Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

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.

Wondrous Strange is one heck of a debut novel. I mean, holy heck, when I say that, I mean it. Lesley Livingston undoubtedly has a gift for writing; she has the uncanny ability of juggling multiple themes, characters (and their respective developments), settings and managing to draw them up as effortlessly as if she had plucked them out of thin air. Though most of the books I’ve read so far this summer are debuts, I think this is one of the better ones that deal with fantasy.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting so much out of this book. I have to be honest with you; certainly, similar to a lot of people out there, I’m inclined to be prejudiced towards today’s paranormal/supernatural books. I mean, I’ve always loved the genre, always cherished Faeries and the like but with the recent surge in interest, it seems that correspondingly there’s been a recent surge in published duds. Like pfffft duds. And I have no interest in wasting my time on reading those things. But after hearing a positive, albeit offhanded, comment about Wondrous Strange from a hard-to-please member of my school’s book club (“How was it?” “Oh, it was good.”), I thought that perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. It didn’t hurt when she mentioned that there was a horse in the bathtub in the book (!), which pretty much piqued my interest to voluminous heights.

So anyway, I put a hold on the book in my library and once I found a quiet little place where my cousin couldn’t disturb me, I started reading. And again, to be honest with you, the first chapter didn’t impress me much. Maybe it was the fact that I was half-asleep/half-awake, maybe it was because I was going through a bit of a “I-am-teenager-hear-me-angst” phase but I thought that the writing was a bit cliché in that first chapter. The preface was what kept me invested so I pushed through and wow-wee-wow. Splendido, I’d say. For me, the second chapter (and onwards) pretty much glued me to my seat and got me seriously, seriously awed at the author. She definitely has a way with words. She brings the settings alive, and while at times her descriptions sound hackneyed, I’ll tell you, she doesn’t slip often. The mood, the delicious. And my, my, she’s not afraid to mince words. Characters will mention the plot holes and problems that may be left forgotten in the excitement--and they always work through them realistically (no deus-ex-machina in sight). Dialogue is also realistic; the characters sound like teenagers do and they also swear but never gratuitously.

And my, my, what lovely characters she sketches. Kelley Winslow, the lead actress of this fine, fine play is refreshingly independent, passionate, fiery but at the same time remarkably vulnerable. She’s your typical teenage girl: one with hopes, dreams, doubts and her own set of what seem to be overwhelming problems. Through it all she manages to stay true to herself and find strength to overcome obstacles. Sonny Flannery is appropriately mysterious and handsome, but unlike many YA heroes today, one who isn’t afraid to show his confusion and his devotion (both to Auberon, Unseelie Faerie King and father figure and to you-probably-know-who). I didn’t really catch any abusive behaviour on his part so there’s another plus (coughEdwardCullencough).

Supporting characters and villains also shine here; they ain’t just flat cutouts, they grow. Bob, in particular, is an absolute gem. He’s probably my favourite character (I won’t spoil any more). For the most part, characters are given fascinating backstories that flesh them out more fully (though I thought Herne’s could’ve been shortened just the tiniest bit). I also thought that Aunt Emma (perhaps even Queen Mabh) needed a bit more screen time to really make her shine.

There’s plot and there are twists so I won’t mention any more on the subject, except to say that I found them clever and satisfying. I’d say artistic too, but maybe I’m just becoming a fangirl. The conclusion is definitely set up for a sequel and you can bet I’ll be reaching for that. In short, Wondrous Strange is a delightful novel, one that shines so much brighter and deserves more attention.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5