Monday, April 6, 2015

The Otherworld Chronicles, by Skylar Dorset

We interrupt your regular programming of Mediocre Middle-Grade and YA Fiction to bring you a Review of a Book that the Brownie Really Liked

Well, two books, actually. Plus two novellas.

It’s complicated

I first picked up The Girl Who Never Was based, I will admit, purely on the cover. It’s a lovely cover. And the title was intriguing. The blurb (“In Selkie’s family, you don’t celebrate birthdays. You don’t talk about birthdays. And you never, ever reveal your birth date. Until now. The instant Selkie blurt out the truth to Ben in the middle of Boston Common, her whole world shatters. Because her life has been nothing but a lie – and elaborate enchantment meant to conceal the truth: Selkie is a half-faerie princess. And her mother wants her dead.”)  was somewhat interesting but it seemed like one of those books that could either be a fun read or an absolute mope of a book.

Turns out it was neither.

It was enchanting. And I don’t use that term lightly – not in the case of this series, where enchanting is a real thing and the power of words and of names can literally change the world. I absolutely devoured the first book, enthralled by the characters, the world-building, and the plot (and it’s rare that I find all three satisfactory in the same book). From Selkie herself – who is a terribly satisfying protagonist – to Benedict Le Faye, her sidekick/best friend/inconvenient love of her life, to Selkie’s stuck-in-time Aunts to the Seelie and Unseelie courts… I just couldn’t get enough.

Which is why, for the first (and hopefully last) time, I actually spent more than four bucks on an ebook to get my grubby mitts on the sequel, The Boy With the Hidden Name. There are also two novellas – a prequel to the series called The Girl Who Kissed a Lie and a spanning-the-gap darling called The Girl Who Read the Stars that comes between the two main books – which are available for free on the author’s website. It’s a completely unique set up, actually – usually, when a book has extra novellas, they’re not really integral to the plot, they’re just little embellishments that make things deeper. In this case, I can’t imagine trying to read the second book without having first read the middle novella, which comes from the perspective of a different character and explains a lot of things that you need to know, but for which there simply wasn’t time (lol…another inside joke with these books…) for in The Boy With the Hidden Name.

Other quick good things about these books: YA fiction with no love triangle, lovable characters that are all distinct and interesting, a plot twist not even I, the queen of spotting plot twists, spotted, and 
Honestly, this is less a rational book review and more simply a book reaction. I loved these books. There were a few things I took issue with – for example, for my more conservative readers, one of the characters is the daughter of a lesbian couple, and another side character is famous for his romantic conquests, including, it’s implied, a few other men. (But I, ogre-like, and quite good at ignoring things which don’t fit into my accepted fictional reality, so.)

The only thing I disliked, story-craft-wise, is how utterly dreamlike the books seemed at times. This is a natural by-product of the nature of the world we find ourselves in (there’s a reason it’s hailed as Alice in Wonderland meets Neverwhere. You really couldn’t get a more apt description) and therefore I won’t complain too much. The very fact that it’s simply how things are in this universe made it easier for me to deal with than, say, the way that Robin McKinley sometimes lapses into this weird dream state where you have no idea what’s going on. This felt more like a very lucid dream where everything makes sense – at least within its own context.

That was another thing I loved: the consistency of the magic – and its originality while still keeping to long-held traditions about fey magic. A lot of books featuring faeries seem to just throw stuff in however they please, keeping a few stale standbys (like iron being a problem) and making the rest up as they go. The Otherworld series, while never bringing in anything that would be totally new and contradict traditional fairy tales, managed to develop a unique system of magic with rules that it followed consistently. I had one question that was left unanswered, but for fear of being spoilery I’ll not go into detail here. If someone wants to know, ask in the comments.

My one other complaint is that Selkie spends about four chapters spread throughout the second book basically repeating the same angry conversation over and over again. After the third time, it lost its impact and was just like, “Ok, hon. We understand. You need to move past this now because the end of the world is coming and it doesn’t care that your feelings are hurt.” But it worked eventually, so all’s well that end’s well.

Oh, and this TOTALLY clever thing that anyone who reads it needs to look for: the four Vastly Important Characters of Prophecy are all named things like Selkie – mythical water creatures. But Benedict Le Faye, the love interest and also a Very Important Character, is literally allergic to water. The book never actually addresses this but I found it amusing and clever and anyone who wants to giggle over insignificant and clever plot trivia like I do will be pleased. :D

Well, I think I’ve rattled on long enough without actually ever telling you anything except that I loved these books. After reading book after book of the mediocre or the simply bad, the Otherworld series was a welcome breath of fresh air that I plan to return to. Definitely a recommended read: the Brownie gives five quills.

~The Brownie