Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review of Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely is a YA urban fantasy debut novel by Melissa Marr, who is now a New York Times bestselling author. Currently, Marr has two other books that take place in this world, Ink Exchange and Fragile Eternity. Fragile Eternity, the direct sequel to Wicked Lovely, was just released on April 21.

Most humans do not realize faeries exist and spend time in the mortal realm, but seventeen-year-old Aislinn has always been able to see faeries just like her mother and grandmother. Aislinn's grandmother has taught her that she must never reveal that she can see the faeries by staring at them, talking to them, or attracting their attention in any way. However, Aislinn cannot help it when she captures the eye of Keenan, the Summer King, who has spent centuries searching for the Summer Queen and thinks Aislinn just might be the one to fill this role.

Only by finding the Summer Queen can the rule of Keenan's mother, the frosty Winter Queen, end. Every time Keenan selects a girl as a prospective queen, she is forced to make a choice - either become part of a harem of his "Summer Girls" or take the test to determine if she is indeed his Summer Queen. If the girl does not pass the test, she is forced to bear the chill of the Winter Queen until another girl comes along and fails the test - and she must tell the new girl not to trust Keenan even though this girl's failure could be her salvation.

As Aislinn is pursued by Keenan, it threatens her budding relationship with her old friend Seth, who has been in love with her for a long time. Will she succumb to the charms of the Summer King and leave Seth behind?

Once in a while one of those books comes along that on the surface really sounds like something you would like, but for some reason (or several reasons) it just doesn't work for you. Maybe it's just not what you're in the mood for or maybe it just doesn't click with your personal taste. Wicked Lovely was one of those books for me. At first, I thought maybe it was just because it was written for younger readers but I've read plenty of books intended for young adults or even younger audiences that I've enjoyed - the works of Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones's Dogsbody and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book all come to mind. I suppose it just wasn't my type of book.

After hearing so many good things about this book, I sought it out at my local Borders and read the two page prologue. The description of a girl failing the test for Summer Queen very much intrigued me and I wanted to know more about Keenan, his quest to find the Summer Queen, and why he was so desperately trying to find her (the dazzling cover may have had some influence as well). It sounded disturbing, but the rest of the book never lived up to that expectation for me. I did find it creepy that Keenan was going around spying on girls and convincing them to love him (especially when at least some of them were only teenagers) and that some of those girls ended up as part of his harem, but it never really seemed all that dark to me. Perhaps that was at least partially because I never cared at all about any of the characters other than Donia at times so nothing that happened ever impacted me on an emotional level.

The characters did not have much depth - most of them had one or two personality traits and other than that seemed fairly interchangeable. The two main human characters, Seth and Aislinn, seemed far too perfect. Seth used to sleep with every girl he could find but now he's devoted to Aislinn and has eyes only for her. There's no conflict there - he just seems to exist to dote on her and please her, which makes him very dull to read about. Aislinn is beautiful, smart, and has a special ability that sets her apart from others. She is pursued by Seth, who is of course gorgeous, and Keenan, who is also gorgeous in an other-worldly way. There are a couple of instances where I found myself cheering her on for her strength and feistiness, but for the most part, she seemed very bland.

The fae tended to be more interesting but not enough to make up for the rest of the lackluster cast. Keenan's actions were motivated by his desire to do what was best for his people by overthrowing his wicked mother, which actually made him seem a little too good and human for a corrupt fae to me. (I love to read about the more amoral fae that seem truly inhuman, such as those in Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age series.) The only character I ever felt sympathy for was the current Winter Girl, Donia, who truly loved the Summer King but now held herself apart from him after being hurt by his pursuit of many other girls throughout the years. The Summer Queen was a disappointing and unconvincing villain - she was very evil for evil's sake and she never scared me. In fact, she often seemed rather silly and over-the-top.

