055 – Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr

Darkest Mercy cover The Summer King is missing; the Dark Court is bleeding; and a stranger walks the streets of Huntsdale, his presence signifying the deaths of powerful fey.

Aislinn tends to the Summer Court, searching for her absent king and yearning for Seth. Torn between his new queen and his old love, Keenan works from afar to strengthen his court against the coming war. Donia longs for fiery passion even as she coolly readies the Winter Court for battle. And Seth, sworn brother of the Dark King and heir to the High Queen, is about to make a mistake that could cost his life.

Love, despair, and betrayal ignite the Faery Courts, and in the final conflict, some will win…and some will lose everything.
It should be obvious by now, but the Wicked Lovely series has absolutely become one of our favorites. From book one, we both fell in love with the beautiful writing, the characters, the difficult situations, and the impossible decisions that made the series so complex and challenging. While we’ve liked some installments better than others, the entire series has been interesting and well-done, so we were eager to see how Marr would bring it to a close. Having read it…we;re of mixed feelings. There are some things that we were disappointed with, and some things we just didn’t like, but most are more a reflection of our personal tastes than any technical flaw of the book itself.

Also, big-time SPOILERS for the series, including this book’s ENDING.

Let’s start with the good stuff, though. As usual, Melissa Marr’s writing is fantastic. Every time we open a Wicked Lovely book – whether we ending up totally loving it or not – it’s like a breath of fresh air, like we can relax and finally truly enjoy a book without forcing ourselves through it. And as usual, even when action isn’t moving the story along, the story is still interesting. The best part of the Wicked Lovely series has always been the fairy politics, so it’s interesting to see the maneuvering going on here, between the Winter, Summer, and Dark Courts, and Bananach. It’s also nice to see Aislinn and Donia getting along again, and most of the petty in-fighting that plagued Fragile Eternity going away. The book truly begins to feel epic when the three Courts come to align themselves against a bigger threat.

As usual, the characters were a huge draw. Donia has officially earned a place on our “favorite female characters” list, not just for her strength, but also for her respect for herself. I mean really, how many YA heroines do you see turn the man they love away because it’s not right for them? Not e-fuckin’-nough. We liked that Donia could weather his loss and still stay cool-headed enough to reign over the Winter Court like a boss. It is only for Donia’s sake that we appreciate Keenan not dying, because in truth, Donia was the one we really wanted to get her happy ending.

But even Niall and Irial, not previously our favorite characters, took the opportunity in Darkest Mercy to grow on us. We enjoyed their portrayals, the devotion they showed one another, and the complexity in their characters. They’re not great guys, but they’re not monsters, either. They’re just human- er, fae. You get the idea.

We liked that, in the end, traditional roles seemed, for the most part, reversed: Aislinn has to run off to rescue an imprisoned Seth, who has to sit the final fight out because he needs “protecting”. Aislinn ended up doing most of the day-saving, which was sweet, and when all was said and done, three out of the five courts had female monarchs wielding power solo. Even with guys available to co-rule, none of the women ending up being compelled to take a “King” and share this power. It was pretty awesome.

While the final fight between Bananach and the courts was not especially intense, we did appreciate the lack of the celebration of death in general. Even when it’s the “evil” fairies who are falling, none of the characters revel in their defeat, and most genuinely mourn the fact that they have to kill at all. This, along with the genuinely sad deaths of a couple of side characters, does managed to lend the book some of the emotional weight that we’d been wanting. Unfortunately, for us, it wasn’t enough.

Story-wise, we did have a few problems with Darkest Mercy. First and most obviously: Keenan, WTF? The entire series’ conflict has revolved around the Aislinn’s inability to chose between the man she loves, and her King and the welfare of her court. After all the fucked-up stuff that happened in Fragile Eternity, we had assumed that the if the circumstances could be changed, they would have been – after all, that’s when shit really went to Hell. BUT APPARENTLY THIS IS NOT SO. Apparently all along, Keenan’d had the secret option to relinquish his status as Summer King and become a Winter fey, that he could – and by all logical standards, should – have used to end everyone’s misery several books ago. Why didn’t he? It’s not like anything has really changed in Darkest Mercy to “inspire” this decision. He knew he was in love with Donia from the beginning, and while we understand his love for his court, he’s always trusted Aislinn, right? And he’s always known Aislinn was torn between him and Seth. So why wait so long to issue this ultimatum, or to act on it like this?

Which isn’t to say that giving up Summer wasn’t a kinda big deal for Keenan, but it wasn’t his life, which was kinda what we were expecting. It wasn’t even his immortality, which would have made his hesitation more understandable. It was just his kingship.

To be completely honest, this felt like a cop-out. Like the rules were changed mid-game. Keenan’s ability to just give up his kingship is something we’ve never heard anything about in any of the previous books, something he’s never even indicated as an option. Now all of the sudden, the conflict that’s plagued us for two whole books can just be solved with a kiss. It’s that easy.

And to be honest, our biggest problem with the book was just that: everything fell into place too easily. It’s a far more anti-climactic resolution to the series’ complex, difficult problems than we we had hoped for.

