Let’s Talk: Fairies in Fiction

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When I was ten, I was captivated by the magic of The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. The fey in these stories varied in their appearance and nature, ranging from brownies and goblins to nixies and ogres, but just like in any other book about the fair folk, they were also tricksy, mysterious and of course, dangerous. As I moved into my teenage years, fairy stories soon began to lose their appeal in favour of vampires, angels, and werewolves. However, over the last few years the genre has had an epic resurgence in fantasy and, much like a lot of other people’s, my interest has returned with a similar vengeance. So, recently I started thinking about what it is exactly that’s so appealing about stories dealing with the fey these days, and here’s what I came up with:

Magic

One of the best parts of fantasy is magic and it’s something that features pretty much constantly in fey stories. It’s most common purpose is  reinforcing a hierarchy – separating the all-powerful rulers from the ruled or, more commonly, the annoying antagonist character that needs to get their butt kicked from our central characters. Magic in fey stories is also often a court identifier and shows just how rooted a fairy character’s court is in their personality. In Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series, Summer King Keenan isn’t just the ruler of the Summer Court, he literally exudes sunlight and warmth. And we wonder why fey are usually arrogant asses…

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Magic’s great at spicing up conflict situations. I mean, reading about Aelin kicking ass in the Throne of Glass books is pretty awesome but assassin abilities plus fey magic? Now you’re talkingFairy magic also acts as a great plot device in regards to coming of age or transformation stories, particularly where it’s somehow bestowed upon someone who used to be human (or at least thought they were) and now has to learn how to use it. Eventually they accept themselves, develop as a person and progress on their path towards bad-assery, as we find with Laurel in Wings and Feyre in A Court of Mist and Fury.

Truth Telling & Two-Sidedness

A fascinating component of fairy lore is the idea that the fey are incapable of lying. Yet, because of this they’re exceptionally good at telling half-truths and using the truth to manipulate situations to their advantage. Just look at the scene introducing the fairy queen in Cassandra Clare’s City of Ashes – one conversation, a little bit of honesty, and suddenly everything’s topsy-turvy in our characters’ relationships.  I love this trope because it forces you and the characters to read between the lines of what’s being said and creates the perfect circumstances for a plot twist or betrayal.

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…Or a reverse betrayal as the case is in Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens.

This idea feeds into the fairy nature of being two-faced. While the fey are outwardly very beautiful and seem to delight in light-hearted things like games, music, dance and food, underneath it all there’s a compelling darkness and twisted cruelty. This provides such a great opportunity for characters to rise above all of that in order to serve as interesting protagonists. Yet, it also allows for some pretty terrible villains, acting out of a desire for power or simply their own amusement (like the asshole fairies in Black’s The Cruel Prince).

Immortality & Beauty

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s rare to find fairy based stories that don’t involve a romantic component and if there’s romance going on, you can bet that the characters involved will be damn attractive.

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And fairies are just that. They’re athletic, beautiful (often almost verging on too much so), experienced in the ways of the world, and will likely stay that way forever – that is unless someone decides to physically attack them. Essentially, there’s the attractive elements found in the vampire genre minus the creepy, well, dead issue. Listening to every human character go on and on about how amazing looking fey characters are in comparison to themselves does get a bit old but hey, a reader needs someone swoon worthy once in a while, even if they can be kind of a sucky person on occasion (e.g. Prince Cardan from The Cruel Prince, Dorian from Dark Swan, or Kiaran from The Falconer)

Courts & Conflict

Another very common feature of fey based stories these days is to follow elements of traditional fairy lore by dividing the population up into different courts. This is usually based on seasons, times of day or whether they’re feeling particularly Seelie or not (haha…okay, bad joke. I’ll see myself out.) It’s a structure used in Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan books, and Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, just to name a few. And why? Because it’s a perfect driver for conflict. These courts don’t just differ in name, but also in culture, attitudes and temperament. Then again, it doesn’t help that fey kingdoms often resemble modern-era Europe in their desire for power and tendency to prey on the weak. Plus, anyone who lives as long as fairies do is bound to build up some serious grudges over the years. If it were me, I’d start screwing with people just to alleviate the mind numbing boredom of immortality…

Fairy courts also provide opportunities for alliances and political intrigue, and at times even all-out war. The fun part is watching them try to interact with one another with sometimes awful or hilarious results. See A Court of Wings and Ruin for an entertaining example. Essentially, Me:

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Are you a fan of fey related books? If so, why and what are some of your favourites?

Love Ashley

The Descent to Hell is Easy: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

4 stars

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A large chunk of you have probably already read this particular release by now but as I’ve just read it and it’s still fresh in my memory, I’m going to review it anyway. These days I don’t often sit around excitedly waiting for books to come out, I’m too busy trying to conquer my existing mound. Still, I was actually really looking forward to reading this one and because I refrained from reading anything other than the blurb beforehand, I avoided a first class ticket all aboard the hype train. Woot, woot!

