I picked this book up from the paperback carousel at my neighborhood library recently, while trolling for SFF written in the last ten-fifteen years by female authors. It had positive blurbs, it sounded like an interesting premise, and it was a category that I generally enjoy for diversionary reading. Urban fantasy/paranormal romance is fun, and I appreciate the effort and energy that writers in this field devote to world-building, which is a heavy professional interest for me.
That said, I’ve read widely enough in the genre at this point that urban fantasy sometimes grows stale for me. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself immediately engrossed and deeply moved by this novel, which has recognizable elements of paranormal romance, horror, high fantasy and young adult fiction for girls. It’s not necessarily a mix that you’d think would work, especially in a novel with multiple limited third person viewpoints rather than the standard first person narrative style.
It does work, however, and quite well. It made me not only want to find the rest of these books and read them immediately, but to put some thought into how the elements of this story came together.
The world-building and mysticism of the milieu was very well done. This is the first urban fantasy novel I’ve read in which humans are not the Earth’s dominant species, which I found to be an interesting starting position.
The problem of race and difference in this novel is not posed as a familiar struggle between the Other as a powerful and angry underdog versus an overwhelmingly hegemonic “Vanilla Human” population. The Others of this series are not hiding in the shadows or concealing themselves in the cracks of the world–humans are the subaltern race, who navigate a world fraught with systematic inequality which does not favor them.
Ultimately, though, what won me over was the characters, both human and non-human, and their simple, primal motives. It has been a long time since I read a book which wasn’t desperately striving to paint the world in ugly shades of grey. It’s oddly poignant to see an author present an extended argument that love or kindness really ARE the answer, in a world consumed by violence and mutual alienation.
The heroine, Meg Corbyn, reminds me a great deal of the protagonists of YA fiction for girls at the turn of the 20th century. There are echoes of Anne of Green Gables or Fern Arable, the human supporting character from Charlotte’s Web. Meg wields the power of the traditional female virtues.
Meg is kind, egalitarian, clean, thoughtful, industrious, gentle, courteous, determined, self-sacrificing, and service-oriented. She isn’t weak or lacking in will, but her resistance to abuse or coercion is always non-violent. emotionally and physically, and comes across as “adorable” or “endearing”, because she poses no danger to anyone.
There’s never the ugly, alienating or unattractive moment where we see Meg break down or melt down from anger or frustration, and reveal a darker side of herself. She never wields the kind of rage or develops the kind of resentment that scares people.
Similarly, most of the Other characters who have viewpoint scenes or speaking parts in the book are quite sympathetic and have clean, easy-to-understand motives. They are making mistakes, errors in judgment, errors in tactics….but they are very straightforward, simple mistakes, which are consistent with their values and knowledge. And they are all suckers for a little kindness and courtesy.
It’s an interesting story for survivors of trauma and abuse, and will appeal to anyone who has had to emerge from a painful past, reinvent herself, and make a new life. Creating a powerful network of support is often very difficult in reality, but in fiction like this the normally slow process is stream-lined to its essentials: diligence, volunteerism, kindness, honesty, and tolerance.
I’ve given this my highest rating because I think this is a really interesting offering, and I will be pursuing more of this author’s work.