Magpie’s Song (2017) is the beginning of a new series by Allison Pang, and it’s an interesting blend of genres. There’s a dash of steampunk, a dollop of dystopia, and even a pinch of faerie lore. When I started reading, I was skeptical that all of this would work well together, but Pang pulls it off, and creates an interesting world that I want to know more about.
BrightStone is a steampunky, gritty city whose inhabitants are ruled from above — literally — by the Meridians, a technologically advanced society living on an island that floats above BrightStone. The citizens of BrightStone, for the most part, eke out an impoverished existence, and no one is as downtrodden as the Moon Children. The Moon Children, half-breed offspring of a Meridian and a BrightStone dweller, are outcast by everyone and thought of as sin-eaters. And they’re immune to a plague called the Rot, and thus subject to being “Tithed.” Moon Children who are Tithed are chosen to lead Rot victims into the dreaded Pits, and none are ever seen again.
In this world, we meet Raggy Maggy, aka Mags, aka Magpie. She and her best friend are scavenging one night when they discover both a tiny clockwork dragon and a dead Meridian body, and their lives change forever. On the run from the fearsome Inquestors, Maggy teams up with an unlikely group of allies and begins to learn some of Meridion’s dirty little secrets. Reluctantly, she is drawn into a dangerous conspiracy.
Magpie’s Song starts with a bang of scrambling-on-rooftops action that never really lets up, and the prose is well-written and gives the reader a vivid sense of this unique world. The world is so complicated, though, that this first book is largely set-up. About a third of the way through, I got the idea that the plot was going to revolve around Maggy going to a specific place, and then at about the 80% mark, I realized there wasn’t enough book left for her to resolve the current crisis and explore that specific place — that’ll be in the next installment, Magpie’s Fall. I also couldn’t always get a good grip on Maggy as a character; her upbringing would tend to make her distrustful, but then once in a while she’d trust someone whom I was screaming at her not to trust. But I have to give Pang credit for making me care enough to scream!
The ending was one of the best parts for me; Maggy lets both her vengeful and altruistic sides out to play in a dramatic sequence that nicely sets up book two. I will be reading further in THE IRONHEART CHRONICLES to find out what happens next!
I would classify THE IRONHEART CHRONICLES as New Adult, if you’ll pardon the jargon — Maggy is nineteen, and Magpie’s Song deals more frankly with sex and violence than is usual for YA, but there’s a definite coming-of-age feel about the story too.