One quibble I had with this book was that I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief over the matter of Aislinn hiding her ability to see faeries for all those years. The very first chapter shows Aislinn hanging out in a pool hall having fun until the fae come in. She gets this look on her face that the humans around her recognize as meaning she's going to leave. They don't know why she looks that way, but they've seen it often enough to know what it means. Yet the faeries don't get suspicious when she suddenly loses concentration on the game she's playing, consciously does not look in their direction, and leaves every time they show up? I suppose they're used to remaining unseen and maybe they are too busy reveling to notice this pattern.

The first 80 pages or so were very difficult for me to get through, but it was a short book so I persevered. It did get better after that, but it still never connected with me personally so I mostly read it so I could cross it off the to-read list and move on to something else. I do seem to be in the minority for not loving this book so be sure to check out some of the other reviews below.

Wicked Lovely had a couple of good moments, but mostly it did not jive with my personal taste. I will not be reading the rest of the series.


Other Reviews:


Anonymous said...

Great review. As you know, I did like it quite a bit. But I think expectations going in have a lot to do with the end review: b/c it was a YA, I expected to hate it!

I agree that Aislann's ability to hide herself all those years required suspension of disbelief.

I also agree that the characterizations of pretty much everyone except Donia were not super compelling.

I guess for me the worldbuilding and suspense carried the day. I also haven't read much at all in fantasy (although coincidentally I am listening to Laurell K. Hamilton's first Merry Gentry book which is also an "urban faery"), so I think my standards are much lower.

Kristen said...

Jessica - I may have had the same experience with expectations as you did but in reverse - I expected to love Wicked Lovely. So when the characterization was lackluster and nothing about it stood out as different or special, I ended up very disappointed. Perhaps I would have been more lenient on it if I were not looking forward to it so much.

How is the first Merry Gentry book? I haven't read anything in that series (or by Laurell K. Hamilton).

Ana said...

Great review Kristen, interesting points you make.

I have such a passion for these books, from the first page of Wicked Lovely, I fell in love with the writing and I actually think all characters have depth - Seth less than anyone else but that is fixed when we get his pov in Fragile Eternity.

But hey what would happen to "blue" if everybody liked "yellow" << That's a Brazilian saying. : D

Kristen said...

Ana - Great saying! If we all liked the same books for all the same reasons it would be rather boring. And what would we do if everyone liked the same books, making all these reviews we write pointless? ;)

orannia said...

Thank you Kristen! I haven't read Fragile Eternity yet (although I've read Ana & Thea's review), but it is a direct sequel to Wicked Lovely (WL) and from Seth's POV.

As for dark, that's Ink Exchange (IE), the second Melissa Marr book. I know a number of people found it depressing rather than dark, but for me it was definitely the latter. I picked up a lot more of the nuances in IE than WL.

...Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age seriesNo, you can't tempt me with more books! ....are they good?

Kristen said...

Orannia - I read Ana and Thea's review of Fragile Eternity as well (it was up the day after I finished Wicked Lovely). It seems Seth isn't as easygoing as he appeared in this book, which is good. The man needs some sort of backbone!

I know the feeling, my book list is constantly expanding too. Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age books are very good (at least I think so). There are two sets of duologies that take place in that world and either can be read first.

The first set (published, not chronologically) starts with Blood and Iron, which is followed by Whiskey and Water. It takes place in modern times and is very dark and heavy on mythology.

The second set takes place during the time of Shakespeare and features both him and Christopher Marlowe, as well as many other historical figures from the time. It has more focus on literature and history than the other set, although this one is also about faery so there's plenty of mythology too. The book to start with in this set is Ink and Steel, and the next one is Hell and Earth. Together they're known as The Stratford Man (since they were originally intended to be just one book but got too long for that).

If you wanted to read them, I'd start with whichever sounds like a more interesting time period and focus to you. The Stratford Man was a newer work by her and the fact that she has more writing experience shows but Blood and Iron is my favorite (although I thought its sequel was the weakest of the bunch).

