Adopted daughter of hippies, super-vegan (anything but fruits and vegetables make her sick), homeschooled for years, looks like a supermodel Laurel is starting at public high school in a new town. It’s not as bad as she expected; though she hates being inside all day and finds it odd to learn at someone else’s pace, she quickly makes friends- even a romantic prospect. Then a strange bump begins to grow on her back, eventually growing into a flower – loosely resembling a pair of wings.¹ A hot young man she meets on a visit back to her family’s old property tells her that she, like he, is a faerie; and science geek romantic prospect helps her figure out what that means.
The characters and, actually, the science are well done. Laurel’s confusion and fear are palpable but not overblown, as is her tentative reaction to possible romance, from more than one direction. David, the science geek, is perhaps unusually mature for a sixteen year old, but he’s so sweet and supportive and earnest that it’s hard not to like him. Tamani, the faerie, is also well-drawn, with his debonair manner only partially covering his doubts and insecurities. The writing is quite strong, with pacing that’s even while still maintaining tension and danger. It doesn’t forget that strange, worrisome things wreak havoc with our everyday lives and schoolwork, or that the start of a romance, especially a first romance, is scary and confusing – and can be made all the more so by strange, worrisome things.
Of course, I also have issues. When do I not?
The focus on Laurel in our world means we don’t get much about faerie culture or society; I wish we got more, so I could decide how strongly I object. The little bit we get makes me nervous:
“Winter faeries are the most powerful of all faeries, and the most rare. Only two or three are produced in an entire generation, often less. Our rulers are always Winter faeries.”²
Tamani hesitated. “I’m just a Spring faerie.”
Tamani shrugged. “Spring faeries are the least powerful of all the faeries. That’s why I’m a sentry. Manual labor. I don’t need much magic for that.”³
Either it hints of discrimination, or I’m oversensitive.4 I don’t have a problem with different faeries having different magical abilities, but the implied level to which it determines their role in society and the valuation is less comfortable. I’m also not against showing prejudice and discrimination in books; I just want it acknowledged, dammit.
And then there’s the dramatic conflict. There are trolls! They want to mess up everything for the faeries! They are mean, ugly, and stupid because of evolution, and the faeries are beautiful and intelligent because of evolution. Congratulations, you just fell into the all-too-common sci-fi/fantasy “orcs are bad! elves are good!” trope. This trope has race/racism issues, especially when there’s such blatant blanket statements of physical attractiveness; it’s also just a really boring excuse for a conflict.
¹It really is a flower, not wings; in this mythology, faeries can’t fly. Which, of course, begs the question: if there are no wings involved, why is the title Wings?