This book throws you in at the deep end of a surreal world until you’re not sure what’s real and what are hallucinations thanks to the main character having some form of an attention disorder. We are first introduced to Megan through her pill regime and her best friend’s concerns about the side effects. We can see the deadening of her personality ourselves, even though we just met her.
That’s not where things get strange, however. No, it’s Lani, her BFF, who gives us the hint things are more complex than it appears when she goes off and talks to a pixie.
Turns out the fantastical elements are not hallucinations at all, which is the start of a wild adventure through human and faerie lands. They are trying to rescue the father who left Megan when she was only two years old. Before you think he’s a human caught up in a fae game, though, we quickly learn he’s the king of the unseelie and the crisis is more than only court politics.
This is a personal story of a band of unlikely friends (Megan and Lani pick up a few on the way) going on an adventure to save the world. The characters are well described by both action and narrative, coming alive in distinct ways. They represent a few cultures, human and not, as well as gender politics and abilities. But before you think this is a politically charged book, one aspect I enjoyed was how their differences came up in context and were normalized even when, for example, a satyress had to explain what pansexual meant to Megan. Humor is also used to make the characters come alive, especially in demonstrating the strength of Megan and Lani’s friendship, a tough task considering Lani has hidden the truth from Megan the whole time they knew each other because of Restrictions.
Beyond the strong characterizations, the world is grounded in the personal backstory of Megan’s mother and Celtic myth, along with mention of other beings connected to different cultures as well. Lani is half menehune, a Hawaiian fae with magic that reminds me of steampunkesque engineering. The fate of both worlds, fae and human, rests on the transfer of power between the sidhe and unseelie (only one of many critical balancing transfers) as the book draws on more than just names from the mythologies. The story also reveals the weight of promises and debts for the fae while hinting at the vast differences between the various types in everything from skills to eating habits.
There are many aspects I enjoyed from the occasional moments of philosophy to the creative solutions to traditional fantasy challenges. Several drawn out battles full of enthusiasm and chaos offer fast-paced action sequences. The backstory is so rich it sometimes felt I had jumped into the middle instead of book one. Then there’s how some traits in the fae mirrored ones from our world, like the brownies who want to work in the background and struggle under the weight of being noticed.
Speaking of creativity, I loved how it was valued by the teens and parents/teachers alike, as well as how it tied into magic. One caution, though. To let Megan reengage with the fantastic, she stops taking the latest pills added to her regime and later ends up in the fae lands with no medication. She is largely more functional on that side of the portal, a common motif but a little sad considering the strength of her portrayal in the beginning. They keep Megan’s mother in the dark about all of this until I still don’t know if she was aware of just who or what Megan’s father was.
The writing style is a bit rough in places, but not enough to hinder my read, and the book ends on a solid note. The end is seeded, so I suspected something coming, but still didn’t anticipate the details. I can’t say more to avoid spoilers, but I really appreciated the layers revealed in the events after the climax.
There’s so much more I marked as worthy of including in the review, but it can’t all fit without making this too chaotic to follow. Bottom line, I enjoyed this tween novel. It is written in a similar style to Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books, and for a similar age group or reading inclination. This would work well in the hopepunk category because it lacks the despair and gruesome nature of much of the young adult novels targeting older teens. The main characters are sixteen but read younger because of their sense of wonder and willingness to believe.