iron Crown
Many people begin to appear like Fenn, lost souls who have no memory. Unfortunately, they are rounded up by the Queen’s “law” enforcement, The Inquisitors. The head, Torsten, is a particularly unlikeable character. He shows little sympathy for these people, labelling them enemies of the Crown. When he moves to take Fenn, Fenn is saved by former Gernal Varlot, clearly a man Torsten hates, but will not cross. He becomes a main player in the novel as he travels with them. Jisyel and Fenn, traveling to find Calindra, meet a priest at a temple when they go to find food. Selys was one of my favorite characters. Calindra and Jisyel are strong female protagonists, but Selys is full of surprises. Upon hearing that Fenn has no memory, she knows a place where he may get help. She joins them to journey to help Fenn. First dressed in tattered priest robes, when she joins them to leave, she comes fully dressed as a warrior. I loved her! Selys pulls no punches in how she deals with people, shows little fear, and despite her age, is more than a capable warrior. I would want her on my side.
The dragon magic was so unique. I have read many fantasy novels with dragons (who doesn’t love dragons?) and the authors do put different aspects to them. In The Iron Crown, the dragons are spirits of the earth and water. They can appear, and often do. Sometimes they appear as mist-like shadows of their real selves. Jisyel came from a small island where the dragon spirit, Hassan, lives. It has a large forest where he dwells and he can change aspects of it and is it’s care taker. He doesn’t like when his forest is “hurt”. Toriaken is the largest and most powerful, drawing strength from iron, tied to the Queen, hence, The Iron Crown. There are other forest and water dragon spirits as well. Many, but not all, will bless a person and become tied to that individual, bestowing powers to them. The dragons must be worshipped to continue to survive and be strong. There are temples devoted to each one in different areas of the Empire. If they are not continually worshipped, they weaken. This was such a great way to use magic in conjunction with dragons.
The pacing and prose were excellent. Each chapter focused on a different character, told in the third person, and the reader gets their perspective as they journey. We do not get the perspective of Selys or Varlot. They are essential, but we do see them through the eyes of the other characters and I think this was what the reader needs at this point. Not knowing their perspective makes for interesting twists and turns in the story. The narrative flowed smoothly and was beautifully told. It was very exciting, and each chapter left on a cliffhanger making the reader want more. There was never a time in reading The Iron Crown that there was nothing happening. It was page turning excitement built around the main characters and the magic. I loved how the story unfolded and was certainly surprised at many points. Things happened that I never say coming. This story was certainly not predictable.
The Iron Crown was an immensely enjoyable epic fantasy. The character interaction and chemistry were a strong point in the novel. I loved the LBGTQ representation in the love of Calindra and Jiysel, which was beautifully told. The reader can feel the frustration in Fenn, a sweet, loveable character, as he desperately tries to remember anything about his past. While the female protagonists are strong, it is Selys whom I thought was one of the best. Her transformation from priest to warrior was so unexpected and despite her age, she was spry, direct, and more than deft with her large glaive. The dragon magic was one of the most unique ties of dragons to magic that I have read. While they are real, they are spirits of the forests and the waters. They give life to these elements, protect them, and are worshipped by the people of the empire. I am always in awe of authors who think of new ways in which to use fantasy elements, and I admired Ms. MacRae’s brilliant imagination. The pacing and prose were extremely well done, with each chapter focusing on the third person narrative of one of the characters. It flowed smoothly and was never confusing. The reader was clearly able to follow the story of each character as it unfolded. The Iron Crown was an amazing read from start to finish. I highly recommend it and I look forward to the next installment.
Summary (from Escapist Tours)
Fenn’s first and only memory is finding himself in the middle of a forest, face to face with a dragon spirit mocking him, all knowledge gone apart from his own name.
Lost and confused, his only hope for answers is Calidra—a woman living on the edge of the world with her partner. Forced to return home when her father dies, Calidra has put off facing her estranged mother for seven years, and she begrudgingly helps Fenn, forging papers for him so he can avoid the Queen’s Inquisitors.
But her mother is the least of her worries when they discover an ancient enemy is rising again. It should be impossible with the Iron Crown in power—and Fenn is terrified he might unwittingly be playing a part in the war’s resurgence.
Surrounded by vengeful spirits and powerful magic, Fenn’s desperate attempt to find his way home might well alter the fate of Tassar, and every power in it.
My thanks to Escapist Tours for providing me with eBook for review.
Find out more about L.L. MacRae on her website: https://llmacrae.com/
Shop L.L. MacRae’s Shop for Books and Bookswag: https://llmacrae.com/shop
Purchase signed paperbacks at The Broken Binding: https://www.thebrokenbinding.co.uk/product-page/the-iron-crown-l-l-macrae
Purchase The Iron Crown on Amazon