Or if you wanted to read a book by Elizabeth Bear, you could start with the novel she co-wrote with her friend Sarah Monette, A Companion to Wolves. :) Actually, Sarah Monette does still have one writing contract with Elizabeth Bear since they are contracted to write the sequel to this book.

Reviews on aforementioned books:
Blood and Iron
A Companion to Wolves
The Stratford Man[Deleting previous comment and reformatting because it did not show up the same way it did in preview once posted]

Thea said...

Aw, I'm sorry that Wicked Lovely didn't work for you, Kristen! But as always, excellent review. I can understand your feelings and why the characters didn't click for you. To be fair, I agree that Seth was totally one-dimensional in this book, and there were some rather annoying/disbelief issues with Ash as well. But what can I say, I'm a sucker for Melissa Marr's writing style. To each their own, right?

On Merry Gentry...I'm not a huge fan. It's like all the stuff I hated about the later Anita Blake books rolled up into a new character. Of course, that's just me. If you want to read LKH, I'd recommend starting with Anita Blake (Guilty Pleasures) - it's the granddaddy of female-protag-1st person POV Urban Fantasy that started it all. And it's an awesome series up until around book 6 or so.

I have to agree with Orannia - Ink Exchange I felt was light years better than WL, and if you ever feel the itch to try Marr again, I'd recommend it. Much darker, better characters (it focuses on a different set of leads), far more morally ambiguous ;)

Anonymous said...

Ana -- Maybe I'll try Ink Exchange. I really liked Marr's voice as well.

Kristen -- I have never read a Laurell K. Hamilton, before I started with the audiobook of A Kiss of Shadows. I am forcing myself to finish (audiobooks are darn expensive) but it's not to my taste, although I do like a few things about it. I will be writing a review later this week.

I will say this: if you know anyone who needs a cure for their porn addiction, have them read this book. It has to be the biggest set of disgusting explicit turnoffs in one volume I have ever encountered.

Kristen said...

Thea - This was a first novel and there were a few parts that seemed promising so maybe I should give Ink Exchange a chance at some point. I wouldn't be surprised at all if it was a big improvement, and darker and morally ambiguous sounds closer to my taste. Maybe if I ever run out of books I want to read (ha!) I'll get the next one, but I won't be in any hurry to buy it. You have made me curious about whether or not I'd like that one a lot better, though.

And thanks for the info on Merry Gentry. Sounds like a good one to pass on, especially because I'm already a bit hesitant to try Guilty Pleasures with what I've heard about the later books in the series. I like trying new authors, though, so it is on the list in case I ever get brave enough to try it.

Jessica - Oh my, audio books are extremely expensive so that's not good that you have to force yourself to finish it. I got one of those Amazon "we recommend you buy this" emails yesterday and I nearly died when I saw the price - turned out it was an audio book.

Looking forward to your review, though. I had heard that many of Laurel K. Hamilton's books were basically porn but had thought at least the first few Merry Gentry books, like the Anita Blake ones, started out as actual stories with plot other than tons of explicitly pornographic sexcapades.

Thea said...

Jessica and Kristen - Do give early LKH a try! Around Anita Blake 6-8ish it begins sliding into bad bad porno territory, but the early books in the series are awesome. Pulp noir, classic Urban Fantasy with great action, and no sex to speak of. It's bizarre really. It's like some sex-starved android replaced LKH. There's a huge disconnect between her early books (=awesome) and her later books (=terrible writing + bad porn).

I was hesitant to try Guilty Pleasures too, since I'd heard all the anti-Anita Blake talk, but I really truly love the first books in the series :)

Kristen said...

Thea - Ok, I'll leave Guilty Pleasures on the list and if I like it I'll just read up to the point where LKH was replaced by the sex-starved android. I almost ordered it once since it was $3 or $4 but I chickened out (especially because I was already buying too much since I was getting several cheap books).