For quite some time Moontrug has been on the hunt for an 8-12 years action-adventure story, a book with original characters, a journey to remote lands and a fast-paced plot. And Allan Borough’s debut novel, Ironheart, is all that – and more… 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. 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…
India’s impoverished, waterlogged London is realistically described – and it reminded Moontrug of Emily Diamand’s dystopian setting in her award-winning Flood Child. Boroughs gives us a frighteningly real depiction of a world post nuclear wars. And it works as a powerful contrast to the icy realms of Siberia, a land steeped in magic ‘where ancient spirits lived beneath mountains and living shadows stalked the forests’. It’s the perfect setting for an ice rig pirate like Bulldog, though even he seems on edge at the country’s forbidding climate: ‘It’s minus sixty in the winter and as dark as a witch’s armpit.’ Boroughs spent time travelling through Siberia and it seems he was struck by the otherworldly magic of the place – where shadows can suck the life from a man’s body if you happen to step on them. Yikes. Boroughs’ icy setting is so vividly portrayed that you can almost feel the frost and hear the biting wind in his pages. It’s right up there with Lyra’s journey to Svalbard in Northern Lights – powerful stuff.
And so it is into this world of spirits and shadows that India must journey, past ‘bird-black’ shapes with ‘streams of smoky darkness trail[ing] behind them like ragged silk.’ Oooooh that’s good. And it’s not just the mysterious shadows India must escape from. There’s the odious money-grabbing Clench (great name) who will stop at nothing to find his fortune, and the terrifying Lucifer Stone whose quest for power is all-consuming. Lucifer Stone is a brilliantly created villain – Boroughs nails it from the very first description of him right through to his heartless actions: ‘He wore a floor-length fur coat, tied with a thick leather belt and had shaggy black hair with one furry eyebrow that ran right across his forehead. His beard was plaited into black ropes and there were pieces of bone tied into the ends. He looked like a story-book troll that had crept out from under a mountain.’
India may be up against all that but she’s got a fantastic (albeit surprising) team around her. Fearless ice pirate Bulldog, feisty tech-hunter Verity and the ever-loyal android, Calculus – or Calc. Moontrug’s not normally a fan of robots and techy things (she struggles to do anything other than call on a mobile phone and still has no idea what an APP is) but Calc totally won her over. Boroughs combines wisdom, compassion, loyalty and humour in Calc, with the result that he’s as likeable as Tinman in The Wizard of Oz, as India discovers.
The plot pushes forward with relentless energy, unforeseen twists (loving the surprise at the end of Chapter 15 ‘The Lone Wolf’ – Moontrug’s stomach flipped at the last sentence!) and secret codes hidden in the unlikeliest of places. And the mix of new world tech and old world magic is superbly combined. Think armies of android killers and shamans who can take the shape of a bird and fly across the land or control a person’s dreams… Ironheart is a fantastic read for boys and girls aged 8-12 years, perfect for fans of Eoin Colfer’s WARP or Chris Columbus’ House of Secrets. Moontrug’s only hope is that we haven’t seen the last of soul-voyager India Bentley. Surely she and tech-hunter, Verity Brown, have more adventures ahead of them?