Gollancz (2014) (first published 2013) | 317 pages
This isn’t the kind of book I would normally choose. In fact, in general I’m not that big a fantasy nut – I like a bit of magic realism and elements of the supernatural, but full-on pixies and folklore and epic battles isn’t really the kind of thing I’d normally read. Of course, as I’m writing this review it’s obvious that I have read this book – and, thankfully, I don’t regret a second of it.
I was recommended this by my partner – a twenty-something male with generally more fantasy-focused reading habits than me – who insisted that I’d love it. He loved it so much, in fact, that he now classes it as his favourite fantasy novel (which, considering how many he’s read, is quite the achievement). He told me of the basic premise – a girl who becomes an assassin despite having to wear a corset and petticoats; a pixie who follows the girl around eating honey and making sarcastic remarks; and the implementation of rich, developed Scottish folklore – and it certainly sounded intriguing. From what he said, it sounded like the least romantic novel I would have ever come across. And the author, he told me, is pretty hilarious on her Twitter account. And that’s always a plus.
Initially, the lack of romance certainly seemed to be ringing true. Aileana Kameron opens the novel by commenting on society’s warped depiction of her – for some reason, they think she was the one to kill her mother – and then, straight away, she proves her strength and skill by hunting down and slaughtering a faery. She is extremely frustrated just about all of the time, and her rebellion against the society attempting to consume her is very intriguing. It seemed extremely unlikely that this novel could get at all sentimental, instead remaining very dark and angry. However, soon enough, the presence of one Kiaran McKay seems to turn Aileana’s world upside down; and then, all of a sudden, I feel like I’m reading a romance. Which did throw me a bit, initially.
Kiaran himself is a complex character – he’s a faery, but a good one. It is never explicitly declared why he’s happy killing members of his own race, but instead his own determination and strength causes you to both trust him with your life, and not wish to touch him with a pole – both at the same time. During one scene he is torturing Gavin, Aileana’s childhood friend; and then, at the end of the book, he’s fighting alongside Aileana and treating her with extreme tenderness and care. The similarities between him and Edward Cullen were not lost on me – pale skin, dark eyes, violent but miraculously tender whenever the lady is in the room – but somehow I feel inclined to forgive him.
Amongst all of the seriousness and graphic descriptions of murdering faeries, you are occasionally treated to a tiny bit of comic relief from Derrick, Aileana’s “pet” (he’d hate it if you referred to him as such) pixie. He is cute, swirling around her head, slurping honey and making fun of people – but he too becomes a warrior when prompted. He is there to provide Aileana with the information she desires, but by the end of the book he feels much more like a friend than a member of an opposing species. (Amazingly, Aileana seems to make a lot of friends in this book – and every single one of them is willing to risk it all for her.)
Aileana spends all her time concentrating on killing faeries; on avenging her mother’s death and hiding her true colours from the aristocrats around her. She is violent, determined, and is always trying to prove to Kiaran just how strong she really is. The compassion she has for the human race around her is admirable, and she is willing to put herself entirely at danger to protect the world from faeries. Strangely enough, she shows none of this compassion towards the people themselves, instead declaring her independence and pushing away anyone who tries to approach her. But that, I feel, is due to society’s harsh impression of her.
Despite her quite repetitive declarations of being a bloodthirsty faery killer to the reader, I found being inside Aileana’s head to be quite rewarding. Her thoughts aren’t filled with fluff like other narrators, and she knows exactly what she’s going to do at all times. It’s refreshing, reading a book where everything is mapped out and nothing is hidden behind a curtain of uncertainty. I really enjoyed reading this book largely because I got to follow Aileana all the way through – if it had been a third-person novel, I don’t think her determination would have showed through so clearly.
Honestly, out of everything I felt after reading this book, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Sure, I found the romance sub-plot to be tiring and predictable, and I had some problems with Aileana’s constant declarations of her strength and fury. But my partner was right – this is a very addictive, very intriguing book. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite fantasy novel ever – and that’s saying something, considering I haven’t read very many – but I’m definitely looking forward to grabbing the second one. I found that once I was in Aileana’s mind, it was rather hard adjusting to a life outside it.