The gist: TCP centres around seventeen-year-old, Jude, who after the murder of her parents is forced to grow up in Faerie along with her two sisters under the guardianship of her parents’ murderer. Not as prisoners, we’re talking confusing pseudo-parent relationship here.

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To make matters worse, the fey are kind of well…awful. If they’re not trying to eat or control Jude, they’re most certainly trying to frighten and torment her, especially the punk ass faeries she’s stuck going to school with. So fair warning, you will spend the first part of the book basically just thinking:

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Until BAM. In comes…

faerie politics,

espionage,

ALLIANCES,

MURDER,

PLOTTING!

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Okay, getting a teensy bit carried away, but you get the point – lies, twists and stabby-stabby. I don’t want to dwell too much here because spoilers, but a lot of the drama revolves around the faerie royal family and the throne. It sends everything into chaos and drives our protagonist to become increasingly more morally questionable in her search for power after too long being one of the powerless.

Why you Should Read this Book:

It Starts and Ends with a Bang

We begin with several murders and end with political machinations and a side of murder.

Characters in Shades of Grey

There are pretty much no characters in this book that can be considered straight forward good or bad, which is great because character complexity is what we all want. The fey that populate Faerie each have their own self-centred drives, mean streaks and chequered  pasts, including those characters that we’re supposed to root for and those who seem a-okay for chunks of the time.

Even our main character, Jude, isn’t immune from this, possessing a underlying bloodthirstiness and craving for power as great as any faerie’s – one that becomes increasingly apparent as the story goes on and is likely to bite her in the ass later. While she may not always be a likeable character, she’s definitely an engaging one.

Then, of course, there’s Prince Cardan. Ah, Cardan.

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…And apparently so does Cardan. Damn it, you just had to go and develop (a) depth and (b) an amusing, sarcastic sense of humour. *sigh* I guess sometimes you just can’t help but root for the asshole. I’m not saying I’m swooning but by the end of the book I definitely enjoyed every time he turned up on the page. But hopefully it’s okay because I consciously recognise the fact that he’s scum.

Politics, Secrets and Lies, Oh My!

A lot of people have said this is faerie Game of Thrones and I guess the analogy works to a degree, just don’t expect as much complexity. Still, the enjoyment factor was definitely there for me. I really loved reading as the power plays, plotting, and twists unfolded during the fey and Jude’s struggles for power. A lot of people were quite shocked by the sudden turns in the book, me not so much, but they’ve provided a great foundation to get excited about going into book two.

Writing

This has been a bit of a divisive one. World building aside, I quite like Black’s style and voice. It’s a little bit dark, a touch twisted, doesn’t dwell too much on imagery, and manages to come up with some great lines, particularly where they relate to Jude’s assessments of herself. A few examples:

“I have lied and I have betrayed and I have triumphed. If only there was someone to congratulate me.”

 “Desire is an odd thing. As soon as it’s sated, it transmutes. If we receive golden thread, we desire the golden needle.”

“That’s what comes of hungering for something: You forget to check if it’s rotten before you gobble it down.”

Reasons you May Not Enjoy this One:

Pacing & Direction

This is a book that takes a while to really get going. The first half revolves around Jude’s interactions with her family and the fey in her class, and her desire to try and prove herself at a tournament. For some people this’ll be too slow pace wise and worse, for a long time these events are going to seem unconnected and without any real purpose. By the end you’ll understand their importance in getting Jude and events to where they needed to be but until then it might put people slightly in struggle town.

Unlikeable or Just Plain ‘Eh’ Characters

TCP contains a lot of unlikeable characters without a balanced amount of loveable ones. While my perceptions of people improved over the course of the novel, I can safely say that while there were several characters I liked, there were none I loved and if they’d been killed off I probably would have just gone:

However, I can see why it might be the case in this kind of story where basically everyone’s motives are suspect.

Jude herself is also slightly difficult to relate to or like at times. While her strength and smarts are great, her arrogance, whining, and keenness to out awful the faeries, not so much.

“If I cannot be better than them, I will be so much worse.”

Additionally, a lot of her traits and skills are kind of just thrown at the reader without much development or explanation which makes bonding with her as a MC a bit difficult.

World Building

After reading the entire novel I still know very little about the world it’s set in – the inhabitants, the social hierarchy, usage of magic, interactions with the human world, war, the broader politics of Faerie, etc. It’s a bit like a puzzle where you can make out small details in the tiny sections you’ve completed but on the whole, you have no idea what the damn thing’s supposed to be yet. Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s….lack of proper world building. I get it, we all hate info dumping but a little more than general vagueness is always much appreciated.

Despite it’s flaws, I really enjoyed The Cruel Prince and raced through it in the space of about two days. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but if you go into it, ignore the hype, try to appreciate the book for what it is, and hopefully you’ll enjoy yourself. As for me, I’ll be over here, eagerly awaiting The Wicked King. *whistles*

4 stars

Read this one too? What were your thoughts?

