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The Iron Ring
by Lloyd Alexander
Dutton Children's Books, 280 pages.
Reviewed by Lucy A. Snyder
While The Iron Ring is aimed primarily toward older children,
anyone with a love for mythic legends (especially Arthurian tales) will
enjoy this new book from Lloyd Alexander.
The Iron Ring is set in ancient India, and the main character is Tamar, a
brave but naive young king who rules a small kingdom called Sundari.
Tamar, a member of the warrior caste, is extremely concerned about obeying
the principles of his caste's dharma, and it is the conflict between his
idealism and the realities of the world around him that drives much of the
The trouble for Tamar and his people begins when a powerful, arrogant king
named Jaya comes to the palace in the middle of the night, demanding
food and shelter for his entourage. Jaya then tricks the lad into playing
a fateful game of dice in which Tamar loses his kingdom and his freedom.
Jaya puts an iron ring on the lad's finger to symbolize his bondage, and
Tamar faints. When he comes to Jaya has vanished, and in fact no one
but Tamar has any recollection of his visit. His advisors and generals
tell Tamar it was all just a bad dream -- except that he awakened with the
iron ring still on his finger.
Tamar decides that he must take the long journey to seek out Jaya and
confront him. As his quest progresses, he travels through an enchanted
forest populated by magical creatures and talking animals, becomes
embroiled in a savage war to prevent a ruthless tyrant from conquering
all of India, falls in love, and learns what it means to be a truly
honorable king and warrior. In the end, he confronts Jaya and
discovers the real reason the sorcerer started him on his quest.
This book presents the reader with over thirty characters, which may be
confusing to some children (especially if someone is reading the book to
them). Fortunately, Alexander has thoughtfully provided a descriptive
list of people and places at the front of the book. Most characters,
human and animal, are well-rounded and engaging, although Garuda (a
fretful eagle) seems a caricature more fit for a Disney cartoon.
And while the story is about Tamar, the strongest character here is his
beloved Mirri, a feisty milkmaid who often saves the day with her wits.
There is a fair amount of violence in the sections of the book that deal
with war, but it is never glorified and Tamar never kills anyone. And,
really, given what's on prime time TV these days, only very young children
would be troubled by the more violent events in this book. Alexander also
deals skillfully with the issues raised by the Indian caste system.
In summary, if you know a young person who's been devouring tales of
knights and chivalry, this would make an excellent Christmas gift.