Wicked Lovely, by Melissa Marr. Harper Teen, 2007.
Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely has received a lot of hype since it's 2007 publication, and much of it is deserved. Like Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, Wicked Lovely approaches the process of adolescence by recasting an ancient myth--the myth of the fey--and mining its metaphorical power while also weaving a dark and compelling story. The novel centers on Aislinn (pronounced ASH-linn), a mortal who's always been able to see fairies, and who knows that they aren't all sweet, happy sprites. These fairies can be lovely, terrifying, obscene, violent, and evil, but never simple and never innocent. Aislinn has lived her whole life by the rules instilled in her by her grandmother, who also has the Sight. But as the rules begin to change, she finds herself caught up in a timeless ritual of desire, betrayal, and elemental fury that will change her forever. This all comes to head when she meets Keenan, seemingly a mortal boy, but actually the Summer King--and he's looking for a queen.
Aislinn is a strong, engaging young heroine, and Marr injects her with just enough vigor, tenacity, and world-weariness to balance out her age and inexperience. The scene that Wicked Lovely opens with--Aislinn playing pool while she watches fairies cavorting all around her, seeing what nobody else can--compels even as it chills, drawing the reader in to a dangerous world where Aislinn must always stay very still, where she must pretend that she sees and hears nothing, in order to survive. Luckily, she has her friend Seth as a support-system, but even this relationship begins to take some unexpected turns, and soon, Aislinn doesn't recognize her own life anymore. Every choice seems to bring her closer to the Summer King, and the worst part is that, on some level, she may even want to be his queen.
What makes Wicked Lovely so engaging is how Marr recasts common teenage conflict in the guise of fairies and immortal rituals, having Aislinn drink fairy wine (instead of Boone's), having her worry about losing her virginity to the Summer King, with the fairies themselves representing all those nameless powers, desires, and fears that limn and shadow our youth. Instead of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer," Marr has the Summer Girls, who cavort and play and stay eternally young, while Aislinn has to think about responsible sex, what college she'll go to, and how to balance the mystical with the mundane. Summer comes to represent the cliques and meadows and sunlit glades of that in-between time, before we have jobs and responsibilities and car-payments, when anything seems possible.
The cons are pretty subjective, as usual, since this is undeniably a good book which has enjoyed critical acclaim from all sorts of writers and editors. Keenan, as a character, was interesting for me but not nearly as engaging as Seth. There's something about Seth, with his lip-ring, his very odd living space, his emo hair, and his old-fashioned values, that just made my heart flutter. The dude is sexy as hell, and I know I'd choose him over the Summer King any day. Similarly, although Beira is a great villain--she has lots of great, dramatic, Sunset Boulevard scenes--I felt like she didn't play enough of a role in the end of the novel. Donia is a coolly fascinating character, and I hope we'll get to learn more about her in Ink Exchange.
All in all, I recommend Wicked Lovely whole-heartedly, but be warned: these aren't the fairies from The Blue Fairy Book. They're much closer to the weird creatures that populate The Mabinogion, or something out of Gawain and the Green Knight. I also see echoes of Una, Duessa, and the bower of bliss from Edward Spenser's Faerie Queene. These are seriously screwed-up mofos with wings (and wolves), and if you have a cherished vision of the fey in your heart, this book will probably scare the snot out of you. But that's a good thing, right?