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.
The Iron Crown is the first installment in L.L. MacRae’s new Dragon Spirits Trilogy. It is dubbed as an epic adventure fantasy, a categorization with which I wholeheartedly agree.
I have been reading a lot of what I call “adventure fantasy” lately, which is not by design but by happenstance. I do not mind, though, as I have said that adventure fantasy is my favorite. I love a whimsical storyline and characters experiencing different topographical and peoples. Stop me if you have heard this before.
And that leads us to The Iron Crown, because that is what this book is: an adventure novel written in the style of epic fantasy. As I was reading and planning the review in my head (as one does) I originally was going to take umbrage with the “epic” tag, because when the story starts it reads much more like classical fantasy to me. The narrative seems very linear and somewhat basic-ish. But, listen: it grows. The story expands from following the one set of characters trying to solve a couple of problems to something more complex. Soon enough there are multiple narratives and storylines that that are weaving in and out of each other, characters pairing and unpairing in surprising ways, and many conflicts in need of resolution. Okay, sold. Epic fantasy it is.
I am not just rambling here (promise 🤞), I am trying to make a point; which is, if you are looking for the quick and dirty of the thing, here it is: The Iron Crown is an enjoyable epic adventure fantasy. Full stop.
It is not my intention to stop there, though, as there is so much more to say. I like the character set, mostly because they are very diverse in function, some being trope-y while others are much more original. Calidra is an exiled princess, earnest in personality and estranged from her family. Fenn is the wanderer with the lost memory. Torsten is the Inquisitor with a chip on his shoulder. Those characters carry a certain amount of trope, but there are many originals in the story, as well. Jisyel is Calidra’s partner and brings softness, levity, and hope to the group. There are magical dragon spirits and priestesses that are connected to them. Apollo is my favorite character, I think. I am not going to tell you much about him, but he is so interesting. The more I write about this book the more I think it may be character-driven, or at least 50/50 with the plot. The character set brings so much to this story, that it is really difficult to overlook.
Props to MacRae on the writing, as well. I think the pacing was really great. One of the things I look for, especially in longer books (this comes in at almost 600 pages) is for mini-climaxes while building up the main conflict, and it is clear MacRae is a pro at that aspect of story building. It really kept my interest along the way while main story arc was developing. I really liked the way the story ended, too. It left a ton of intrigue for the next book.
There were a couple of small-ish cons that I noticed. The first was Fenn’s character development. He wakes up in a strange place with no memory, and part of the plot is him trying to get it back. That part was mostly fine, I do wish there was more to it, though. I kind of thought there was not a lot of intrigue along the way, and the way it was handled by Fenn and everyone around him just felt repetitive. I also wish we had gotten more history of this world in the story. We get snippets here and there, but not enough to create the kind of depth I was looking for. That may be coming in the next couple of books, so that is something to look for. These issues were not big enough to me to affect my overall enjoyment of the story very much, though.
All in all, I really like this book. With a great set of characters and an intriguing journey with all kinds of mayhem along the way, The Iron Crown really sets the tone for the rest of the Dragon Spirits trilogy. I am excited to see where it goes.