I owe a quick thank you before we start to Sue Bentley, who kindly sent me a copy of this book! Getting that in the post was extremely exciting.
I do have a weakness for fantasy, as might be evident from my choice of book reviews, and for YA in particular: so often, it’s about people finding their feet and coming to accept themselves as they grow into adulthood, which remains a fascinating subject, however old you are.
When I was sent the book, I admit I was intrigued as to how I’d feel reading it. This is Sue Bentley’s first YA novel- having previously written for children- and I was interested to see how that experience would translate to writing for more mature audiences.
I was pleasantly surprised. Bentley weaves an exotic, sensual story that was definitely much more nuanced and varied than I expected. Encompassing multiple timelines, points of view, and worlds, even, the story is compelling in a way that slowly grows on you; by the end, I was extremely reluctant to put the book down. The story centres on Jess Morgan, a girl with an alcoholic mother who discovers that she is a changeling: a faery, who was switched at birth for a real human child. Slowly, she starts to realise who she is- and in the process, sets in motion a tangled web of events that stretch all the way back to her human grandmother, whose tortured paintings of fairies are oddly accurate.
Fairies are of course a popular subject for novels these days- Julie Kagawa’s wildly popular Iron Fey series springs to mind- and though it sometimes does slip towards well-trodden territory, Bentley manages to put her own unique twist on the story by putting Jess at the centre of events, but shifting the focus to include her family and friends. We learn about Alice, her mother, Ivy Stark, the woman who traded her future for faery inspiration-turned-torture, and Aerith… the human girl swapped for Jess all those years ago, even as we also get Jess’s story of discovery, find out about the kingdom of faery, and learn that she has some pretty kick-ass magic powers.
All the human characters, are fully rounded and believable, with story arcs that are intriguing in their own right- and that neatly come together and overlap as the book progresses, and as we hop between timelines. I liked that Bentley didn’t just focus on Jess- though she is a great central character, with determination, attitude and vulnerability in spades- as it made the overall novel so much more interesting, even when seen from the viewpoint of somebody who isn’t magical at all: for instance, Caleb, whose sweetness and acceptance of all things weird makes him a good match for Jess. By contrast, Taryn, one of the fairies we meet a little later in the novel, is pretty bland, and left me wanting to get back to the human action.
The book itself is meticulously well structured, switching between characters and points of view in a way that slowly reveals the larger plot, and larger plot threads, to you as you read. Bentley keeps the story light and engaging whilst also engaging with weightier topics like alcoholism- though perhaps not with as much gravitas as they deserve- and the story doesn’t ever feel like it’s dragging. With a feisty heroine, an interesting plot and characters to root for, this book is definitely one to read if you like your YA novels with a side of fantasy and fairies.