War, a Cauldron, and a lot of Faerie Bickering: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

3.5 stars

ACOWAR

I was extremely worried going into this book. I’d been ambivalent about ACOTAR and then fell head over heels for ACOMAF, but had heard a lot of loud disappointment from people about Maas’s newest entry in the series.  Now, almost seven-hundred pages later – I didn’t realise I’d be signing up for almost Diana Gabaldon like territory when I began this chunky book – I can say that while I have a few problems with it, overall ACOWAR was not what I’d call a disappointment. To make things easier, I’ll break this down into what I liked and what I didn’t like.

The Good

It’s difficult to break down what I loved about ACOWAR because by and large, things were pretty good. For the most part the plot flowed in a logical and easy to follow direction. As we expected from book two, book three focused on the immediate build up to Prythian’s war against Hybern and then the actual battle itself. I enjoyed the storyline – the battles themselves were exciting and interesting to read, and there was always a slight underlying tension as I wondered whether every member of my favourite night court family would make it out unscathed. I love a great high fantasy battle scene, which I think I can attribute to my repeated viewings of the Lord of the Rings films over the years. When they’re done right, they’re great, and SJM has done a pretty fair job here.

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The build-up to the war itself was largely entertaining as Feyre and co. scramble around searching for allies and every possible upper-hand to use against the enormous armies of Hybern. The book does drag at points (characters put off doing things that you know they’ll eventually come back to later) and probably could have been a bit shorter but when it picks up, it really does pick up.  One of my favourite sections, which I, unfortunately, reached at a time already verging on unreasonable for bed, is the meeting between the various high lords of the different faerie courts. The characters are diverse and the conflict brewing just beneath the surface, which on occasion does rise to the top, is enough to keep you flipping through pages, dying to know how things will play out.

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The characters remain as wonderful as ever, playing off each other in entertaining and dramatic ways under the new stress of the war. Lucien is introduced back into the mix and somewhat redeemed after the events of ACOMAF, even though he does end up disappearing half way through on what becomes a somewhat pointless quest. Both Nesta and Elain also come into their own a bit in this book which is wonderful to see, especially during the final battle. My lovely Feysand ship remains strong and intact, ready to tackle the world. I never tire of the way these two support each other. They offer their opinions but always know that their partner is an individual and has the right to make their own decisions, good or bad.

Speaking of bad, let’s move onto my issues with the book…

The Bad

Up first, the character allegiance twists. I have to say that this was a book that was extremely messy in terms of its characters switching allegiances or being “shockingly” revealed to be different from what they appeared to be. While it’s great to keep readers guessing, there comes a point where not only does this become boring, but also difficult to keep track of who’s betrayed or fighting with whom.

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Second, the viewpoint of the battle scenes. My issue here is that of Feyre’s involvement. In order to depict the battles as she wished (aka. a bit more like third-person), SJM positions Feyre at a height above each battle scene from which she can observe the fighting. Feyre then describes which army sections are flanking others and the actions of individual characters such as Rhys and Cassian as they fight. While this is fine, I do wish that Feyre had been a bit more involved in battles, other than the attack on the Summer Court, and got to kick some ass as we all know she’s capable of doing.

Up next, a complaint about language choices, specifically ‘mate’, ‘female’ and ‘male’. I get that pretty much all of the characters in these books are fey, not human, but do we really have to refer to individual characters as ‘females’ or ‘males’ like they’re an exotic animal with little self-control or higher thought processes? Talking like David Attenborough can be fun on occasion but perhaps not in this context. Additionally, I’m very much over Feyre and Rhys’s constant references to each other as ‘my mate’. It sounds possessive and well, weird.

While we’re on the subject of relationships, I was mildly let down by the lack of full development in any other relationship than Rhys and Feyre’s. Nearly everyone in this story had a romantic plotline with someone else and I was somewhat dissatisfied with the ending of just about all of them. More ground was gained in some relationships than others but overall, none really had a proper resolution. Even Cassian and Nesta who have a sort-of moment during the final battle are never really shown discussing it in the aftermath. Way to remove the wind from my sails SJM. However, points for the sexuality discussion concerning a certain character.

Last but not least, the finale. Yes, these scenes did what they needed to do to close the story arch but I have to say, they felt a little too dramatic for me. There’s people fighting left right and center, characters splitting off into different locations, new allies turning up every few pages, a random and not properly explained betrayal, sacrifices, an almost death (really SJM, did we really need to go through that?),  an actual death, a crack in reality, and a declaration of love. It’s all just a bit overwhelming.

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Furthermore, one of the more important allies to show up is just a little too far-fetched for my liking. It’s someone who has been gone for about a book and a half, hasn’t been a significant character, somehow manages to get there at the exact right time, and renders Lucien’s quest useless. Yet, I do have to say that I liked that everyone, particularly Feyre’s sisters, ended up being necessary to save the day. Yay, team work!


I know it looks like I had a lot of bad things to say but overall, I enjoyed ACOWAR. It was an engaging and exciting read. Despite its issues, it’s still ahead of ACOTAR because it was memorable. So, if like me, you’re worried about making it to book three in the series, I say don’t be. You’re still in for a fun (and stressful) time.

3.5 Stars