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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published: October 9, 2012
Pages: 432
Source: For Review from Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 4 Stars

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.

In short: If I were to describe Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill in one word, it would be Charming.
Middle Grade fantasies featuring strong and charismatic protagonists and creative world building are among my favourite kind of books to read and I had a feeling Iron Hearted Violet would give me exactly what I wanted - and it did. Kelly Barnhill has crafted an adventurous and unconventional story with a completely endearing protagonist. And what's more, there was SUBSTANCE here in the themes and messages of the novel. If I had to describe Iron Hearted Violet in one word, it would be Charming. I was utterly charmed by the story, characters, and writing.

Iron Hearted Violet is narrated not by Violet, but by the Court Storyteller, stepping away from the more traditional first person and third person omniscient points of view, which added a lot of interest and texture to the story that I really appreciated. It also really brought home the message of the power of storytelling and gave the story a fairytale feel, which was genius on Kelly Barnhill's part. Her bewitching prose was a delight to read and so very playful. The plot was well done - perhaps a bit too predictable at times - but very intriguing and whimsical.

I loved Violet. She is not your typical princess - she isn't graceful or fragile. And she is described as being a homely princess, with a lopsided face, mismatched eyes, and a frizzy and unruly mane of hair. Though I have to say, even though I knew all this, I couldn't help picturing her as an adorable and charming girl, just based on the strength of her personality. She may not be princess-conventionally-pretty, but she is unique and beautiful in her own way. It's hard not to be charmed by such a clever, inquisitive, and dauntless protagonist!

I was mostly impressed by the illustrations present in Iron Hearted Violet, as drawn by Iacopo Bruno, though I have a few quibbles: first off, that awesome scene depicted on the cover of Violet riding on the back of a dragon? NEVER happens. So that was disappointing and misleading. Also, Violet as illustrated by Iacopo Bruno is not the Violet at described by Kelly Barnhill: the illustrations of her are more conventionally pretty than the physical characteristics described in the book and I would have preferred to see her as her unique and adorable self instead.

Overall, Iron Hearted Violet was a super charming read and I look forward to reading more books from Kelly Barnhill in the future. Iron Hearted Violet is a standalone.

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  1. This sounds great and I love the cover.

  2. Wow, what an absolutely stunning cover this book has! And I love the sound of Violet and the fact that she's not your typical princess. I think I would be picturing her as beautiful as well based on her personality - and that's what I love so much about reading. You fall in love with all the parts of a person you can't see with your eyes - the ones that matter most:)

  3. This sounds like a neat book! I love reading MG books and try to work them into my schedule when I can.

    Thanks for sharing, Aylee! :)

  4. Ohh, this sounds wonderful! Although I don't read middle grade as a general rule, I almost decided to drop everything and get a copy of this right away. Such imaginative worldbuilding isn't something one comes across often, and I love that the author made unusual narrative choices that made the book truly stand out.
    Lovely review!

  5. I remember this book from one of your WOWs. It's stand alone MG fantasy and you approve so I'm going to add to my TBR. Thanks for the review!

  6. Sounds like such an endearing book. I really want to read more MG. I like the narration style...how unique! Bummer the cover image doesn't actually happen. I hate when covers are misleading in ways like that.


  7. I don't read MG novels that often because substance is hard to come by (maybe I've just read the wrong ones?), so I'm glad to hear that this one doesn't disappoint in that aspect. I like the cover! It's a shame that this scene doesn't play out in the book and that the illustrations present the main character differently. Great review!

  8. This one sounds very sweet. But it's annoying that the cover illustration never happens!

  9. I need to read more middle grade again. This one sounds absolutely great and the cover is so beautiful! I love a good non-typical princess and a classic fairytale feel is always a plus. I'll have to read this one soon!

  10. I'm sorry the scene in the cover never happens, I know you were excited about it!!
    And I'm going to add it to my wishlist, it sounds charming and good! i love this type of MG book :D

  11. oooh this totally sounds like it's up my alley! love stories like this and YES for it being a standalone. fantastic review!

  12. I recently read a book where the cover didn't match the story - was disappointing, to say the least. But I love a great story about a strong heroine which I can share with my daughter (girl power!!) So I'll check this one out. Thanks for the review :)

  13. Violet sounds like Merida! I loved her, so maybe I would love Violet. I have been getting more into MG lately and I love how they have a clear message. I want to get more under my belt so that when my daughter gets to that age I have a good selection of books to lead her into. This sounds like it could make the list! Great review!

  14. I love charming books. Especially middle grade these days. I can't believe how fabulous some of them can be and this one seems like my next go-to hit. A book like this reminds me of a storybook kind of tale and that gets me excited. ^__^

  15. I dumped this on my wishlist after seeing the cover so it's a little disappointing to hear that the scene on the cover never happens. But, I'm always looking for MG reads for my brother and cousin and since you found this one charming, I'm pretty sure I'll end up reading it too.

  16. You know I have a huge soft spot for a well written middle grade fantasy, not unlike yourself! This one sounds perfect. I'm going to be adding it to my TBR right now. When you said, "And what's more, there was SUBSTANCE here in the themes and messages of the novel. " I knew it would be a book a could really get into. Great review!

  17. Oh darn, I wanted to read about that cover scene! Well, that disappointment aside I'm super excited to see you give this one such high praise. Violet sounds adorable and I like that the book has substance to go along with the adventure.