Iron Hearted Violet is about a story, and the power of words to shape worlds. It’s also, of course, the story of Violet herself. Violet is that rarest of creatures, an ugly princess. Her eyes are lop-sided and different colours, she has freckles, she’s scrawny and a tom-boy. She spends her time running around with her best friend, the son of a stableman named Demetrius. Her parents, Randall the Bold and Rose the Benevolent, are kind and understanding and good regents, and they are happy to let Violet enjoy herself.
They live in the land of the mirrored sky, a land where dragons used to exist before someone stole all their hearts and left them afraid of everything, but in particular their own reflections. Rumours are that all the dragons are gone now. But King Randall has begun to obsess about them. He’s confident that there’s still one left, and he sets out to find it. The scariest part is knowing who stole their hearts–an evil god who can not be named, who bides his time in shadows and mirrors, waiting for the time that his power to deceive, confuse and capture will grow again. When Violet and Demetrius are exploring the castle and finding out its secrets, they come across a book with letters that change even as you look at them, that tell the name of the god.
The power of words is commonly explored in fairy-tales, through chanted spells and songs. But this story looks beyond, at the power of words when they are believed. When the evil god begins to weave his spells of deceit, people believe him and that changes their actions. There’s a slyly funny part where Violet, believing that she’s not a real princess because she’s not beautiful, agrees to do whatever the deceptive god wants in exchange for beauty. And in her new body, with skin that glows like amber and gorgeous black hair that cascades in waves down her back, she can hardly move. She’s lost all the muscle from running and playing, her feet are disproportionately tiny which makes it difficult to walk, and all that hair hurts her neck–and it keeps growing! She has to loop it round her waist, and even then she tires quickly. This mocking look at traditional tales is subtly done, but it’s the best sort of didactic moment in that it’s not heavy-handed but a genuine part of the story.
Iron Hearted Violet is told by the realm’s official story-teller, Cassien. He’s an honest man at heart, even when his own role in events is less than stellar or admirable, and his love for Violet and Demetrius is what ultimately redeems him and gives him courage to act–by choosing what to believe. In the same way, the power of evil words can only be broken by Violet, Demetrius, the people, and even the last Dragon, who must choose to believe and trust each other.
A really good story. This one is great for middle-readers, but it’s the sort of book that can spark great discussions. The lessons are subtle though; the kids won’t smell them coming a mile off as with so many clunky stories that shout their messages. A great Christmas present for the reader on your list.
Elizabeth believes that all fiction is didactic, but that some is better done than others. Read more at her blog Planet Nomad.