The Iron Flower: The Black Witch Chronicles, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Iron Flower: The Black Witch Chronicles, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Dramatic, overlong sequel tackles prejudice thoughtfully.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Reminds readers the best way to study any history: from many perspectives. It shows how biases and prejudices can form and how fear, divisiveness are used as tool for warmongers. Readers can compare author's magical world with other magical worlds in books.

Positive Messages

Avoid prejudice and don't accept militaristic idea of "dominate or be dominated by" those who are different from you. Fight for a balance of power that includes everyone. Seek love and friendship that doesn't fit within tight confines of religious, cultural expectations. Hold out faith in the good, even if you've been wronged.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elloren goes from seeing herself as pawn of her greedy aunt to someone with power to fight against oppression. Name of the book speaks to this transformation: Iron flowers are delicate when they bloom and then grow into strong trees. She's constantly having to prove herself to others because of her background and does so through acts of bravery and selflessness. Her allies, friends remain loyal, are diverse both in race (Fae, Lupine, Icaral, Selkie, etc.) and in sexual orientation.

Violence

Massacre meant to kill whole species (described after the fact); another species imprisoned, systematically tortured, drugged, mutilated, executed (brutal prison conditions described). Two deaths of those close to the main character, one from drugging in prison, the other from torture. Mobs beat, mutilate (cutting off tips of ears, shaving hair) those they consider "other." Revenge killings of those responsible mentioned. Sex trafficking victims described in brothels, all Selkies (seal/human-like shape shifters), some as young as 12. Aftereffects of this trauma discussed. Many stories of genocide over history of kingdom. A girl is slapped by her father for not obeying. Story of a girl protecting her mother from spousal abuse, training to become a warrior, returning to cut off her father's head.

Sex

Some kisses, groping, a night spent in bed together. Characters stop themselves before sex, recalling that they don't have birth control and were raised in a culture that frowns upon premarital sex. Talk of how different cultures view sex and attraction. Story of one culture's females seeking out men during "fertility rites." One such tryst is briefly described.

Language

Swearing is rare but includes "bitch" and "ass."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character, a teen, and an adult friend get spinning-drunk on spirits to relieve stress. Another character goes through a serious drug withdrawal that almost kills her.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Iron Flower is the second book in the Black Witch Chronicles. The thought-provoking themes from the first book, The Black Witch, continue here. Author Laurie Forest examines prejudice, privilege, and even how to study history: from many perspectives beyond the dominant culture's take. As the banging of war drums gets louder in this sequel, the violence ratchets up as well. The publisher lists The Iron Flower for ages 12 and up, but with talk of sex trafficking and genocide, this series is a better fit for mature teen readers and beyond. With these readers, you can also have nuanced discussions about race and power and how to fight for what's right and look for the good in dire circumstances. Beyond the violence already mentioned, there's a massacre (described after the fact) and a species imprisoned and systematically tortured, drugged, mutilated, and executed (brutal prison conditions described). Expect two deaths of those close to the main character, one from drugging in prison, the other from torture. Mobs beat and mutilate (cutting off tips of ears and shaving hair) those they consider "other." Sexual content includes much kissing and groping and then stopping before sex, and the talk of "fertility rites" of Amaz women with one such encounter briefly described. The main character, a teen, and an adult get drunk on spirits to relieve stress. Another character nearly dies from drug withdrawal, from a drug she was forced to take.

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What's the story?

In THE IRON FLOWER, Elloren is expected to wandfast to powerful military leader Lukas Grey, the step before marriage that would bind them for life. Her social-climbing aunt demands it, and that she stop hanging around with Icarals and Lupines and the rest of the non-Gardnerians she hopes Erthia will soon be rid of when the war starts. While Elloren nods and smiles for her aunt, promising to be wandfasted soon, she keeps many secrets. In the forest, Elloren hides an untamed dragon, one she helped steal from Lukas Grey's regiment with her non-Gardnerian friends. In her dorm, she's hiding a Selkie that she rescued from the cruel university groundskeeper. In her boot, she's hiding what she believes is the White Wand of prophesy that would yield untold power to help the oppressed, if only she had any power as a mage to access it. The wand, the trees around her, and white birds all find ways of communicating with her every time danger is near. And danger comes for Elloren's friends before she can stop her own Gardnerian people from the very worst of war crimes.

Is it any good?

Readers who like to get truly lost in emotionally intense fantasies for as many pages as possible, editing be darned, will adore this hefty sequel. Those who prefer stories tautly told, carefully pared down to what's necessary, may be frustrated with the 100 extra pages and dozen or so unnecessary characters author Laurie Forest crams into this sequel. There are also a few too many dramatic moments for one story. Elloren, the main character, bursts into tears over tragedies so many times you'll lose count. It's about as many times as she stares at Yvan longingly, and that's a lot.

Still, this series explores social justice themes with freshness and real depth. That's enough for four stars right there. Gardnerians are the closest things to humans, with some added iridescence and magic ability, and they are the latest warmongers in this planet's constant cycle of genocide. Elloren is supposed to be the catalyst for all this bloodshed, but she's the catalyst for hope instead. Her metamorphosis at the end of The Iron Flower promises an enticing Book 3.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the power struggles in The Iron Flower. What do the Gardnerians use to justify their hatred of anyone not like them? What conflicts in the past have contributed to this hate?

  • What needs to change for all inhabitants of Erthia to coexist? Is peace in this world possible?

  • Will you read the next in the Black Witch Chronicles? What do you think will happen to the main characters? How are they preparing for what's ahead?

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