Another month, another dare.
Every month we dare a book blogger to read a book that is outside their comfort zone and invite them to post their reviews or thoughts here. This time, the
victim guest is Jessica who writes the excellent Racy Romance Reviews. As soon as we asked her which genre she does not read and she said YA, we thought of Melissa Marr and decided to dare her to read Wicked Lovely.
So, we warmly welcome Jessica and here is what she has to say:
Jessica’s review of Wicked Lovely
Ana and Thea challenged me to read a YA, and suggested Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. Like most avid romance readers, I have occasionally ventured outside the genre to try other books with strong romantic elements, such as urban fantasy, sci fi, suspense, and mystery. But I have resisted the call of the YA. I believed either that a romance between teens would not interest me, or that it would interest me, and I would feel like a dirty old woman (I’m in my late thirties.). I’m happy to report that I failed to consider a third alternative: a chaste, age appropriate YA romance that has all the elements of adult romance that I find compelling, with a strong enough characterization of the teen protagonists that I was never in any danger of wanting to be one of them.
This book was published in 2007, and two others in the series have since come out. I’m going to keep my plot summary brief, since this book is now quite well known. Aislinn, a Catholic high school student, lives in Huntsville, PA with her grandmother. She has the Sight, meaning she can see faeries all around her, even under the glamours they use when they want to be viewed as normal by humans. She follows a set of rules handed down by her grandmother designed to keep her ability hidden from the fey, and spends time with Seth, her tattooed and pierced friend who lives in a series of train car (which is handy, since the fey can’t abide steel).
Unfortunately, Aislinn’s ability to stay out of faery business ends when Keenan, King of Summer, identifies her as his Queen and sets about courting her. Keenan has his own troubles, including his evil mother, the Queen of Winter, who knows her chilling reign will end should Aislinn ascend to the throne, and Donia, the girl he once thought was his queen, who is now just a winter girl, a frosty shadow of her former self, under the thumb of the Winter Queen.
It’s a very scary thing to be aware that there are nonhuman beings in our midst, and even scarier to have the burden of keeping your knowledge a secret. As the book opens, we are thrust into Aislinn’s terrifying world. She has to school herself not reveal her awareness of the faeries by looking at them, starting or maneuvering to avoid them. Imagine walking home, knowing they are following you, but not knowing why, not being able to run for fear of alerting them to your knowledge, but being desperate to run. Even worse, imaging that you can see under their glamour, when they are flirting, or talking with your friends, or enrolling in your school. This is a kind of horror – the horror the totally isolating, dangerous unknown — and I thought it was perfectly realized, engaging me right away in this book.
I was also engaged by Aislinn, who is scared but strong, and doesn’t lose her wry sense of humor. Here’s one characteristic observation:
“The Church might caution against the dangers of the occult, but finding a modern priest who believed in anything supernatural—other than God himself—was about as likely as finding one who’d suggest women should be able to be priests too.”
Maybe it’s also a kind of metaphor in some way for teenage relations. My children have no anxiety at all about social relations: if someone doesn’t want to play, they move on. But I know this innocence won’t last, and in a few years they will experience the precariousness of peer groups and all the rest. They’ll learn the hard way that not everyone can be trusted, that not everyone is who they seem. As Aislinn says, “even if she could somehow stop seeing the fey, a person can’t un-know the truth.”
I thought the portrayal of teen life was dead on. There were the little things, like this line,
“Her lips were blue—not lipstick blue, but corpse blue.”
I never would have thought of blue lipstick! But also the savviness about partying and sex that so many older teens have. The teens in the book did all of those adult things (and most of this behavior was merely alluded to), but often not with good judgment. Sound familiar? I have seen other reviewers criticize Marr for putting these “experienced” teens in a Catholic school and I had to laugh: I started high school in a Catholic girls school, and you know what? After one year I switched to a 1500 student coed public h.s. to get away from the aggressive, oversexed party girls at St. Mary’s Academy so I could study! Obviously, not every Catholic high school is populated with this type, but when people criticize Marr on this point they are tacitly assuming the opposite, and they are wrong.
