Title: Wicked Lovely
Author: Melissa Marr
Genre: Young Adult, Dark Fantasy
Stand Alone or Series: First book in the series.
Summary: (from HarperCollins.com)
Rule #3: Don’t stare at invisible faeries.
Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in mortal world. Aislinn fears their cruelty—especially if they learn of her Sight—and wishes she were as blind to their presence as other teens.
Rule #2: Don’t speak to invisible faeries.
Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer.
Rule #1: Don’t ever attract their attention.
But it’s too late. Keenan is the Summer King who has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost—regardless of her plans or desires.
Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working anymore, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.
Faerie intrigue, mortal love, and the clash of ancient rules and modern expectations swirl together in Melissa Marr’s stunning 21st century faery tale.
Why did we read this book: Thea read this one first, and loved it so much that she recommended it to Ana–and thus we present our joint review!
Thea: This is a dark, rich beauty of a fairy tale, evoking images that deserve comparison to C.S. Lewis, and the tales collected by Andrew Lang in his Fairy Books. It is a complicated tale of self-discovery, growth, and yes something of love too. I was captivated by this faery-human realm Ms. Marr flawlessly created, and surprised by the depth of characters and the hard decisions each had to make in this novel–especially considering it is a young adult book. Even more stunning is the fact that this is Ms. Marr’s debut! Wicked Lovely is a beautiful tale, and one that should appeal to any readers of darker fantasy.
Ana: Melissa Marr had me at the opening line:
The Summer King knelt before her. “Is this what you freely choose, to risk
Right there and then I was spellbound by her words and by her story. I was amazed at how she takes traditional tales and widely known lore and spins it to make it her own and with much more darker tones than I ever expected given the subject and the target audience. I cannot even begin to describe how much I loved her writing and how much I loved the fairytale feel of this book – a feel that by no means diminishes the very real, very serious inner conflicts of all protagonists. If I had to choose one word to describe Wicked Lovely? Beautiful.
On the Plot:
Aislinn is a seemingly typical teenage girl–quiet, studious, and a good friend. But Aislinn guards a very big secret: she can see faeries. With her Grandmother (who also has The Sight), Aislinn has made sure to follow the rules her entire life, knowing that her survival depends on it. And so, she carries along day to day, trying to ignore the faeries that frolic, torment, and leer at humans before her very eyes. Her home city, named Huntsdale is close to Pittsburgh (the Steel Capital of the USA), and is a city built with iron steel grates and bridges, offering Ash some protection against the fae–who cannot handle iron in any form. She goes back and forth from the safety of her classes to the apartment she shares with her grandmother, while also feeling secure by making long visits to her close friend (and crush) Seth’s home–an old set of train cars, completely made of steel.
And so, things go well for Aislinn. That is, until the rules she has followed her whole life begin to fail her. Ash is being followed by two faeries–a brilliant, glowing young man in copper flame, and an icy, frozen girl. And neither of them seem deterred by iron. When the boy shows up at Aislinn’s school disguised as a new student, and relentlessly seeks out her attentions, Ash is at a complete loss. Terrified, she turns to Seth for help, and divulges her most deeply guarded secret.
Keenan, the imposing young man, is no mere faerie but the King of the Summer Court. For 900 years he has been searching for his Queen–as his mother has cruelly bound his powers until he finds the one mortal girl that truly is the rightful queen. In that time, his mother Beira has reigned mercilessly as the Winter Queen, causing lasting chill, and gleeful suffering of the faerie courts. Keenan has tried in vain to place mortal girls as his Queen, only for to fail with each attempt. The cold girl always at Keenan’s side, Donia, is one of those unfortunate mortals that tried to assume the role of Summer Queen. Despite all this, Keenan is convinced that Aislinn is his queen, and he ruthlessly pursues her, to convince her to make the ultimate sacrifice for him and restore the Summer Court to full power. The catch is that if Keenan is wrong and Aislinn is not the true Queen, she will be doomed to become the Winter Girl, assuming Donia’s role, and endure the chill cold until another takes her place or the true Summer Queen is found.
And all the while, the wicked Beira schemes to thwart her son and any girl that would dare take her power away.
Thea: Wicked Lovely is a perfect title for this darkly, hauntingly beautiful story. From the first page, it is abundantly clear that Ms. Marr has done her homework as she painstakingly weaves a world of faery courts and intrigues that draw from a broad array of myths, legends and fairy tales. The more common-knowledge folklore (that iron is poison to fairies, mortals must not eat or drink anything given to them from fairies, the notion of “the Sight”) is firmly in place, but it is the other touches and details to her faerie world that sets Wicked Lovely apart from other tales. In this world, there are different faerie courts, each vying for power. Keenan, the Summer King, has had his powers clipped from him by an agreement of the Winter Court and the Dark Court. Beira, Queen of the Winter Court, appealed to Irial, King of the Dark Court, and in exchange for his help binding the baby kingling from his powers would receive all the terror and chaos inflicted by Beira’s ruthless rule–in turn strengthening the Dark Court. The Court politics are intriguing, especially in the interactions between Beira and Keenan. Meanwhile, the juxtaposition of the faerie realm with the recognizable human world is beautifully portrayed, in a sort of lyrical urban fantasy type of setting.
