Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Marina Vivancos - In This Iron Ground

Damien is nine years old when his parents die. What should have been the worst moment of his life begins a journey shadowed by loneliness and pain. The night of a full moon, four years and seven foster homes later, Damien flees to the forest, desperate to escape everything.
Instead, he finds the Salgado pack, and the earth beneath his feet shifts. Damien has seen the Salgado children in his school: Koko, who is in his class, and Hakan, two years older and infinitely unreachable. Damien is suddenly introduced into a world that had only ever existed in his imagination, where there is magic in the forest and the moon. He meets creatures that look like monsters, but Damien knows that monsters have the same face as anybody else.
Over the years, Damien and Hakan grow closer. First, just as friends and foster brothers in the Salgado house, and then into something heated and breathless when Damien joins Hakan at college. Despite what he may yearn for in the darkest part of the night, Damien knows, deep down in that bruised and mealy part of his core, that he’s not good enough to be part of the Salgado family, their pack. He’s not worthy of calling Hakan his home.
Even though he knows in the end it’ll hurt him, he’ll hold onto this for as long as he can.

Comment: I got interested in this book after seeing some positive reviews. Since I like the genre, and within that the shape shifters are my favorite type of character, there was no doubt I'd want to try it.

In this book we follow Damien, the main character, as he goes from the traumatic experience of losing his parents and then into foster care where things don't always work out as planned, and how he copes and deals with others. Somehow he makes friends with the Salgado family and they welcome him, showing him there are good people too, not just those who think they know best. The fact the Salgados are a family of shifters is no worry for Damien and he quickly becomes part of their family, even though he keeps feeling he doesn't really deserve such good people in his life. One member of the family in particular turns out to be his best friend and as the years go by, Damien can't help but feel more than just friendship until he can't keep it to himself anymore. But will he risk the best thing that happened to him when he knows he doesn't deserve more than what he already got?

I think it's pretty clear this isn't a cookie cute story. The story does focus on Damien and his struggle to feel accepted and worthy. A huge part of the novel is centered on his difficulty to embrace his own value and the fact the way he sees himself might not be the way others see him, especially those who like him or who want to help him. I have to say I liked this part of the book. I, too, sometimes have thoughts similar to those Damien expresses here...maybe not as dire, no, but I mean, who doesn't feel a little down sometimes? I like introspective characters, as long as their path/evolution shows some development.

Damien is a character who suffers abuse. Not sexual, before you think that, but abuse nonetheless. Of course, this colors his way of thinking and the way he reacts in certain situations. I can't say if the change into a depressed state is as realistically portrayed as it should, but it felt like he was in a very bad place and we follow those thoughts for a little bit. I think it might be hard for some people to read this, especially those who are also in a bad spot, but I was reading and hoping this would mean Damien would learn how to cope, how to change his way of thinking...I can't say if it's well done but it felt like it was, like when he starts dealing with things, he slowly but surely learns he has value and he is worthy.

The book is divided into two parts, first while Damien is a teenager and is dealing with all the negative aspects and the process of healing because he makes friends with the Salgados, and the second part, when he goes to college and other kind of feelings get into the mix. I wouldn't say this is a romance, because not only are Damien and his love interest young but because this is mostly focused on Damien's journey. However, the fun part is that while Damien goes through all this, he is included within a loving family, a family that cares for their members and it shows how having someone in "your corner" does help in making one feel braver.

The paranormal content, regarding the existence of shifters, isn't an issue that gets too much explanation, it just makes sense that there are different types of humans, and the world of shape shifters is pretty simply depicted, as if it was just a feature in the world, not a big deal. I can only suppose the existence of shifters here was just a way for a contrast to happen between people who are expressive about how much they care and to offer something extra for Damien to think about. It doesn't feel the author wanted to expand this too much but perhaps the next novel might give more insight.

As for the romance, like I said, it's not the main focus but it does add a few sweet scenes here and there. I think there are some moments between them, while they are already a couple, that could have been done better. I think that, if one goal of the novel were to be the portrayal of how a good relationship can help someone to have a better chance at happiness, the end result was not as epic as it could have been, the relationship is sweet and soli yes, but we infer a lot, more than what happens in the page suggests. Still, it was obviously good to see Damien find love.

All things considered, this was a good, emotional novel, it fit many of my favorite things to see in a book but there were some elements which could have been done a little better or, to say it differently, if some elements had been done in another way, I might have appreciated the story even more. I will try the other book in the same world too, at some point.
Grade: 8/10

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