Zara has always felt restless at her small farm, and has had dreams of the land of Fallada and the beautiful creatures that live there. Though her parents have tried to scare her away, Zara finds herself sneaking to the Iron Gate that separates the land of Men and the land of Fallada in an attempt to see one of the inhabitants there. On one such trip she falls foul of some playful pixies and ends up asleep, found by Kai Riverleaf, an elf. Intrigued by the woman that he's found, Kai waits with her til she wakes, and then makes a deal with her brother to take her on a tour of Fallada. But when the secret her parents kept from her is revealed, everything changes and Zara has to make the choice of where to be.
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I've read several of Michaels books before and so went into Beyond the Iron Gate knowing that it would be good and that I'd enjoy it. The world is completely different from the worlds of Michaels other books and I found myself quickly drawn into the magic and the details of this land (and I can't wait to get stuck into the series properly!) As a prequel novella this story is definitely rich with details and has well developed characters who you come to care for.
In fact there were several moments near the end of the book that had me heartbroken for several characters, partly because I really wasn't expecting the book to end like that, and partly because you really do find yourself caring for the characters, particularly Kai and Zara, but some of the secondary characters as well.
I get the feeling that the main 'bad guy' in this, Eranna, is going to be much bigger and badder in the series itself, and I liked the way that Beyond the Iron Gate captures her fall into evil, rather than just having her evil from the beginning. There was even a shot at redemption for her in the book, which surprised me but in a good way.
I loved the way that Michaels weaved in fairy tale elements but didn't necessarily stick to the traditional tales, I thought that it worked well in the story and made the fairy tales her own. There were a lot of ties between Zara and Rapunzel (rampion, long golden hair, climbing out a window) but at no point did I feel like Zara was Rapunzel, she still maintained her own characteristics. Of course there were also some ties between Zara and Snow White, as she became the fairest in the land when Eranna asked her mirror.
I loved this book. I think this is the first prequel that I've actually read as a prequel too! And I definitely don't regret it. A magical story with a detailed setting and characters you really care about...I can't wait to see what comes next!