Sometimes an otherwise good book is a victim of a misleading cover. I’d seen it at BEA, and come on, read this back blurb: “Wish. Love. Desire. Live.
Sixteen-year-old Noli Braddock’s hoyden ways land her in an abusive reform school far from home. On mid-summer’s eve she wishes to be anyplace but that dreadful school. A mysterious man from the Realm of Faerie rescues her and brings her to the Otherworld, only to reveal that she must be sacrificed, otherwise, the entire Otherworld civilization will perish.”
First off, any blurb describing the heroine as having “hoyden ways” would catch my attention. Hoyden isn’t a word that’s used often enough, it’s fantastic! Add to that dirigibles, gears, goggles, and a clear steampunk meets faerie idea, and I was excited for this one. Enough that I wrote it down when the publisher said she was out of arcs of it, and had D use her librarian powers to get it for me ahead of publication.
The cover makes it look more steampunk than it ended up. It’s far more of a Faerie tale than steampunk, and while there are steampunk elements, they felt more like shiny window dressing than anything relevant to the plot.
Even pushing that aside, there were problems. It reminded me of The Iron Witch crossed with The Looking Glass Wars. Not bad, but not something I’d bother picking up the sequel on. There simply wasn’t enough tension. The perspective shifted so often, sometimes multiple times per chapter, that there was no way to really build suspense. The minute I started wondering “Why is this guy acting like that,” we’d pop into his head for a while. Headhopping is a personal pet peeve of mine (as KT can attest), so if that doesn’t bother you, it might succeed better for you. Combine that with a plot that lollygags and meanders to the ending that leaves much open for the next book, and I ended up staring at the about the author page for a minute at the end going, “Ok, seriously?”.
Pretty cover, but that’s about the strongest thing going for it.
What to learn from this one:
*Each character does manage to seem individualized, which is good at least. That’s probably the strongest aspect of this one.
*Careful with how you do twists. If a revelation appears to come from nowhere, but then you think back, and you can see the footprints leading to it, that’s a good thing. If you see it coming the minute the relevant character walks into the room, that’s bad. If you can’t figure out where the hell it came from, that’s ALSO bad. It’s a very fine balance, and hard as hell to do. It won’t make a mediocre book great, but if not done right, it can take an otherwise great book to mere mediocrity.
*Expectations-Covers, like it or not, do give a reader the idea of what to expect. If there’s an element of your story that is popular, it will grab attention from that. But the contents need to live up to that expectation. I probably would have liked it, if I was going for a faerie book, but between writing one myself and reading a few already this year, I was actually looking for the steampunk to be relevant. Not just “Oh, here’s a clockwork dog that’s someone’s pet.” and “Oh, there are airship pirates… except they just get mentioned and are never a threat to her”. I was specifically looking for something that was steampunk when I started it, and I wanted the inventiveness to resolve the story somehow. No such luck, alas, and just left me disappointed.
If you bear in mind it’s a headhopping faerie story, and that appeals to you, you’ll probably like this one. Just go in with those expectations, and ignore the (still very pretty) cover entirely.