Iron Ruin is a dark fantasy debut like no other. It is a coming of age story filled with blood and gore, magic and swords, gods and monsters, madness and evil. Notice I didn’t say good and evil. There’s a reason for that.
I read the novel as being from the perspective of a man telling a story of his youth. The main protagonist is 8-turned-9 years old, and we can wreck our brains all day debating how a child would act in the situations he was thrown in or what he would think or say when seeing what he was shown, but overall the writer did a really good job at keeping us believing.
The writing itself was very sophisticated, which is another reason why I felt like I was reading a story from a mature person, not a child, and not be thrown off when he talks about concepts he immediately says he did not understand.
The plot moved along pretty quickly and I had no time to get bored. I felt invested in the characters and I really liked how their struggles also had consequences. Big consequences. It’s rare to see main characters lose limbs or minds, and it gave a very realistic feel to it.
Now, when Sykes warns “Contains adult themes, imagery, and language” he’s not kidding. If you’re reading epic fantasy you’re probably not squeamish and pretty used to the abundance of gore, torture, rape, and murder. However, this book takes it up a notch with explicit scenes of child torture, rape, and murder (not always in that order).
While I have to give Sykes props for not abusing the gay=child molester cliche, the constant themes of child rape (mostly little girls) were more than disturbing. There’s also something unsettling about reading graphic sexual and rape scenes from the eyes of a 9 year old. Many times it felt forced (see what I did there?) and unnecessary, but I’m not the writer so who am I to say I guess.
While the novel had an abundance of the best themes from epic fantasy, it also suffered from some of the worst. The main one was all women being nothing but walking boobs and vaginas, so every female in the book was either raped, the rapist, or a prostitute. That’s it. No grey area. It makes for bad etiquette when half your audience is women.
Iron Ruin was a solid debut, though maybe a little too dark for me. If you’re looking for a dark fantasy with much horror and brutality, try it out. If scenes depicting child rape are a deal breaker, I would steer away. I hope that for volume two, we get to see some different themes and a more balanced approach.