I was first introduced to Gail Carson Levine’s writing in Ella Enchanted, an amazing book. Unfortunately, none of my subsequent reading experiences has lived up to that first one.

The reason is quite simple: Ella Enchanted is wonderful largely because it makes Cinderella’s romance believable. She and the Prince know each other. They laugh together, they talk together, they seem to be genuinely friends. And they don’t immediately notice a physical attraction; they notice each other as people first.

And I cannot believe the romance in any other Gail Carson Levine novel I’ve read. If it’s not love at first sight, it’s the silent crush wherein one rarely, if ever, speaks to the object of affection. And then we’re supposed to believe that their prompt marriage will live happily ever after? I’m sorry, but my disbelief doesn’t suspend that far.

In Ever, Kezi starts off with a crush on Elon, to whom she has never spoken. Once she’s been condemned to be killed as a sacrifice, she decides he isn’t so hot after all and suddenly, no more crush. Only after that does she get to speak to him, and he turns out to be an attempted sexual assaulter. Whatever happened to perfectly nice people who just aren’t right for each other?¹

Then, of course, there is the real Object of Her Affection. And what does she notice first? His body. What does he notice first? Her dancing. How quickly are they ass over teakettle for each other? Amazingly quickly!

Luckily, the actual plots, as opposed to the romance, are frequently pretty good. Ever is particularly distinguished by an unusual setting – instead of the standard quasi-Medieval Europe, it seems to be an early Middle Eastern culture, complete with cuneiform on clay tablets – and some interesting personified g-ds.

So please, Gail Carson Levine: Let another heroine fall in love naturally, with a growth of feeling over time and a sense of real, equal companionship between her and her would-be lover. Yes, we often read fantasy out of escapism, but it only works if we believe in the character and her emotions.

¹I feel the need to clarify that I am not objecting to instances of sexual misconduct being portrayed in literature; I’m objecting to this instance of sexual misconduct in literature. It exists primarily to make the point that Elon is not someone Kezi should love, a point which I think would be better made with more subtlety. The ease with which Kezi shrugs off the experience also seems off, though I’m willing to believe that it simply gets folded into all the other trauma she has to deal with. Sentence to death, and all that.s