I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill

In this segment, I like to share spoiler-free notable quotables on books I am loving the hell out of. I don’t write summaries because they put me to sleep. You and me, baby? We’re going to have a little kiki about a book. No big.

I’m not even sure where I picked up an ARC of Iron Hearted Violet, but I think it’s been sitting around my apartment for a while. Princesses? Dragons? Meh. Not my thing. But after finishing The Diviners, I realized I needed to get off my long YA-lit kick and dive into some epic kid’s fiction. I shouldn’t have let my anti-princess prejudices get in the way of delving into Iron Hearted Violet. It’s action-packed and Violet is not your typical princess. OK, they say that about all princesses, but they lie to you. They’re all the same, all sort of tainted with an icky Disney aftertaste. Violet’s different. She’s tough, she’s smart, and she’s…well…read this excerpt:


“There once was a dragon,” the young Violet said one night after dinner to a hushed, delighted crowd…,”the largest and smartest and powerfulest dragon in all our mirrored world…But“–she held up one finger, wagging it slightly–“it had a problem. This dragon fell in love with a princess. A human princess.”

“Ah!” the assembled crowd cried out. “Poor dragon! Poor princess!” They pressed together against one another, shoulder to shoulder, laughing all the while.

Violet raised her eyebrows and continued. “The princess lived in a faraway country, and they had never met. Dragons, you see, can spy halfway across the world if they choose to…But they usually don’t.” She pursed her lips. “Dragons are terribly lazy.”

The listeners chuckled and sighed. That child! they thought. That magic child!

“But this dragon,” Violet continued, “was not lazy at all. It was in love. It didn’t eat or sleep. It just sat on top of a mountain, its shiny tail curled around the peak, its black eyes searching the world for its love.”

“Tell us about the dragon’s lady love!’ a young man said.

“Oh, she was an ugly thing, ” the Princess assured us. “She had moles in the shape of horny toads across her cheeks, and a crooked nose, and even crookeder teeth. Her smile was too big, and her eyes were too small, and her feet were of differing sizes. But the dragon loved her anyway. It loved her and loved her and loved her some more. The dragon loved her hairy wrists and loved her frizzy, frizzy hair.”

No one laughed. An embarrassed silence pressed onto the crowd. They couldn’t look at Violet.

(Not a pretty child, they thoughtAnd, alas growing uglier by the day.)

I tried to intervene. “Beloved Violet,” I said, my voice tumbling from my mouth in a rush. “You have made a beginner’s mistake! You have forgotten the beauty! A princess is never ugly. Everyone know that a real princess is always beautiful.” Violet didn’t move. It was as though I had turned her to stone. Finally she fixed her large eyes on me. And oh! The hurt! The betrayal! I swallowed. “In a story, I mean,” I added hastily, but it was too late. “Of course I mean in a story. Stories have their own rules, their own…expectations. It’s the job of the teller to give the people what they want.” 

The crowd nodded. Violet said nothing. And oh, my dears! How I wanted to catch that child in my arms and tell her I didn’t mean it! But the damage was done.

Finally: “You are right, beloved Cassian,” she said quietly, tilting her eyes to the ground. “What was I thinking? The dragon, of course, was in love with a beautiful princess…”

(S)he continued and finished her tale, I could feel that her heart was elsewhere, and when she excused herself to go to bed, she left without saying good night.

After that, the princesses in her stories were always beautiful. Always.

~~Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, pgs. 8-13

I’d say this is about a fifth grade level book, maybe OK for a motivated fourth grader. Look for this unique action/adventure/fantasy book in October of this year.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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