Wondrous Strange Lesley LivingstonKelley is a seventeen year old redheaded actress, who recently moved from The Sticks to The Big City to try to break into the wide world of theatre. She got herself a job understudying Titania in an off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and, low and behold, the annoying celebrity actress with the role broke an ankle a week and a half before curtain, so it’s up to Kelley to save the show. Of course, Kelley gets herself distracted by a kelpie who follows her home, a handsome stranger who follows her home, and a bunch of revelations about faeries, changelings, Central Park, and her own heritage.

I’m afraid it’s a bit of a jumbled mess. It lacks sufficient emotional connection between the rehearsals for the play and the main plot. Instead of providing a parallel to the plot and illuminating Puck, Oberon, and Titania’s characters, the play mostly serves as Kelley’s day job. It also lacks sufficient emotional connection between the romantic leads. Seriously: no chemistry. He’s into her because she’s hot and she was super-enticing while running lines in the park, not knowing he was watching her. She’s into him because he’s hot and she had a strange, completely unexplained dream during rehearsal. I know they are hormonal teenagers, but still, a reason to care about their romance would be appreciated. Especially as I think we’re supposed to believe it’s the forever kind.

A handful of minor characters distinguish themselves—Puck particularly—but while bit parts can upstage bland leads, they’re hard pressed to rescue an entire production from mediocrity.

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Wondrous Strange ~ Lesley Livingston

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Wings Aprilynne PikeAdopted 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.”
“Why ‘just’?”
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.

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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?
²P. 147.
³Pp. 148-9.
4Or both!

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Wings ~ Aprilynne Pike

miriam newman ya lit ya literatureThe Moorchild is the story of a half-human/half-fairy changeling and the unrelated human family who unwittingly adopt her. Saaski’s an odd, difficult baby and a flighty child, forever running to the forbidden moor and refusing to do certain chores, like collecting rowan or anything to do with cold iron. Still, her family loves her – even her wise-woman grandmother, who figured out long ago what Saaski is – and life goes on apace, with chores and her grandfather’s bagpipes and generally avoiding the village children. Nonetheless, the freaky-odd child is a perfect scapegoat when things go wrong, and drastic measure must be taken, both by the frightened villagers and the equally-frightened Saaski.

A well-written and evenly-paced book, The Moorchild‘s great strengths are its characters caught in the middle. Though Saaski’s parents deny it at first, they know there’s something unusual about her, but they refuse to throw her out and, in fact, defend her staunchly against all comers – including Old Bess, Saaski’s mother’s mother and the village wise-woman. When Old Bess first knew that Saaski was not the human baby she delivered, she advocated trying to get the fairies to swap it back, though nearly all the methods for doing so involve putting the changeling in mortal peril – and, if she were wrong, killing the child. Even so, as Saaski grows, Old Bess becomes closer to her than anyone else, truly loving her and mentoring her, and quietly deals with the guilt of what she’d said when Saaski was a babe. And secondly there’s Saaski’s herself, neither fairy nor human, with the fecklessness and music of her fairy kin, but the love and loyalty of humans, as well. Saaski’s life in the village forces them all to walk a tightrope, and it’s done well.

If you think there’s only room in your life for one book of fairies and changelings, go read The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson. If, however, you have the sense to read as many such books as are good, go ahead and read them both.

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The Moorchild

The New Policeman, Kate Thompson’s first book revolving around the Liddy family’s relationship with Tír ná n’Óg (in Irish mythology, the land of eternal youth) and its fairy inhabitants, was quite good.

The Last of the High Kings is better.

J.J. Liddy, a teenager at the time of his first adventure, is now a grown man – mostly – with a wife and four children, ranging from two and a half to seventeen years old. Everyone’s fully fleshed-out – with the possible exception of the two year old, but he’s too young to do much other than wreak havoc – but it’s the eleven year old daughter and the (I think) nine year old son who claim all the glory. She’s friends with a púka and a ghost, and he’s friends with their elderly neighbor, who claims to be the last of the High Kings of Ireland, and wants to go to the Beacon at the top of the hill one more time before he dies. J.J. just wants to get his supply of chiming maple from Aengus Óg so he can make the best fiddles the world has seen since Stradivarius, and be home more to help his wife with the children, to boot. It takes all three of these plots coming together to save the human race, who, of course, never knew how close they were to destruction. Not even J.J. knows; most of that burden is reserved for eleven-year-old Jenny.

Jenny’s a difficult character done well. She’s by nature feckless and flightly, and has a great deal of trouble understanding what other people are feeling – or even remembering to wonder – but eventually she’s forced to focus and empathize. It would be easy for that transition to ring false, but it doesn’t; Thompson has done her job well, so when it happens, it makes sense.

Thompson manages her other challenges with equal aplomb. The book is well-balanced among characters of disparate ages and temperaments. J.J. himself has aged well, being both convincingly adult and recognizably consistent with the teenager introduced in The New Policeman.

The fairies, living as they do in the land of eternal youth, haven’t aged a day.