Rule #3: Don’t stare at invisible faeries.REVIEW SPOILER: I liked this book. I will totally cop to this. I’m not into fairies at all – for some reason, they cross some believability line that werewolves and vampires don’t – but so many things about this book appealed to certain soft spots I have for stories in general. Namely, senseless, unending, cyclical TRAGEDY in which good people must suffer endless emotional torment. I probably have issues.
Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in mortal world. Aislinn fears their cruelty – especially if they learn of her Sight – and wishes she were as blind to their presence as other teens.
Rule #2: Don’t speak to invisible faeries.
Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer.
Rule #1: Don’t ever attract their attention.
But it’s too late. Keenan is the Summer King who has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost — regardless of her plans or desires.
Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working anymore, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.
Faerie intrigue, mortal love, and the clash of ancient rules and modern expectations swirl together in Melissa Marr’s stunning twenty-first century faery tale.
Anyway, the Senseless Unending Cyclical TRAGEDY in Wicked Lovely comes primarily from the fairy-tale core that provides that story’s main conflict and sets a lovely, dark mood. It goes like this: Keenan, the would-be Summer King of the fae, has had his powers bound from birth by his mother, the evil Winter Queen. He cannot fully realize them and bring his mother’s winter to an end until he finds and crowns his Summer Queen. But the Summer Queen cannot be any old girl; Keenan must find and choose a human candidate who is brave enough to face the Winter Queen’s test.
Once deeply in love with the Summer King, and (irreversibly) half-fae herself as a result of his seduction, Keenan and his mother’s representative, the Winter Girl, present the unfortunate candidate with two options:
One, back out of the test and become a Summer Girl – beautiful, immortal, and fae, but with all sense of self lost to become a flighty, vain, passionate, pleasure-seeking embodiment of Summer (read: groupie). The Summer Girls are bound to Keenan forever, but can never be the Summer Queen.
Or two, take the test, and face the very likely possibility of failure. The ones who fail to become Summer Queen take on the painful winter chill and become the new Winter Girl. The Winter Girl is also immortal and fae, but is unable to touch Keenan without physical pain. They live in exile, thanks to the Winter Queen’s influence, and are forced to play a role in all of Keenan’s future seductions, advising the girls against trusting him or taking the test.
When Wicked Lovely begins, this cycle has gone on for nearly a thousand years, and all of the parties involved (except the Winter Queen) are emotionally damaged and tired of it. Wicked Lovely itself is about Aislinn, Keenan’s newest Summer Queen candidate, who has been burdened all her life by her ability to see the invisible fairies.
Yeah, so I loved the back story. It sounds authentic, like the kind of tale that Hans Christian Anderson or the Grimm Brothers would have told. It has the same tragic, dark edge to it that most fairytales did before Disney got ahold of them.
The thing about the TRAGEDY in Wicked Lovely, though, is that it’s present, but not dwelled upon (at least, not in a self-pityish way) by anyone. Each of the primary characters – Keenan, Aislinn, and Donia, the latest Winter Girl) have quite valid reasons to be big whining balls of emo, but instead deal with their damage in a variety of flawed, but less annoying ways.
Keenan puts on a facade of careless and determined arrogance (taking on that terrible persona so many YAPR heroes have nowadays), but shows depth beyond this in his deep love and concern for Donia, and the sense of obligation that he has to his people. When he selects Aislinn to be his new Queen, he pursues her not out of lust, but because he needs a Queen now, to do right by the Summer Fae. It doesn’t make the fact that he essentially uses Aislinn and forces this unwanted fate on her any better, but it does make it more sympathetic.
Then there is Donia, who loved Keenan enough to risk everything and was rewarded with the lonely life of the Winter Girl. She deals with her pain by taking on the persona of the cold, scored ex-lover, but there’s more to her than that. She still loves Keenan, but like him, believes he’s over it, and tries not to hate him for it. She’s hurt and angry, but very strong and proud and good, and does her best to do right by Aislinn and Keenan when she suspects the Winter Queen might be wrongly interfering in his pursuit.
Finally, there’s Aislinn, supposedly the main character, although we read almost as much from Keenan and Donia’s point of view as from hers. Aislinn has essentially been beaten into mousy submission by her lifelong fear of the fae, who in this book run the gamut from breathtakingly beautiful to holy-shit-gouge-my-eyes-out ugly, and are at best indifferent, at worst, violent, to the humans around them.
Aislinn’s development was one of the better aspects of this book for me. She starts out very timid and afraid of the fae, allowing their presence to totally dictate every aspect of her life, from what time she spends where to who her friends are. When Keenan and Donia begin stalking her, and Keenan actually takes on a human glamour to attend her school with her, she is terrified. She doesn’t know what’s going on or how to deal with it, except to run to her best friend, Seth, confess her secret, and hope they can figure something out. But bit by bit, Aislinn begins standing up for herself. It happens in odd lurches – one minute Aislinn is terrified, the next she’s brave enough to go talk to Keenan on his own turf, the next she’s able to bitch-slap him and demand to be treated as an equal, HELL YEAH – but you can see the factors that trigger these lurches, and I appreciated that she changed at all. Character development seems exceedingly rare in YAPR these days. *cough*HouseofNight*cough*
Actually, in the context of current YA paranormal romances, Wicked Lovely stands out quite a bit by taking familiar character types and situations – having the supernatural sexy new kid in school stalker, being irresistibly drawn to him – and did exactly what should be done with these characters and situations, rather than what usually happens in most YAPRs. For example, yes, Aislinn is drawn to Keenan against her will, but she fights it like mad, and succeeds, because she has the sense to be afraid of him, and because there’s someone else she loves. Yes, Keenan has serious boundary and consent issues, but there’s someone there he respects, telling him it’s just as wrong to trick or force someone’s hand as it is to harm them outright, even if it’s ‘for the greater good’. And then there’s Seth. Ahh, Seth. He’s a much-needed breath of fresh air in the world of PR heroes.
