There is a lot of cleverness and humor in this modern day fairy tale in which characters text on their phones for help fighting evil faeries. There are also some wonderful inversions of gender expectations, expectations of gender preference, and conflict driven not by the diversity of color (of which there is plenty in this book), but between Fae and non-Fae.
The main character is Hazel Evans, almost 16, who has a good relationship with her older brother Ben, even though they keep many secrets from one another. Hazel and Ben live in the unusual town of Fairfold, a wooded place full of faeries (also known as The Folk). The Folk more or less leave the townspeople alone, only bothering tourists, who they consider fair game, because – after all, they act like tourists. And there are many tourists; they come to see the elfin prince sleeping in a glass coffin in the forest. Many have tried to break the glass, but none have succeeded. Hazel and Ben have always had a protective attitude toward the prince, and both dreamed of rescuing him one day. Hazel in particular is resolved to become a Knight, who slays monsters and saves princes.
When Hazel is not thinking about the prince, she thinks about – or tries not to think about – her crush on Jack, Ben’s BFF. Jack looks almost like his twin Carter, because Jack was a changling. When the boys were infants, the faeries tried to substitute Jack for Carter. Carter’s mother intervened and kept them both, reasoning that any mother who would give away her baby was not a suitable mom.
Hazel has another secret besides her feelings for Jack. Five years ago, when Hazel was nearly eleven, she’d made a bargain with The Folk, agreeing to give up seven years of her life if Ben could go to music school in Philadelphia. Music can tame faeries, and it would help them in their quest to do good. The deal was made surreptitiously, so it came as a surprise to Ben when he received a scholarship to the school. Unfortunately, an event very traumatic to Ben happened there, leading him to break his own fingers so he couldn’t play music anymore, and they all returned home to Fairfold.
Meanwhile in Fairfold, something has gone radically wrong. The Fae are not only attacking just tourists now, and the residents, scared and feeling powerless, look for a scapegoat. Hazel, Ben, and Jack are all in terrible danger, but if they survive, they all have the chance of making their dreams come true.
Discussion: Hazel is a wonderful heroine. As Ben observes, she is bigger than life, always trying to protect people and protect the town. But in fact, all of the four main protagonists are brave and resourceful, and capable of the kind of love you fear that might only be true in fairy tales. [Yes, I’ve only referenced three of them above so as not to be too spoilery.]
The author often employs a delightful sense of humor as she mixes the two worlds together. For example, at one point, Hazel and Jack talk about what it would be like if Jack were to return to the faeries who gave him up at birth:
“‘Eh, it wouldn’t be so bad. I wouldn’t have to study for the SATs or get a summer job or figure out my major. I can drink Elderflower wine all day, dance all through the night, and sleep on a bower of roses.’
Hazel made a face. ‘I’m pretty sure there are some colleges where you can do that.’”
The author also includes two beautiful declarations of love that by themselves make the book worth reading.
Evaluation: I struggle with warming up to stories about Fae, but Holly Black does a great job of creating teens who keep their wits and sense of humor about them no matter what the [bizarre] circumstances, and it is because of those characterizations that I keep returning to her books.
Published by Little, Brown and Company, a member of the Hachette Book Group, 2015