Fairytales, at least the ones portrayed in Disney movies, often carry specific archetypes and stereotypes: the beautiful princess, the charming prince, the terrifying dragon. But Kelly Barnhill’s modern fairytale, Iron Hearted Violet rings true of the older, darker fairytales that are reminiscent of the Brother’s Grimm.
The story centres around Violet, the young princess and sole heir to the King and Queen of the mirrored world, a small part of a larger multiverse. In place of the long flowing hair and beautiful crystal eyes, Violet has eyes of two different sizes that are shaded by a mop of tangled red curls. Regardless of her atypical looks, Violet is known for her outspoken personality and her gift for telling stories which is greatly valued by the people of her father’s kingdom.
The child told stories with enthusiasm, verve, and wild abandon. And she was a wonder.
Violet’s stories, along with those of the King’s professional storyteller, (and our narrator) Cassian, keep the history of their kingdom alive. Founded by the twelve Old Gods many years ago, the kingdom exists under a sky of mirrors and was once inhabited by herds of dragons. The stories keep Violet’s curiosity about the origins of her world at bay, until one day, she and her friend, Demetrius, find a hidden hallway that leads into a dark and mysterious place. The two friends find a painting of a haunting figure with blades as hands and feet standing on top of a pile of dragon hearts.
Years later, Violet and Demetrius are almost able to erase this image from their minds. That is until Violet’s father receives word of the last living dragon in their world. Determined to bring the creature back to the castle to keep him from death, the King sets off on a journey, and Violet begins to wonder about dragons, about the Old Gods, and about the terrifying painting.
Iron Hearted Violet is a thrilling tale of ancient magic, deception, and tremendous bravery. This rich and compelling story will capture its readers from the very first page. They will be hooked, awaiting the unveiling of the dark shadows and secrets of Violet’s kingdom. I admired Violet’s courageous attitude, Demetrius’ almost telekinetic connection with the kingdom’s animals, and the mystique and mystery of the last dragon on earth. Iron Hearted Violet is now one of my new favourite fairytales.