Seth is Aislinn’s best friend and secret love, who lives in – I shit you not – a disused iron train car. NO REALLY AN IRON TRAIN CAR LOL. Holy shit, that was certainly convenient for Aislinn, to come across this guy who lives in a train that’s made of fae Kryptonite, who just happens to be her age and not a douche, and is interested in being her friend. And how does that even work? How do you hook up the plumbing? And how does one purchase an abandoned train car with the intention of turning it into a stylin’ bachelor pad? And why in a book about fairies am I having trouble swallowing a guy living in a train car?
Anyway, Stylin’ Bachelor Car aside, Seth’s a great love interest in that he’s the polar opposite of the dominating, animalistic MANLY MAN we’ve come to so despise in urbanormal romantasy. Rather than bullying, intimidating, assaulting Aislinn and demanding her love, Seth is confident, but gentle. He makes his desire for Aislinn known, but always stops just before the kiss, hug, or touch that will cross that line, not to tease, but to leave the decision up to her. Their relationship is sweet, sexy, sincere, and totally believable. It’s one of equality and mutual respect, which is so, so rare nowadays.
Also, the depiction of sexuality in the book was refreshing as well. The sex(ish) scene between Aislinn and Seth was both tasteful and hot, and the feminist view of sexuality that Aislinn had been raised with was a welcome surprise. Her grandmother was no puritanical idealist, and taught her that safe, protected sex was a wonderful thing for a woman to experience with someone special when the time was right. Fuck yeah.
In all honesty, I didn’t really have that many problems with this book. I found the Winter Queen to be a bit one-dimensionally evil, but she didn’t really provide the main conflict anyway – that was more Aislinn’s reluctance to accept her role as Summer Queen – and I can appreciate the sort of wicked witch fairytale throwback going on there, anyway. Plus, her whole demented ’50’s housewife shtick was pretty cool.
Aislinn’s high-school friends, however, were facilitating bitches. They did their very best to hook Aislinn up with Keenan against her will, despite the fact that she was clearly terrified of him. They went so far as to trick her into accepting a date with him, then bet on the likelihood of the trick working. They sounded like terrible friends.
Kayla thought Seth was a bit of a wuss once he and Aislinn had gotten together. She thought he was too clingy and understanding, and that he and Aislinn lost their flirty spark. Personally, I thought they were abnormally lovey-dovey for a pair of ‘best friends’ from the get-go, snuggling and holding and loving on each other like a pair of cats, but hey, I’ve never had a male friend like that, so what do I know? Seth was, though, almost freakishly understanding. He took almost all of her huge revelations in stride – even being betrothed and destined for another guy – but I’ll take that kind of laid-back, trusting approach over a possessive, testosterone-filled meathead any day.
The sub-plot with Aislinn’s mother (no spoilers, I promise) was somewhat out of nowhere, and ultimately served little purpose, for such a huge twist. Maybe it’ll be expanded on in the upcoming books, but here it seemed almost out of place in the story’s climax. Also, I totally called it way ahead of time, but I appreciate that Marr only laid a few hints down here and there, and didn’t beat you over the head with them.
Overall, both my favorite aspect and the problem I had with the book was the conclusion. I’m not going to spoil it, but I very, very much loved the sense of choice that was involved. The fairytale mythology had laid out a very specific role for each of the characters involved, but in the end, neither Keenan, Aislinn, or Donia conformed to them. Everyone involved did the best with what was laid out in front of them, and managed to get all the things that they wanted while still fulfilling their roles. It was a very non-traditional finish, and I loved that aspect of it. On the other hand…
I almost wish more choice had been involved. I’m not a big fan of destiny or people’s lives and places being determined for them, especially, in this case, for Aislinn. Her role was chosen for her by Keenan, and while I’m glad she made the best of it, I also feel that she should have found a way to give destiny the middle finger and reject it out right if that was what she really wanted.
Also, I’m a bit of an emotional masochist, I admit, but the ending would have had more impact for me if there had been more personal sacrifice (death) involved. But that’s just me; I like depressing endings.
All in all, I found Wicked Lovely to be an excellent book, and I will definitely be getting the next one ASAP. I think it’s a rare example of YAPR done right, with a a great, moody story, empowering roles for the female leads, genuinely likable love interests, and holy shit, DEVELOPMENT. While I have my issues with the ending, I also very much appreciate the message Melissa Marr was trying to get across, and I think she did it very well, both with her novel, and in the quote that follows:
There are always choices. As long as we’re still breathing, we can keep making choices and keep striving for our objectives. The choices aren’t always ones we like, but I honestly believe that if we keep choosing, we can often get to where we need to be. If we stop choosing, we have no chance.