I also thought Marr’s realization of the faery world was terrific. We don’t spend much time in fey dwellings, and most of the faery encounters are on human turf, so it’s all the more impressive to me that Marr was able to convey so much about the history, alliances, customs, and traditions of the fey. Some have criticized her use of simplistic names and relations, and it is true that there is a very heavy use of the “seasonal model” (summer against winter), as personified by their king and queen, and their appearance and abilities. But if you are going to write a faery story, even an urban faery story, you have to stick to nature. The Winter Queen (not to mention Aislinn’s name) evoked the C.S. Lewis’s White Witch, in both her demeanor and her plans – already underway — to winterfy the world. And, like Lewis, or Grimm, or anyone who utilizes this set of themes, they serve as a mutually recognizable backdrop onto which you can put whatever you want.
Once Aislinn’s Sight becomes known, that element of suspense is lost, but a new one takes its place: can she resist the Summer King? As Marr describes him, he is everything that looks, and smells, and feels, and evokes all the good things the average human can imagine. Here’s one description:
“As she watched Keenan walk toward her, Aislinn saw a fleeting image of sunlight rippling over water, bouncing off buildings, strange flickers of warmth and beauty that made her want to run toward him.”
You begin by wondering how anybody at all is enticed to becomes a faery, and by the point in the book when Aislinn attends a carnival with the King, dancing with him until the wee hours of the morning, an amazing scene, a beautiful and pivotal and heartbreaking one, you wonder how she or anybody can possibly resist.
This again, I read as a metaphor for the temptations teenagers face to determine the difference between changing into your adult version and changing into someone else entirely. Once the King identifies Aislinn, she has to choose whether to refuse the test and become a Summer Girl, basically a member of Keenan’s harem, a point to which I shall return, or take the test. (I note here that one annoyance I had with the book was that I was well over halfway through Wicked Lovely before Donia explained these basic facts to Aislinn, and the reader. I appreciated my ignorant suspense for about half that time, but eventually it felt forced to me.) Just as we cannot refuse to grow up, Aislinn cannot refuse this choice. Even a nonchoice is a choice, with its own consequences, a painful fact of adult life that Marr captures very well.
I’ve read some comparisons to Twilight, namely regarding the passivity of the heroine. I think there’s a difference between being out of control and being passive. Being a teen is being out of control, both in our own feelings and emotions, and in the world around you, and that’s what Aislinn was. But, if anything, the message of the book is that young women have to regain that control by thinking for themselves and solve their own problems. As Donia puts it,
“Your modernity is your best weapon. Use it. Show him that you are entitled to some sort of choice. You know what he is now, so demand that he talk to you. Negotiate for what control you can wrest from him.”
Although the Summer King has some powers, they are “bound” by his mother for most of the book, a metaphor I think I don’t need to explain. And although Aislinn relies on her mortal boyfriend Seth, the strong characters, the ones who ultimately have the power and make the decisions in Wicked Lovely are the women. Aislinn and Donia are contrasted sharply with the Summer Girls, those who decided to exist for the pleasure of Aislann and his men, a theme I thought was a bit of a harsh and unexplored actually, who
“believe they’ve won. … The girls were happy: they didn’t see their dependence as a burden.”
I wonder who the Summer Girls are in our world?
Not everything worked for me in this book. Seth, while wonderful, was a bit too perfect himself. Never a wrong move, always just waiting for Aislinn to show up so he could help her. I also felt that the secondary characters like the Winter Queen and Aislinn’s grandmother were quite one dimensional. There was a twist near the end which I did not see coming, that was truly grotesque, the implications of which were not explored. And I thought Aislinn’s transition from being terrified of the faery world to embracing her role as Queen occurred abruptly, without a corresponding change in character. Finally, the ending wraps things up in a bow that seemed a little too neat: there was a tension all along between the really horrific elements of the story and the romantic ones that I felt was not resolved perfectly.
But I really enjoyed this book. More importantly, it’s the first book in a while that I could not put down. I thank the Book Smugglers for inviting me to read and review it!
You are very welcome Jessica! Glad you liked the book – hopefully you will pick up the others and enjoy them too!
Next Month: We dared Tia from the Fantasy Debut Blog and she will be reading a Horror book which we have yet to pick. We do know this though: she also pulled a Graeme and dared us back to read The Once and Future King by T.H. White!