Official Summary: Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.
Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.
My Thoughts: From the first moment I heard of this book, it became one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I love stories about the fae; unfortunately, only Sarah J. Maas had dominated the topic for the past few years. A new mainstream YA book about faeries was just what I needed. And I really did like it, but it didn’t live up to the hopes I had. I had mixed feelings on everything, from the characters to the world-building to the plot. Regardless, I couldn’t help but feel enchanted from beginning to end.
As someone who values characters above all, I was very pleased to find that I loved the ones in this book. Well, I love Isobel and Rook. Isobel is cautious and stubborn. She’s dealt with faeries long enough to know just what to say and how to act around them. She’s artistic and intelligent. She loves with all her heart and has little patience for arrogance. Rook is simultaneously innocent and wizened. He’s flirty and arrogant, but also genuinely hates hurting people. If he has offended you, he will immediately and sincerely apologize (even if he doesn’t always understand why). He’s also powerful and hates to back down from a fight. The two of them had an excellent dynamic and I loved watching it grow and transform.
The problem is not all the transformations made sense. The two often seemed to confuse infatuation with love and, despite how much Isobel tells us they are resisting their feelings, are willing to give everything to and for each other awfully quickly. It was in this that their characterization faltered. Fae-wary Isobel would suddenly forget things she’s known all her life about faeries. Rook, the proud prince of the autumnlands, is suddenly willing to give everything up for Isobel. Their dynamic only seems to work when the narrative isn’t trying to push the all-consuming love angle.
There were also a lot of questions about these characters that were never answered. We’re told the painting of Rook isn’t the first strike against him in the eyes of his fellow fae, but it’s never really explained what the other strikes were. Why was Rook’s position so vulnerable? Isobel tells the reader that everyone in Whimsy expects her to drink from the Green Well and become a faerie herself, but gives no indication of where that notion came from. How is she different from the other artisans the fae go to for Craft? The two of them also suffered from back stories that were shoe-horned in. These issues made the only two somewhat round characters seem even weaker, amongst all the flat characters.
I really enjoyed the magic of this world and the restrictions placed on the fae, but the world-building was lackluster. The way the enchantments worked was explained very well and was an interesting take on faerie magic. Because of their tricky nature, you have to be very careful how you word your request. The reader is given horror stories and success stories in order to better display this. Additionally, none of the citizens of Whimsy use their real names. If a faerie has your true name, they can ensorcel you and make you do whatever they want. By using a chosen name, the people of Whimsy are protected. Rogerson also utilizes a different take on the preternatural beauty of the fae. They use glamours out of vanity; their true forms are far more monstrous. However, although they can use glamours, they cannot create anything that could be considered Craft. That means they can’t make artwork, cook, sew their own clothes, etc. or they will die. Overall, it’s a very unique take on faeries that makes them threatening, but not all-powerful.
Unfortunately, there are some problems with this too. Faeries have magic outside these abilities, but these powers aren’t adequately explained. It seems like characters have nature magic connected to the season of their domain and another ability specific to them, but we only see this explored with the princes. There is no indication as to whether or not all faeries have these abilities or just the princes. In trying to vary the magic, Rogerson may have actually limited it.
The actual layout of the land was confusing as well. There is Whimsy, where the humans live; the four seasonal lands, ruled by the fae; faerielands and paths, though there is no indication is they are only part of the seasonal lands or lead into other places as well; and there is the mysterious place known only as the World Beyond. It was hard to get a mental picture on where each of these places are in relation to each other. But more confusing than that was the World Beyond. Never in the book is it explained what or where exactly this place is. The implication seemed to be that is was a place without faeries, but there was no indication as to why that might be. It almost seemed like Rogerson was trying to make her world seem bigger than it needed to be for the story.
As with the characters and world-building, the plot wasn’t completely formed either. Overall, it was the story of a journey, and that in and of itself is fine. The problem is different threads would come up (the faerie beasts, the Alder King, the Wild Hunt, etc.) and then not be brought up again. It wasn’t until closer to the end that all these things suddenly came together. While this can be a good technique, it was clumsily done. Instead of being cleverly woven together, it came across more like, “Hey, remember that thing from before we haven’t talked about in a hundred pages? It’s suddenly relevant again.” It was a rather jarring conclusion to an otherwise smooth plotline.
Ultimately, however, I can’t hate this book. It was careful to actively avoid and call out problematic tropes, like the handsome love interest that always has his actions excused. Isobel holds Rook accountable for his actions and he always tries to understand why what he did was wrong. The story also had such a magical, whimsical atmosphere, I couldn’t help but feel enthralled. All-in-all, it was a pretty decent debut and I’m excited to see what kind of stories Margaret Rogerson has to tell next.
My Rating: 3.75/5