Kelly Barnhill’s Iron Hearted Violet

I don’t remember finding this book, so I have no anecdote for you today, but I can say that I got it for $1, which is all you really need to know. It was at Half Price Books, as usual. Speaking of which, I made out like a bandit at the Labor Day sale this year. I got 19 books for $24, not too shabby. Here’s a conversation that passed between me and Smarty Pants.

Me: I got 19 books!

Smarty Pants: 19? Really? Was that necessary?

Me: Um, well, I guess I only needed one of them, so no?

Of course, at the end of it, I wouldn’t have put back any of the ones I bought. He should just be happy that I managed to tear 10 other books out of my clutches and place back, reluctantly, on the shelf. See? Discipline.

In Iron Hearted Violet, Princess Violet and her best friend, a livery boy by the name of Demetrius, are in for a world of trouble after they decide to explore the castle. If I had a castle, I’d explore it too, but the interesting thing about this castle is that it changes. Hallways are replaced by rooms, and staircases are no longer there. It reminds me of Hogwarts, obviously. At the end, there’s a twist to why the castle moves about, but I won’t tell you what it is. As with every adventure that two mischievous kids go on, mayhem and the end of the world are inevitable results. Violet, Demetrius, and an ancient dragon have to defeat the evil that awakens after they find a secret passage.

Iron Hearted Violet is one of the more lyrical MG books I’ve ever read. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the author is a poet, although I don’t believe that lyrical writing can only come from poets or that all poets are lyrical. Barnhill whisks you away into this world with sentences that flow together, kind of like you’re floating down a lazy river at a waterpark. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the story and not notice the sun setting and that your eyes are straining to read the print in the dim light of dusk. With a novel that places a lot of emphasis on storytelling and stories being living beings, it only makes sense that the writing for Iron Hearted Violet would beat with a hypnotic rhythm to lull us into that part of our minds that devour books and tales.

The ending was quite different from other MG books in that there wasn’t a big resolution. It resolved the problem at hand, but threw in a twist that left things open. Like I said for my review of Transfixion, not everything needs to be wrapped up in a bow. While Barnhill did a little more of that, there was still a sense of life moving on, going forward to a new adventure. If you watched Psych and saw the ending, you’d see what I mean in visual form. The ending for Psych was spectacular. I was satisfied beyond my wildest dreams, which helped diminish my grief for its ending.

Another part of Iron Hearted Violet I liked was Demetrius. He’s the best friend everyone should have. I constantly found myself saying, “Oh Demetrius, you’re so cool!” And I don’t mean “cool” in the “I’m Danny Zucko sense,” but he was just amazing. He was always there for Violet, recognizing her when no one else did, and believing in her. Who doesn’t want a best friend who’s there for you, who takes your verbal beatings because you’re hurt? I’m not saying you should yell at people, but sometimes you need to vent, and if your friend understands that it’s not him, it’s something else, then that’s great. He can listen. You can vent, and then be happy again. Demetrius was probably my favorite character. Violet was great, too, but I think what he brought to the other characters was deserving of applause.

This book did have its faults, and the most frustrating one for me was the overuse of “beloved” and “my darling.” I understand the point of it. It is polite for the society in which the characters live, but when I read it about every other page, I started to get annoyed. Similar to other terms of endearment and phrases from other books. There’s this one author, whose books I read during college, and she said a variation of “His heart ached in the region of his chest” in every book of hers, at least once, usually multiple times. It became a running joke with me when it’d show up for the first time in a new one. I was reading late at night, probably 2AM once, when I saw it. I thrust my fist into the air and yelled, “YES!” and most likely irritated my roommate. Anyway, it’s easy to slip into a habit and repeat yourself without knowing because we write in bursts. We don’t sit and write an entire novel at once. When repeating a sentence or phrase to foreshadow or for effect, it’s very easy to cross that line where it becomes a hindrance to the story because the reader doesn’t like it. That happened to me with Iron Hearted Violet, but I was able to just skip them, or let them pass with a roll of my eyes.

A moving tale that shows you how to live and love without patronizing the reader makes Iron Hearted Violet a must-read. 9/9*

*See explanation of rating system

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