The actual depiction of the faeries themselves, from the “Rowan Men” to the “Summer Girls”, is another facet of the book I found fascinating. Ms. Marr’s sultry prose and vivid descriptions of the different faeries easily makes this one of the most memorable, well written young adult novels out on the market.
Ana:I loved the “mythological” aspect of the plot. How at some point in time, centuries ago, the Winter Queen made a pact with the Dark King and together bound the Summer King until he could find a human who would be his Summer Queen. But both this pact and this search are constrained by rules that have been set in time, no one knows who created them and which everyone follows.
Keenan must search for his Summer Queen and the girl he chooses as the target loses her mortality. Just like that. Once the girl is in love with Keenan, he shows himself as the Summer King in all his glory and presents the girl with a choice: to become one of the numerous, faceless Summer Girls that inhabit the Summer Court or to try and break the spell by touching the Winter Queen’s staff – if she does that, she risks not being the Summer Queen and becoming the Winter Girl – bond forever to the cold and with the official task of following Keenan around and trying to keep him away from any new girl that could be the Queen. The newest Winter Girl, who loved Keenan enough to risk it, is Donia and hers is, I feel, the most tragic of the roles in the power play between the Courts.
There is tragedy in this story and plenty of horrible conniving power struggles amongst the faries – who in this book are portrayed as mischievous, uncaring (specially about humans) and egoistical. Aislinn , the human with the Sight and main human protagonist has seen for many years the Fairies grope girls, pinch and mock and laugh and sometimes even worse, specially the Dark fey. But there are plenty of shades of gray and some of the fairies that are all of the above can also be honorable and truly concerned about their own people.
But as much as this is a book about fairies and the main plot relates to the future of the fairy folk, the two humans, Aislinn and Seth and their story, set Wicked Lovely apart from any other book I have ever read that have both humans and non –humans, be it fairy, vampires, were people and any other paranormal denomination. In a time where we are inundated with stories where usually human characters fall short when compared to non-human ones, in this book, the humans win. It doesn’t matter that the fairies are immortal, powerful, ultra beautiful and attractive, still Aislinn and Seth prove to be less than tempted by all that. Way to go. So far is Fairies 0 x 1 humans and I LOVE that.
On the Characters:
Thea: Something that irks me to no end in some young adult fiction is the patronizing, black and white view of “good” and “evil” characters. Wicked Lovely manages to avoid this pitfall for the most part, enlisting only one truly Eeeevil Character with the majority of others dwelling in the shades of gray. Most notably, the characters of Keenan and Donia embody this wavering sense of uncertainty as to where they stand in the overall scheme of things. Keenan, for all that he is the Summer King–for the Summer Court in its frivolity, warmth and splendor evokes an immediate trust and sense of “good”–and a main protagonist in this story, is in actuality just as ruthless and in fact cruel as his wicked mother Beira. From very early in the book it is apparent that Keenan does whatever will benefit him and his court–his emotions towards Aislinn (or any other female mortal he has tricked to his aid) are not out of truest love or affection, but a calculation to finally give him his power as King. Besides the typical heartthrob supernatural creature, Keenan has his own agenda–and this is a fact that isn’t sugar coated or unrealistically portrayed by Ms. Marr. As opposed to, say, another young adult popular fantasy series, Ms. Marr creates faeries that are every bit as dangerous and powerful as legend holds, and without any of the sentimental shtick. Similarly, the character of Donia was one that resonated powerfully with me. The doomed girl that loved Keenan so much as to brave the damnation of centuries of chill is a conflicted but sympathetic character in this novel. On the one hand, Donia feels she must warn Aislinn about what lies ahead of her should she travel down Donia’s path, and yet on the other she is compelled to help Ash in what small ways she can. And, despite everything, Donia still is in love with Keenan. Hers is a tragic, lovely story and one that I hope will be examined in a later book.
As for the mere mortals in the story, Aislinn and Seth, I found them to both be compelling, strong characters. Aislinn begins as kind of your typical everygirl that seems to dominate the genre, but grows from a shaky girl to a strong, self-assured young woman. Although her choices are stunted and taken away from her for the most part, her intensity and backbone by the end of the novel is something to be admired. As for Seth, Ash’s good friend and love interest, I liked the kind, considerate mortal guy. Although I did feel that he basically fit into the typical dreamy-hero mold, little tweaks to the character (multiple piercings, living on his own as a sort of badass with a heart of gold) kept things interesting. The burgeoning romance between Aislinn and Seth, and the trust they develop between them, is well worth reading, even if at the end of the day the faeries are more interesting as characters on their own.
And, one cannot finish a discussion of characters without talking about Beira. The Winter Queen comes across loud and strong as every bit the wicked mother she is. While some of the scenes involving her plotting come across as slightly melodramatic, I liked the cold venom Ms. Marr injected the character with. I couldn’t help but think of the White Witch of Narnia while reading Beira, and as one of my all-time favorite wicked characters, I found myself thawing (hardy har!) towards the Winter Queen.
