Phoebe Rothschild befriends the strange Mallory in middle school, and for the next four years, the girls are as close as sisters. When Mallory’s strange and yet kind of alluring older brother Ryland shows up, Phoebe finds herself drawn to him, and the two enter into some sort of strange relationship. Ryland makes her question her life and her self-worth, and Mallory doesn’t seem to be helping the situation. Both Ryland and Mallory have a secret, though, and it’s pretty sinister: they are fae, and have come into Phoebe’s life to tear her down in order to save their faerie land as part of a deal made by Phoebe’s ancestor hundreds of years ago. Will Phoebe be the one to save the fae, or will she be strong enough to resist?
As a cautious fan of Werlin’s other works, I approached this one with more reservations than normal. In the interest of full disclosure, fantasy is not my preferred genre, and I don’t have a lot of experience reading it. Werlin’s fantasy is accessible simply because it is not overcomplicated. In fact, one might make the argument that her fantastical world is so simple that it is a detraction from the story. In nearly four hundred pages, I never got an understanding for the magical world that Ryland and Mallory came from. I didn’t understand their motivations, nor did I understand their blind devotion to the fairy queen. The book’s revelation about why the fae are the way they are comes way too late, and by the time I realized what was happening I didn’t care.
There’s no doubt that Werlin is a strong writer, and while some reviewers liked the almost dream-like undertone of the novel, I found it wearying. In order to really enjoy a book, a reader must feel at least one connection to a character. There isn’t a character in the book that I feel like I got a sense for. Even Phoebe, who is our heroine, seems flat. Her attraction to Ryland isn’t explained until the end (again, too little too late), and her friendship with Mallory is something that we are supposed to take for granted, because there is little interaction between the girls that allows us to see why they are friends.
While I understood what Werlin was doing in building the strange relationship between Phoebe and Ryland, I felt that it was rushed and much of it occurred off the pages. Being told that she feels a connection is not the same as seeing the connection. However, the uneasiness that the reader is supposed to feel around Ryland is conveyed nicely. Every time he refers to Phoebe as “Phoebe-bird,” my skin crawled.
At the end of the day, this book will find fans in some readers. Being a lover of fantasy as a genre probably helps, but it shouldn’t be a requirement. For me, though, this book left me cold and I was glad to be done with it.