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The Iron Thorn: Iron Codex    by Caitlin Kittredge order for
Iron Thorn
by Caitlin Kittredge
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Caitlin Kittredge's The Iron Thorn introduces a dystopian future society, in which Proctors rule. They worship science and engineering, spread fear of magic and of infection by the necrovirus, and brutally punish Heretics. Their world is filled with creatures out of nightmares (like nightjars) whose bite can turn humans into one of them.

Readers meet Aoife Grayson, a ward of the state and student of engineering in the city of Lovecraft. Her best friend is fellow student Cal Daulton. Aoife's mother Nerissa is an asylum inmate and her brother Conrad, who attacked his sister after his own onset of madness, has disappeared. Everyone (including our heroine) expects that Aoife will also go mad on her sixteenth birthday, which is fast approaching.

Aoife regularly receives secret letters (written in ghost ink) from Conrad. When the latest arrives with the single word 'HELP' on it, Aoife is determined to find and save her brother. A further message tells her to 'Go to Graystone / Find the witch's alphabet / Save yourself'. Graystone, house of the father (Archibald Grayson) Aoife has never met, is upstate, in Arkham. Cal insists on accompanying her.

Seeking a guide in Nightfall Market, they're helped by rakish, silver-eyed Dean Harrison. He takes them across the Night Bridge and to an airship, the Berkshire Belle, that makes a habit of avoiding the authorities. After a betrayal and crash landing, they walk the remainder of the way. They find neither brother nor father at Graystone, but rather a house filled with secrets and beset by dangers.

Aoife discovers that Graystone is a clockwork house that she can control, and that magic is real. She's pulled into the Land of Thorn, where tall, pale Tremaine threatens her friends and insists that she 'take up the mantle of Gateminder' and aid him. Aoife learns that she's been lied to all her life and that everyone has secrets. She returns to Lovecraft, harnesses its Engines' power ... and inadvertently unleashes further terrors on her world.

This first Iron Codex episode ends on disaster, as Aoife and friends flee to the Land of Mists. Though I'm not a big fan of steampunk or horror, this story grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let me stop reading. Caitlin Kittredge certainly is inventive and introduces a tough young heroine, who makes mistakes but keeps on going. I can't imagine where the author will take the series next but am curious to find out.

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