Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: Wondrous Strange

Wondrous Strange (2009) Lesley Livingston

Inside Jacket: For seventeen-year-old actress Kelley Winslow, faeries are just something from childhood stories. Then she meets Sonny Flannery, whose steel-gray eyes mask an equally steely determination to protect her. Sonny guards the Samhain Gate, which connects the mortal realm with the Faerie's enchanted, dangerous Otherworld. Usually kept shut by order of icy King Auberon, the Gate stands open but once a year. This year, as the time approaches when the Samhain Gate will swing wide and nightmarish Fae will fight their way into an unsuspecting human world, something different is happening...something wondrous and strange. And Kelley's eyes are opening not just to the Faerie that surround her but to the heritage that awaits her. Now Kelley must navigate deadly Faerie treachery--and her growing feelings for Sonny--in this dazzling page-turner filled with luminous romance.

Review: Livingston writes with a quality that allows her to evoke an entire scene with a few deft word choices. For instance, the back cover:

She felt his arms tighten around her as they spiraled up, borne aloft on wings that were dark as the night, bright as a new star.

Throughout Wondrous Strange, Livingston demonstrates her easy familiarity with myths/legends/lore in an understated but efficient way. She doesn't waste time with explanations, but there is a certain depth to her references that I often feel is missing from other paranormal/fantasy books. Part of this is likely due to the fact that she specialized in Arthurian literature and is a member of a Shakespearean theatre troupe.

I have to admit, I was more drawn in by her turn of phrase than I was by the story itself. While I really liked elements of the plot (it's not set in high-school! For once!), I felt as though there were areas where she could have done more to make the story compelling. Certain devices felt all too easy (and sometimes haphazard).

As for the characters, both Kelley and Sonny fell a little flat. (Also, for some reason, I was able to get through half the book under the impression that Sonny had a short crop of blond hair. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was actually long, dark, and silky). There's an interesting dynamic to the story because Kelley is the one who is mysteriously more than human while Sonny is not supernatural or fantastical (though he is talented). This is a deviation from the norm, because many recent YA books cast the male as the powerful, chiseled, enigmatic Other after whom the protagonist lusts. In fact, Sonny largely subverts the current brooding YA archetype by being openly dazzled by Kelley, unfailingly sweet, and making some pretty massive mistakes. Also, even though he's a guard for the Faery King, he's pleasantly average at what he does. I didn't find the romance between Kelley and Sonny particularly compelling, but granted, this is the first in a series of books. (Which raises another question: doesn't anyone publish oneshots anymore??) I would have liked to see more of the clever boucca, Bob, and Maddox, Sonny's wisecracking fellow guard.

Overall, the beginning was interesting and different, the middle was slow in some places, and the end built into a dramatic and rewarding climax. I am just talking about books here. Do not take this sentence out of context. xD

Conclusion: Wondrous Strange gets two ratings: 3/5 for plot, characters, enjoyment and 4/5 for the actual writing. Livingston has some serious chops when it comes to atmospheric, eerily beautiful descriptions.

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