REVIEW: Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill

195. Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill
Publication: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (October 9, 2012), ARC paperback, 432pp / ISBN 0316056731
Genre: MG Fantasy

Read: November 19, 2012
Source: ALA 2012

Author’s site | Goodreads | LibraryThing

Summary from Amazon:

The end of their world begins with a story.
This one.

In most fairy tales, princesses are beautiful, dragons are terrifying, and stories are harmless. This isn’t most fairy tales.

Princess Violet is plain, reckless, and quite possibly too clever for her own good. Particularly when it comes to telling stories. One day she and her best friend, Demetrius, stumble upon a hidden room and find a peculiar book. A forbidden book. It tells a story of an evil being — called the Nybbas — imprisoned in their world. The story cannot be true — not really. But then the whispers start. Violet and Demetrius, along with an ancient, scarred dragon, may hold the key to the Nybbas’s triumph . . . or its demise. It all depends on how they tell the story. After all, stories make their own rules.

Iron Hearted Violet is a story of a princess unlike any other. It is a story of the last dragon in existence, deathly afraid of its own reflection. Above all, it is a story about the power of stories, our belief in them, and how one enchanted tale changed the course of an entire kingdom.


Things I love: princesses, dragons, castles, fairy tale-ish stuff, adventures with kings and commoners and whatnot. Things this book has: all of that, and MORE. Violet is the princess and she is Not Typical. First off, she’s ugly, and EVERYONE knows princesses are beautiful (duh). Secondly, she’s more interested in telling stories and having fun with her friend1 than doing anything else. And thirdly, she’s the savior of the entire world or whatever.

This was a fun book, not only because of the Atypical Princess but also because it reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s books when he’s trying to impart life lessons without being too obvious about it. The “beauty is on the inside” lesson in this book is maybe a little TOO overdone, but the other lessons are more subtle and that’s neat.

Another point in this book’s favor is that it’s narrated by someone other than Violet! And that someone is a coward, someone who you probably wouldn’t want house-sitting for you while you’re on vacation, someone who is annoying and irritating and needs a good punch in the face. Someone who, for all his faults, nevertheless tells a very good story. Someone who’s weirdly omniscient? Someone who is the court storyteller! Sticking the narration with someone who a) isn’t related to the royals, b) a royal, and c) not a teenage girl helped keep the focus on the story rather than the bits surrounding a story. Violet’s obsessed with how she looks, but never in a way that you might find in YA fantasy books written from the POV of the protagonist. Know what I mean? It’s less about how she LOOKS and more about how she ACTS.

Maybe the whole Atypical Princess thing is a bit cliched now and that can be annoying, and maybe if you stare too hard at the various plot points in Iron-Hearted Violet you’ll start to wonder how you even enjoyed this book at all, because HEY NOW are some of them wonkadoodle2, but nevertheless! It’s a lot better than some other MG books with princesses, and ugly princesses are always interesting to read about, imo. Especially when they don’t turn pretty at the end!


I liked it!


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Other reviews

Recovering Potter Addict: “Iron Hearted Violet is narrated not by Violet, but by the Court Storyteller, stepping away from the more traditional first person and third person omniscient points of view, which added a lot of interest and texture to the story that I really appreciated. It also really brought home the message of the power of storytelling and gave the story a fairytale feel, which was genius on Kelly Barnhill’s part.”
Diary of a Book Addict: “Even though I don’t read much Middle Grade fiction, it’s sometimes a nice change from everything else out there, and I can really appreciate the simplicity of these types of fairy tale-esque novels. And Iron-Hearted Violet does an excellent job of sticking with the “theme” but giving it a little something different.”

Charlotte’s Library: “It’s a book that I won’t give to my nine year old, because it is too sad. But it’s a book that I think will be just right for the right reader–the dreamy 11 or 12 year old girl, or the grown-up who still appreciates “children’s books” without getting all critical because of them not being written for adults. Except, that is, for those like me who don’t like it when things go deeply wrong for young protagonists.”


There are illustrations! Most of the illustrations were absent from my ARC copy, but the ones that were there were lovely. Yay, illustrations! Books need more of them on the whole, I think. They make everything lovelier.

Book cover image comes from Amazon. It’s not mine.


  1. she only has one, wtf
  2. THE ENDING. I just. WHAT.

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