First, collectively, we’re going to look at that cover. And sigh. It is so beautiful, and having it hardcover with gloss makes it even better. I adore illustrated book covers wholeheartedly, and this one is perfect. Gorgeous. Lovely. I want it on my wall.
Anyhow, fae are ‘in’ right now big-time, and this is a fae book. I’m becoming more sold on fae lore (playing an Eladrin in D&D is the main reason), but I still feel like a lot of YA books with fae in them really miss the mark- I’m thinking of throne of glass, a court of thorns and roses, and shadowhunters right now. Fae lore is wonderful, and most certainly they are more than pallid, too-pretty beings who wear nice clothes (and they certainly don’t have ‘mates’ and ‘mate bonds’. Sarah J. Maas, I will defeat you for writing that in two books).
This book gets it. The rituals, the rules, the bargains, trades, and oddness that fae lore deserves- with the beauty and glam. Even if a lot of that glam is just glamour (haha fairy jokes please clap). It also subverts a lot of tropes I hate in para-ro (the main girl being okay with being immortal and leaving her friends and family behind for a boy, for example). Oh, and it’s funny, and lush, and has a wonderful romance, and a tight plot too.
The book follows Isobel, a talented artist who lives at the edge of the woods, aka the fae-lands. In her town, most people are Craftspeople, making art, clothes, food, and anything creative for the Fair Folk. If a Folk (as in fairy) tries to create anything, they whither and die in seconds, so they rely on humans to provide them with anything they might want. In return, humans are given Enchantments, which the Fair often use as an excuse to play a prank (or harm) a human. A lot of being careful in your wording, and careful what you wish for.
Isobel paints portraits, and is exceedingly talented at it. She’s careful how she phrases what she gets in return, and lives a very practical life. Her customers are only fae, who are fickle, vain creatures with no understanding for human lives. They don’t understand time, or aging, or even really the desire to eat, drink, or sleep. They are immortal and very alien beings.
One day, the autumn prince Rook comes in for a portrait, and Isobel is absolutely enamored by him- but she also sees a certain sadness in him she’s never seen in a Fair Folk before, and paints it in his portrait’s expression. Per the cutthroat life of the faewild, however, this sadness is seen as a weakness when his portrait in unveiled- and he angrily abducts Isobel into the woods to stand trial for what she has created.
Rook and Isobel’s relationship is sweet and genuine. While he is at first fuming about how she painted him, he soon changes his mind about charging her for her ‘crime’, and decides to take her back home. This nicely subverts the prisoner trope, so the two are then on equal footing for the rest of the book. Of course, she isn’t taken home- they get swept up into drama between the Alderking, the Wild Hunt, and quite a lot of the spring court. Plus, the more time they spend together, the more they really, really like each other- love each other, actually. And love between human and fae is banned with penalty of death, unless the human chooses to become a fae- something Isobel refuses to do.
There’s so much to love in this book. Isobel choosing her family and home over the boy she comes to love, because she realizes her life and home matters more than romance. Isobel having no interest in the fae or becoming one. Isobel’s love for painting and art, and the detailed talk about the process of oil painting in general. The balance and question of if being immortal, and a fae, is worth it. I hate books that glamorize immortality- this book looks at it and wonders what that does to your psyche. Fae are properly frightening and strange, very inhumane. Some of the best parts are how they use magic and illusion to make everything beautiful- and when that is exposed, how they are skeletal, horrible creatures in ancient clothes eating rotten food.
Plus, Isobel’s first person narration is genuinely funny and full of personality. She has wants and desires and is wholly a developed character that I grew to love. Rook is also endearing, even if I feel like he’s called ‘arrogant’ more than he ever is- he’s much more soft and cute. While I don’t like how quickly they came to be in True Love, they at least knew each other for a month or two before hand, which is more than you usually see in YA.
If you’re looking for a great read, a great fantasy, this is a perfectly wrapped stand-alone with everything you could want.