The Iron Ring

by Lloyd Alexander

Paperback, 1999



Call number

PB Ale

Call number

PB Ale

Local notes

PB Ale




Puffin (1999), Paperback, 283 pages


Driven by his sense of "dharma," or honor, young King Tamar sets off on a perilous journey, with a significance greater than he can imagine, during which he meets talking animals, villainous and noble kings, demons, and the love of his life.


Original publication date


Physical description

283 p.; 7.8 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member ncgraham
I rarely remember how I got my books, especially those I have owned for a long time, but The Iron Ring is an exception. I had just finished completing the summer reading program with Barnes & Noble, and came in to get my free book. Unfortunately, the list of titles I could choose from was very
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slim, but the lady in charge of the young adult section told me to go ahead and choose any trade paperback I liked off the shelves. I grabbed this volume, and we had a lovely discussion about Lloyd Alexander (one of her favorites as well) as she helped me to check out.

Previously I knew nothing about the book, but soon I found myself caught up in the magical and dangerous world of Tamar, Prince of Sundari. It became one of my favorite standalone Alexander novels and I felt the urge to read it again after I heard a gentleman from India speak about caste, especially as the last two books I read by the author were disappointments.

The Iron Ring may have one of the best openings in the entire fantasy genre. Tamar is awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of elephants in the courtyard, and informed by his courtiers that a maharajah, King Jaya, has arrived demanding food and rest for he and his warriors. This arrogant monarch challenges Tamar to “a friendly game of ashka,” governed by the rules of chance. The wagers continue to increase until Tamar finds that he is lost, and his life is now Jaya’s to control. In semblance of this, the older warrior gives him an iron ring and commands him to journey north to his citadel of Mahapura. When Tamar wakens the next morning, he finds that no one remembers the maharajah’s visit but him; still, he holds it as a point of honor to keep his vow, and sets out on his journey north, accompanied by his beloved teacher Rajaswami. Along the way, they meet up with a varied and colorful cast of characters, including the mischievous king of the monkeys, a beautiful village maiden named Mirri, a cantankerous eagle, a jack of many trades who has been meditating in an anthill, and the deposed king of Ranapura, the lion-eyed Ashwara.

Though I am an old fan, even I must admit that at times Alexander can be—how shall I put this?—a little goofy. This comes out a little in The Iron Ring, particularly during the first stage of the journey, rather too many characters are being introduced too quickly, events seem to follow each other haphazardly, and awkward exposition abounds. Moreover, the romance between Tamar and Mirri blossoms within the course of a chapter, which seems rather sudden to me—although I suppose that by the time he emerges from the water a la Colin Firth and starts spouting love songs, there isn’t that much more to be done.

Fortunately said goofiness fades away quickly; after its inception even the love story becomes interesting and complex. The story as a whole has wonderful moral weight, and Alexander certainly is not afraid to ask the difficult questions. How are we sure that what we experience is reality and not illusion? Should society determine how we act? Do codes of honor break down in difficult circumstances? And should you follow duty under all circumstances, even when it may be leading you to your death?

I cannot remember where I read this, but I recall hearing the story described as “Tolkienesque.” Despite its Eastern setting and much simpler world-building, I’d have to agree: thematically and tonally, there are some striking similarities between this and the master’s work. I also picked up traces of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master books, the latter especially in the book’s final revelation. I don’t think Alexander rivals any of the three aforementioned as a prose stylist, but he has shown himself to be a great storyteller, and The Iron Ring remains a book close to my heart.
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LibraryThing member beckers
Levi Doughty
This book is about living up your honor even if it means giving your life. The beginning is quite suspenseful and is pretty interesting. It's suspense then goes down a hill in a wheel barrel. The ending is quite unexpected
LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
Cute, and...not quite fluffy. The surface is quite fluffy, and silly, and occasionally funny - but there's some really heavy philosophy just under the surface. I liked the Indian mythological setting, one I'm only vaguely familiar with. There were also the familiar fairy-tale tropes of "give help,
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and get help", and learning who you really are. I wonder who Jaya was, though - just a powerful, magical king or something more? Tamar is great, especially once he looks past his kshatriya status and his dharma. He finds some really odd directions to go in on his journey. Mirri is...a little bit too good to be true, especially since she's adopted. I wonder who she is, really. Garuda was a pain throughout; Hashkat was great. The characters in general were (unsurprisingly, it's an Alexander after all) beautifully drawn and in interesting relationships and collisions. The end was just a little...convenient? The battle ended too easily, and the gifts afterward were too perfect. Though Rajaswami's request ended it all on an amusing note. It was fun to read, I suspect it will echo in my head for a while, but I doubt it will become a regular reread.
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LibraryThing member themulhern
First fantasy novel by Alexander not taken from Welsh mythology that I've read. It is exceptionally enjoyable, although the character who manipulates and assists the protagonist is a little too omnipotent for my taste. He's basically a far less annoying Aslan, but he leaves one with the question of
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why he didn't do a little more since he seems to be so powerful.
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LibraryThing member TrgLlyLibrarian
At first I wasn't enjoying the story very much because the pacing was hectic. There was a new character every chapter, and things were getting eccentric. After the halfway point, the plot began focusing more on actions and character development, and I began to relate to the characters more. Then
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some profoundly difficult challenges presented themselves, and I truly appreciated the strength of the main character.

The romantic subplot was kind of lame to me, because "love at first sight" is rather boring. But the ending was a real surprise and extremely thought-provoking. That really redeemed the book.
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LibraryThing member hadden
I enjoyed the book, and I was a good read. Manipulated into a dice game by an arrogant and older prince, Tamar loses his kingdom and must become the servant of Prince Jaya. The next morning there is no trace of the visit, except Tamar has an iron ring, indicating his new subservience to Jaya, who
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ordered the young man to travel to his kingdom to surrender as a slave. Traveling with his philosopher and teacher, he has a number of coming of age problems on his journey, including challenges to his personal honor, his caste, his heart and his loyalties, and to dharma, his code of honor as a warrior. After many adventures and meeting many different people, he arrives to find that this had all been a test, but one that everyone else had failed.
The story has a dream like feel to it, where nothing seems real and relationships are chancy, weird and fey. Many of the animals he meets along the way are kings or princes of their species, such as a monkey and snake. Wizards, warriors, wise kings, wise fools, knowing animals and humble companions all show up with sometimes evidently pre-determined parts to play. A few things stand out. Death is real. Betrayal and dishonest dealings are real. People who agree to be allies turn and join the opposition.
The book has a chaotic tempo and sometimes staccato rhythm to the story line, and sometimes too much happens too quickly, as if some of the chapters were combined and explicative data was left out of the editing. However, many children's books are like this, as the major pieces and people must be introduced in a short period for the story to evolve.
The iron ring, symbol of foolish gambling and slavery, is worn, sometimes with pride for holding on to his promise. Other times in humiliation on becoming a slave and breaking his caste and honor. It is thrown away, then recovered, then worn again by Tamar, a constant irritant and symbol of his mortality.
A good book, and one that adults as well as younger readers will enjoy.
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