As you may know, I’ve been on a faerie (fairy, faery, faerie, fairie, whichever spelling floats your boat) book review kick this month. This particular book is by no means a new one--Bones of Faerie, by Janni Lee Simner, is the first in a trilogy first published in 2008. I don’t remember what year I picked it up from a shelf in a bookstore and decided to buy it, but it was probably relatively close to that publication date.
I don’t think I even read the first page of this book after I bought it—if I had, I definitely wouldn’t have let it gather dust on my shelf for 8+ years. Every so often, I’d see this book’s spine on my shelf, and wonder why I never bothered to read it. Finally, I decided enough was enough, and I read it in less than a week.
I wouldn’t say this book is awe-inspiring or really changed the way I think about books in this genre, but it was a very fun, quick read that was tough to put down. Our protagonist, a fifteen-year-old girl named Liza, lives in a post-apocalyptic world that has been utterly changed by a war between humanity and the fae. Since the war, children born with touches of magic are cast out by the people of Liza’s village—their effort to protect themselves from the evils of magic.
Within the first chapter, Liza witnesses her father, considered a leader of the village, take Liza’s newly born sister and leave her out to die in the hills because she is born with silver hair—a sure sign of magic. Soon after, Liza’s mother disappears, leaving Liza alone to process a world of loss.
A week or so into the loss of her sister and mother, Liza begins having visions when she looks into reflective surfaces, and is so terrified by the implications that she runs away to the forest, where she won’t be a danger to people as her magic continues to develop. Liza’s visions are a great narrative device—the more she has visions, the more we as readers begin to learn hints about the truth of why her mother left, and what really happened during the war.
The world-building is, in my opinion, the best part of this book, because it feels very new and fresh. The war has left the world strange and dangerous—plants are now bloodthirsty, and reach out with thorns, vines, and branches to attack humans who wander too far off the beaten track. Glowing stones used as weapons in the war remain a danger, as does anything reflective. Modern technology is long defunct, and I love the way Liza reflects on what it must have been like to live in a world with cars and airplanes.
The themes explored in this book are wonderful as well. As is characteristic of YA, our protagonist sets out on a journey that reveals to her that her world is not what it seems, and she needs to overcome her own fear and personal biases to set things right. Nothing is black and white, and though she is raised to believe that the fae attacked humanity and devastated her world, Liza comes to learn what humanity did to the land of Faerie in turn.
Simner also does a great job of exploring emotional and physical abuse, and what growing up in a rigid, patriarchal environment that relies on fear does to a child. Liza struggles throughout the book with a sometimes-debilitating fear of her father, who lashes her with his belt as punishment when she is unable to meet his many demands and expectations.
This book also explores themes of guilt, grief, and suppression. The fear of magic in this world works well as a metaphor for any type of difference that people see in each other and use as reason to suppress and hate, with the added twist that magic can in fact be dangerous if it is not used well. Liza grapples with her learned fear and hate of all things magical throughout the story as she struggles with her grief, and the culmination of the novel, which takes her into the land of Faerie with the help of friends she’s met along the way, is high stakes and ultimately very satisfying.
I had mixed feelings when I discovered that this book is the first in a trilogy. I enjoyed the ending of this book and I think that it leaves off in a perfect place. I appreciate the fact that this book doesn’t have a forced relationship between Liza and her friend Matthew, who joins Liza on most of journey. There were hints of a coming relationship, but I really liked that Simner focuses on Liza’s arc without throwing in a romance subplot. Liza’s got enough on her plate as it is. That being said, I’m curious about what adventures Liza has in later books, so I’ll definitely check them out.
I would recommend this book to middle school kids, teens, or adults who enjoy post-apocalyptic fantasy with unique world-building, high stakes, fast pacing, and nuanced themes.
Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner was published in 2008 by Random House Books for Young Readers. It is available in hardcover for $11.10 and paperback for $9.99.
Have you read any good books lately that bend genres in new or surprising ways? Do you think apocalyptic lit is tired and over, or should authors keep finding new ways to play with this subgenre?
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.