Series: Tales of Beauty and Madness, #2
Author: Lili St. Crow
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult, Fairytale Retelling
Publisher: Penguin Group
Release Date: February 26th, 2014
Length: 353 pages
Source: Borrowed from my local library
Newly orphaned, increasingly isolated from her friends, and terrified of her violent stepmother, Ellen Sinder still believes she’ll be okay. She has a plan for surviving and getting through high school, which includes keeping her head down and saving any credits she can earn or steal. But when a train arrives from over the Waste beyond New Haven, carrying a golden boy and a new stepsister, all of Ellie’s plans begin to unravel, one by one.
Just when all hope is lost, Ellie meets an odd old woman with a warm hearth and a heavenly garden. Auntie’s kindness is intoxicating, and Ellie finally has a home again. Yet when the clock strikes twelve on the night of the annual Charmer’s Ball, Ellie realizes that no charm is strong enough to make her past disappear…
In a city where Twisted minotaurs and shifty fey live alongside diplomats and charmers, a teenage girl can disappear through the cracks into safety–or into something much more dangerous. So what happens when the only safety you can find wants to consume you as well?
I’m a fan of fairytelling retellings, especially ones that make it new and fresh. Just like the first book (which I enjoyed more, to be honest) centers around a Snow White retelling, but had very creeptastic vampiric and Unseelie Court elements, Wayfarer centers around Cinderella elements but also has dark fae underpinnings. Nothing overt enough to be recognizable as, say, The Scarecrow King or Diamonds and Toads. But subtly there, in a nicely world-building way.
Speaking of the world- I really enjoy the concepts. It’s never fully explained, but having all the hints from books 1 and 2 now, I gather that magic re-awakened sometime in the 21st century, and humanity lost its edge in the face of the wholly unexpected (and frankly terrifying) new reality. So some things are familiar enough to ground you in expectations (the girls are teenagers- trying to navigate school, family chaos, unspoken societal expectations, their futures, romance, etc.) and others are just odd enough to keep an underlying tension to the world (Potential can Twist you into a monstrous form, always angry and/or in pain, and always treated as a fiftieth-class citizen by the rest of the town- so I’m waiting for the riots and revolution to begin any day now).
I think I identified most with Cami, from the first book, even though I’m nothing like her. I didn’t feel at all connected to Ellie (not only with her abusive home life but with her level of maturity), but that isn’t to say I wasn’t invested in her story. Shades of real-life abuse, manipulation, and isolation from support structures abound, to the point where even Ellie was pushing others away and perpetuating the cycle of abuse heaped on her by her stepmother. That made her difficult to like, but realistic. Her insistence that she be independent and do everything herself lands her in hot water, repeatedly. But, given the fairy tale, she’s eventually saved by her prince (a very persistent, but sweet guy with an awesomely loving home life), and her friends. And I think that’s the bit that bothered me, just slightly- Ellie does SO MUCH in this novel, but very little of it actually improves her situation. Her being forced and coerced by others is what increases her skill (and also nearly kills her, constantly), so it felt like she’s empowered but has little agency.
I’d say this is still a good book, certainly well-written and developed, but somewhat weaker than the first book in the series. The next book will clearly center around Ruby (the Red Riding Hood character, whose wolf nature we’ve gotten a glimpse of in both books), and I’m curious what surprises await with that story. I hope it has slightly more impact than this second book did, but I still love the creepy magical world this narrative is set within.
I’m a coffee-fueled, hobby-addicted bibliophage who makes cruelty-free mineral eye shadows (inspired by novels). I’m usually in front of a screen (writing, reading, or gaming), but I’ve been known to emerge for geekery, good food, and dark chocolate.