While we weren’t personally satisfied with many of the character’s resolutions, aside from Keenan’s, Irial’s ultimate fate is the one that made the least sense to us, story-wise. It seemed to fly in the face of what the previous book, Radiant Shadows, had spent so much time establishing. The whole point of Radiant Shadows, to us, was to resolve the issue of Bananach and Sorcha’s “balance”. Bananach had emerged as the ‘big bad’, but you can’t kill Bananach without killing Sorcha, and thus, every faery in existence. That’s fantastic, those are high stakes, a huge problem to resolve, and it took a whole book to fix. But Shadows did that beautifully, by giving Sorcha a new balance: the Shadow Court.

From our understanding, this made Bananach unnecessary to the survival of the species, and thus free game. But according to the end of Darkest Mercy, for some reason there *still* needs to be a Discord to Sorcha’s Order…which becomes Irial. Well, then what the Hell is the Shadow Court for? What was the purpose of everything that happened in Radiant Shadows? Hadn’t Devlin, hadn’t his entire court, become Sorcha’s Discord? It seemed to us like this loophole was just one invented for the sake of resurrecting Irial and giving him and Niall a happy ending.

We were also disappointed – throughout the series, really – with the lack of development in Aislinn. Towards the beginning of Darkest Mercy, we’re told that in the time Keenan has been gone, she’s developed into this wonderful, competent Queen, but we never see it. For the majority of the book, all we see is Aislinn doing what Aislinn’s done through the entire series: whine about being unable to chose between Keenan and Seth, and be angry with them. The only difference between the scenes here and the ones in Fragile Eternity are that this time she’s mad because Keenan’s been gone, and Seth won’t fuck her. SIGH. We do get to see her be a bit more kick-ass after Keenan’s abdication, but honestly, it’s a bit too little, a bit too late.

Seth’s role in the book seemed a little forced as well. Sure, he supposedly helped bring about the events of Radiant Shadows, but…not much after that. It was actually kind of surprising, considering the books went out of their way to give him such seemingly important powers, lineage, and relationship to the antagonist. But alas, he doesn’t have much of an impact in Darkest Mercy. He shows up, fights once, gets captured, and then he’s put out of the game for the rest of the book. In the end, the book seems to want to insist he’s been more important than he was (balance!), but you don’t really see it. We generally attributed Niall’s recovery more to Irial and Keenan’s conversation than to Seth’s decision to deem himself Niall’s balance. At any rate, it seemed to us like Seth was there not because he was necessary to the plot, but to be Aislinn’s reward.

While we’re on the subject, two new characters were added to the mix in Darkest Mercy who also struck us as somewhat superfluous: the two “death-fey” Far Dorcha and Ankou. While we found them both to be interesting characters, we didn’t really see the need for them. Dorcha’s sole role seemed to be to enable the story’s many happy endings – giving Irial his body back, saving Donia’s life – but that was only towards the end. For the majority of the book, he just wandered around, probably looking like Morpheus, scaring the hell out of everyone. Ankou did even less. Again, the concept of death fey was interesting, but the characters themselves just seemed largely pointless.

Those were our only real issues story-wise. As to how we felt about the ending this final book in the series gave us?

As a whole, we were kind of disappointed with Darkest Mercy‘s resolution, mostly because there wasn’t really anything tragic or difficult about it. From Wicked Lovely all the way through to Radiant Shadows, there were so many problems that seemed impossible to resolve to everyone’s satisfaction. In fact, that almost seemed to be the theme: hard decisions. We loved that. The fact that not everyone would got a perfect ending was satisfying, and wonderfully different from almost all of the other books in YA. When we picked this book up, we couldn’t wait to see how it would unfold.

Then we get to Darkest Mercy and everything just…came together perfectly. And…it didn’t really work for us. Though we can understand the appeal, and how most readers would be completely excited about this, we found ourselves feeling the opposite. We’ve said it before, but we’re kind of morbid: we love the sad, tragic endings, and we were ready to deal with at least one main character’s death or disappointment to ensure that the faeries and their Courts could thrive. An ending requiring a monumental sacrifice on someone’s part seemed to be what the whole series was leading up to. But it didn’t happen.

For us, having every single main character not only survive, but get what they wanted without any significant sacrifices felt like an easy way out.

And, sidebar, we have to admit – the Leslie/Irial/Niall happy ending? We felt a little betrayed. We adored Ink Exchange because Leslie had the strength and balls to get herself out of two horrible relationships. And now her happy ending involves her willingly putting herself back into them? *sob* We’re just going to pretend that part of the story never happened.

Anyway. Despite our less-than-stellar feelings towards the ending, we don’t want to leave the impression that we’re bashing on this one. Wicked Lovely remains one of our favorite series, and Melissa Marr is still one of our favorite writers. Even with our disappointments, we can’t call Darkest Mercy a bad book, because it wasn’t. By and large, it was good. Most of the characters managed to develop, the interactions between them were interesting, it was well-written, and parts were really beautiful. We were just hoping for a little more.

Three (and a half stars).

three stars


 

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