Sunday 2 February 2014

Review: Ironheart by Allan Boroughs

‘First comes the iron and then comes the snow, and then comes the winter when nothing will grow.’ 

Since her father went missing while prospecting for oil in Siberia, life has been tougher than ever for India Bentley. Little does she know that he was actually searching for Ironheart, a legendary fortress containing the secrets of the old world. A place some say could save humanity . . . or destroy the world. 

Along with tech-hunter Verity Brown and her android, Calculus, a killer from the old world turned protector in the new, India must make the journey to remote Siberia to try to find her father and finish his work. But there are others fighting to find Ironheart too – and they have very different goals in mind. 

If India fails, it won’t just be her father who pays the price. It will cost her the Earth.

The floods caused by the Great Rains have left London unrecognisable from its former glory as one of the greatest cities on the planet. Its inhabitants eke out a pretty miserable existence, scavenging through the mud for anything that might be of use or value. India Bentley lives in a walled village with her sister and step-mother, desperately hoping for the return of her long-missing father, an oil surveyor for one of the planets leading energy companies, the Trans-Siberian Mining Company.

On an evening when it looks as if India's already miserable life is about to get much, much worse, tech-hunter Verity brown and her android bodyguard (not a robot, definitely an android), appear on the scene, hunting for any clues that John Bentley may have left behind regarding his possible discovery of the legendary Ironheart -  a long hidden depository of great treasures and possibly more. India manages to persuade Verity to take her with her as they flee from untrusting villagers, and so begins an adventure that sees India travelling deep into the heart of frozen Siberia, on a quest to find her father and Ironheart. It is a quest that will test her to the limits of her physical and mental endurance, and little does she know that the safety of the whole planet is at stake if she fails.

There was so much I loved about this book, but ultimately it boils down to this being a perfect old-school action/adventure story, in the tradition of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines books, Indiana Jones and all of the adult quest thrillers that I read when I'm not reading YA and children's books. Writer Allan Burroughs does not spend several chapters building his post-apocalyptic world - instead, he draws the reader into the action in the very first chapter, and gradually lets the details of his world gradually develop as the plot progresses. This makes it a great read for reluctant readers as there is no chance at all for them to get bored.

Of course, even a rip-roaring plot can soon become somewhat tedious if the characters aren't interesting and appealing. To make an adventure story truly entertaining from first to last page you need characters who readers will grow to love and hate, and Ironheart has these by the truckload. India Bentley is an especially great main character and it is really refreshing to read an adventure story with a female protagonist. She is a gutsy, courageous young lady who is ready to risk life and limb in order to find her father. I have to say that it is also rather refreshing that the author does not feel the need to introduce a love interest or an element of romance for his female lead into the plot.

As well as India, there are a host of entertaining supporting characters, although some of these are not developed as much as others. Verity Brown, the tech-hunter, is one in particular that I was left wanting to know more about, although as this book is a sequel I am hoping that we will see more of Ms Brown in the next episode. Other great characters do get more wordage though, and android Calculus and pirate rigger Captain Aggrovius Bulldog were my personal favourites.

There is so much more that I want to mention but I risk creating spoilers by doing so. I will say that the book does come across as being very well researched. The Siberian setting of the story is a new one for me, and Allan Boroughs really brings the location alive. I also loved how the writer weaves real-world history like the Tunguska event into his story, adding a touch of Graham Hancock ancient advanced-civilisation theory to the story, something I've not encountered in a chidlren's book before, whilst also mixing in elements of shamanism. All of these aspects are great for enquiring minds, and I am sure there will be a number of kids who will be enthused into researching these areas once they have finished the book.

Ironheart is a great book for aged 9+ kids, and I think boys and girls will love it equally, and be left wanting more like I was. However, like me they will have to be patient as the sequel, The Sun Machine, is not due to be published until January 2015. My thanks go to Allan Boroughs for sending me a copy to read.