Ana: I agree with Thea that there is no black and white here – most characters in the book are very complex beings. Starting with Keenan – I had a love-hate reaction with his character – at points he was a true King, wise and genuinely worried about the future of his people and of his Court. He can be honorable and he can make choices for the greater good. But most of the time he came across as a powerless, pitiful boy who lost his favorite toy and didn’t care, TRULY did not care who he would hurt in order to get it back. He was so desperate for restoring the balance between Winter and Summer and gaining full control of his powers that he just did not care who the Summer Queen would be – it could be anyone and he would be alright with it. That made him so interesting especially when he did not know how to deal with Aislinn.
When we speak of Aislinn, we must speak of choices – which in my opinion is one of the main themes of the story. At first, Aislinn, had none. Born with the Sight, being able to see things she hated seeing, following rules passed down from her grandmother; then, when Keenan chooses her, she loses her mortality without so much as a second thought from Keenan who every time she saw, she felt like leaving everything behind and just say “yes, yes, yes” to everything he says, does or proposes. But she is much stronger than that – and she fights that arresting man because she wants someone else. And when she is faced with what destiny has put on her path, she is finally able to choose how to deal with it and sets her own ground rules.
Similarly Donia, has made her choice and has to live with the consequences. And when The Winter Queen promises her freedom or threatens her with death, she makes another choice and she takes full control of what she has to do.
Both girls are such awesome characters – in some points they may be bound and their destiny seems to be inevitable but they never feel or behave like victims. They take the lemons they are given and make super cool lemonade with it. I drink to that.
Now for the “Ana’s moment of romantic weakness”: I love Seth. I was rooting all the while for him to get the girl – and the description of him and his life style was extremely fetching: he lived in a train, surrounded by his books , and he had piercings all over his body and black nail polish. He was kind and unselfish, the complete opposite of Keenan and head over heels in love with Ash. Unfortunately he was the only of the main 4 characters that has no point of view – we are not allowed inside his mind at any point – perhaps this is the secret of his attractiveness as a character to me.
And yes, the Winter Queen reminded me a lot of the White Witch of Narnia!
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: I absolutely loved this debut novel from Melissa Marr, eagerly ripping through it in one sitting. This is exactly the type of young adult fantasy that gives the genre a good name, and certainly deserves all the praise and awards it has garnered. I also loved that Ms. Marr’s protagonist, Aislinn, is a character that when forced with tough decisions manages to keep her head on straight and grow into a young woman that takes her destiny into her own hands. While there are darker, less pleasant aspects to this novel and to its successor Ink Exchange, they are both books that I would eagerly recommend to my younger sisters for the more empowering protagonists (read: no wishy washy “someone will always save me” Bella syndrome here).
Ana: Part fairytale, part coming of age, altogether enthralling, completely captivating , Wicked Lovely is hands down, one of the best books I read this year.
The darker aspects of the novel and the portrayal of the fey may be a touch uncomfortable for the faint of heart but in the end there is plenty of lighter aspects and a sweet love story to make up for it. As soon as I put the book down I was more than ready to read Ink Exchange (not a sequel per se, but set in the same world) and now I await anxiously for the sequel to Wicked Lovely, Fragile Eternity which has Seth as one of the narrators!
Thea: I am in love with Ms. Marr’s writing style, and her beautiful descriptions. Check out, for instance, this passage:
Donia stood, invisible now, talkign to one of the bone-girls. Like the rest of the bone-girls, this one was ghastly white and so think that each of her bones could be seen under her almost-translucent skin. The fact that she was mobile seemed to break some basic law. Surely things that looked so frail should have trouble moving? But the bone-girls glided over the ground without any visible effort. Despite their cadaverous mien, they were eerily beautiful to watch.
It was Donia who was terrible to behold: her white hair whipped around as if a storm surrounded her, and only her. Tiny icicles clattered to the ground beside her.
Ana: For once, I could not agree more with Thea – I am in love with Melissa Marr’s writing style too. Her descriptions as per Thea’s quote above are incredible : things like how like the summer fey taste of sunshine or the coldness of the winter fey. There are also certain sentences that are so beautiful like the first time Seth and Ash kiss:
“Seth slid a hand around her waist and kissed her like she was air and he was suffocating”
There is poetry in Melissa Marr’s words.
But I would like to quote the scene where Ash faces Beira and protects Keenan, who is impulsive and combustible – she is so much more in control even if she is only 17. So in this scene Beira corners them and Keenan has little power to do anything. Beira
kisses his cheeks and of course there is frostbite and pain – this is what happens when winter people touch summer people. Then Aislinn takes charge:
“Let’s go” Aislinn took his hand then, not in love or affection, but in a sign of solidarity. This wasn’t the anxious girl he’d been talking to at Rath. No, she looked more like a warrior, one of the old guard who forgot to smile even in the moments of bliss. She was glorious.
While he stood there , fighting not to falter under the chill Beira had released, Aislinn pulled him down and kissed each of his bruised cheeks, her lips soft as balm on the painful bruises. “I can’t stand a bully”.
Warmth shot through his hand, burned on his cheek.”
Thea: 8 Excellent
Ana: 8 Excellent
Reading Next: Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr