Rating: 5 stars out of 5
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.
In This Iron Ground (Natural Magic #1) by Marina Vivancos is as hard a book to review as it was at times to read. It’s also a magical, beautifully written, moving, and literary novel. Full of unbelievable torture and pain and yet still manages to include flights of hope and passages of teenage normality and then flights of wooded spirituality. And all the time it’s flowing out from the wounded soul and form of Damien who ages throughout the story starting from the age of nine when he enters the foster system an orphan.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from that blurb but what I got was an almost epic exploration of Damien’s journey through life. We jump into Damien’s life with a harrowing look at the foster system. Then we and Damien plunge into hell when he is delivered into the horror of a foster home and its carers that will set a pattern for him for the next years that will have you wanting to scream. It’s here, listening to Damien’s “voice” as he suffers, withdraws, and internalizes the messages he’s hearing that the book becomes almost unbearable to read. The abuse he’s suffering during these chapters are the ones that warrants the notes at the bottom of this review. The damage done, not physically, but mentally and emotionally to Damien is such that he carries it with him through the story, not dealing with how much it has truly affected him until 3/4 of the way through.
But while he’s enduring this, mind you he’s only 13, there’s also hope in the form of a pack of shifters unlike any I’ve read about in other stories. Vivancos brings in a pack that is layered with a Earth religion, a spirituality you can feel amazingly, a pack family that comes forward to rescue, support, and finally welcome the human child. I won’t spoil how incredible a job the author has done with the Soldado pack but for me they became as alive as a walk in the woods. They breathed life and that made their connections to Damien even more magical.
The book is broken up into two parts and yes at times is felt a little long as Damien and Hakan went off to college but this is still such a journey for Damien I can see why the author wanted to include each and every scene.Special details were giving to Damien’s emotional and mental health recovery which is an important element here. Damien could not recover from the horrific abuse he suffered on his own. He needed professional help, and with the gentle assistance of his friends, lover and pack, he gets the therapy he needs. Some of his session scenes make a powerful but quiet impact. It’s a responsible thing to do, in my mind, after reading all the scenes in the beginning, for the reader to see Damien finally emerging into hope and light.
Yes, I loved this story and the amazing characters in the pack. I see that the author is turning it into a series and can’t wait to see where it’s going next. I do recommend it but please do pay attention to the warnings below.
Cover art: Natasha Snow. That is a gorgeous cover by Natasha Snow. The mountains, woods, and wolves. Perfect.
Kindle Edition, 1st edition, 325 pages
Published September 3rd 2018
Series Natural Magic #1
CONTENT WARNING: This book contains themes of emotional and (nonsexual) physical child abuse and the subsequent emotional, cognitive, and behavioural impacts. Trigger warning also includes scene of suicide attempt by minor, physical and sexual child abuse.
This story contains sexually explicit scenes between consenting adults and is meant for an adult audience.