By Galen Beckett.
I'm conflicted on this novel. I found it pretty compelling to read and I whipped through it and stayed interested for most of the time. It rips off Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte and then does its own thing very well. On the other hand, there's at least one section of the book that could have been cut entirely as far as I'm concerned, one romance is done well and one isn't, and it's a slow slog to get into to the point where had I been flipping through it in the bookstore before buying it, I wouldn't have.
The plot: The world we're on is Altania, which appears to be not an alternate universe version of 1800's England, but an entire freaking alternate planet with 11/12 heavenly bodies in the sky, and extremely varying amounts of day (lumenal) and night (umbral). People go for days on end with it being night, or days on end of it being day, and as far as we can tell there seems to be no reason given as to why days and nights vary so crazily. People have to check an almanac/the newspaper to know how long to expect to be out that day or night. I really want to know how this works scientifically-- also, how the hell do these people farm? Wouldn't this fuck up the plants? And speaking of plants, there's Old Trees called Wrydwood that live out in the country and well...have a mind of their own and have been known to uprise and/or kill people. And there's various magicians and political plots going on, most of which we don't find out that much about. Also, people live in houses that are five stories high! Dang!
So that's the worldbuilding for you. Anyway, the book has three main characters and three book sections. The first and third sections are narrated in third person, and the second is written in first. The first section is clearly aping Jane Austen, the second Charlotte Bronte, and the third is the author's own. Which does very well. Though I don't know about the title of the book, mostly because it takes a LONG FREAKING TIME to even really understand why it's titled as it is.
Our title characters (more or less) are:
(a) Ivy Lockwell, oldest daughter of three girls. Naturally their family is impoverished and only hanging on by a thread because Mrs. Lockwell has the use of their house for as long as she lives, and their magician dad went totally insane when Ivy was 12. Ivy is the smart, bookish one who keeps the family together as best she can, manages Dad, and studies whatever she can in hopes of finding a cure for his condition. She finds a book her dad was going to give to her for her 13th birthday with a riddle in it, implying something bad will happen in the future if Ivy doesn't work on it. Ivy can't do magicians' magic (no woman can, much to her annoyance), but that doesn't stop her from trying to figure out what is going on and how to solve it, and what it has to do with her dad's old house on Durrow Street, which nobody can get into.
Middle sister Rose gets very little characterization beyond being vaguely psychic, but youngest Lily takes most of the family focus for being the 1800's version of an emo goth teenager. Naturally, the family could use some money or a romantic interest, especially when Mr. Wyble, cousin and future owner of the house, is being worrying.
(b) Dashton Rafferdy, a lord's son. Mr. Rafferdy is somewhat flush and somewhat not, but mostly has been dedicating his life to being lazy, flaky, and entertaining at parties. Actually, he's a good egg, but mostly he's resisting taking up the family responsibility. He meets Ivy through her annoying cousin and they really spark interest in each other, but Ivy is FAR TOO LOW SOCIALLY for Rafferdy to ever be allowed to marry her. You know how it goes. There's also a creepy ex-magician named Mr. Bennick who keeps lurking around and giving Rafferdy the eye. Rafferdy finds out that he's descended from one of the magical lines, and while he chooses not to have anything to do with magic, Bennick is going to make sure Rafferdy doesn't make that choice...
(c) Eldyn Garritt, Rafferdy's friend who has fallen on massive hard times and he's really broke--and trying to support his 18-year-old sister Sashie in a style remotely close to what she was accustomed to before. Their dad was a total waste of space and blew the family money. Eldyn keeps trying to get ahold of money-- and fending off a skeevy highwayman who's flirting with Sashie-- but ends up in a bad situation when he takes money from the highwaymen. Eldyn is a total butt monkey and I am not kidding when I say that the man does not get a break in the story whatsoever until 400+ pages have passed. I felt like I was being forced to watch "The Pursuit of Happyness" again, another movie in which the lead is in nothing but total misery until the very freaking end. I hated his plot for most of the book, it was depressing as hell. I was expecting him and his sister to end up dead/raped/something at the rate this book was going.
I would like to point out that if you have three main characters in a book, you optimally speaking want all three of them to come together in the plot at some point. This happens once in the book (fairly early on) and then after that, Eldyn continues to be in his own plot from hell except for the occasional coffeeshop visit with Rafferdy. He doesn't ever run into Ivy again, he doesn't really tie into the main big plot much except for his highwayman issues, he doesn't really start doing magic until 400+ pages in when he finally starts catching a break, and the one thing he helps stop isn't even shown onscreen. Frankly, he could have been excised from the book entirely. And should have been, because it depressed the hell out of me to read about him and he wasn't used or handled well. The character himself is okay, but... yeah. It was sad and bad and could have been cut and that's all I have to say about that.
Anyway, the first (Austen) section of the book is SLOW LIKE SHIT and frankly, could have been cut from the book entirely. I think it was really bad to have it go that slowly because if anyone's having issues dredging through Austen-like prose and Austen-like inaction, they would have long since quit reading it before things get interesting. I think it's only there to ape Jane Austen, set up Ivy's home life, and spark a forbidden romance between Ivy and Rafferdy which never comes off because his titled dad interferes. Then Ivy's family situation really goes to hell and she's forced out into the world to fend for them. It takes until page 185 for us to even find out who the hell Mr. Quent is, for example (and pages more before we even get to the title character's origins). It's really slow. I was interested in Ivy enough to stick with it, somewhat interested in Rafferdy's problems, thoroughly depressed at Elwyn's, and I guess I am surprised I hung in there despite groaning every time the narrative went back to Elwyn.
In the second (Bronte) section, the boys are dropped entirely (thank goodness, in my opinion) and Ivy is left to narrate in her journal--supposedly written to her dad who is too insane to read, but whatever, you gotta come up with a reason to journal somehow--what's going on. She gets a job working as governess to Mr. Quent, who turns out to be a family friend she never heard of and he's recently had to take in two orphaned children. The country house he lives in, Heathcrest Hall, is pretty much of the creepy/mysterious ilk. Nobody talks and the master is away on business a lot. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers Darendal, can't stand Ivy, and the country people make the evil eye curse when she rides around town. The story doesn't quite go into Jane-and-Rochester territory-- Mr. Quent might be maimed, but otherwise he's a pretty reasonable/stoic dude, and his wife is genuinely dead. She does, however, have a strong resemblance to Ivy, and died due to the local Wyrmwood. Ivy spends her free time investigating the mystery and finds out that she's tied to the place and what went on-- and that she has a power of her own. And as you probably guessed by the title, reader, she...well, you know.
I do have to comment here that while the romance between Rafferdy and Ivy is built up pretty well for Austen-ish standards, the romance between Ivy and Quent is a lot less so. Sure, he starts talking to her and they start hanging out and getting along, but it's not terribly sparky, comparatively speaking. Quent proposes out of the blue, and Ivy accepts-- admittedly, because otherwise she'll be broke and definitely needs his money to take care of her family and she's not an idiot-- but also we're told, not shown, that suddenly she loves him. (I read a comment on Jezebel the other day saying that these sorts of books were about economics, followed by another one saying that "The woman will eventually come around to love the man with the money even if she hated him first." I guess that explains it.) But for a modern audience it just doesn't work as a romance and isn't done well, which is especially noticeable compared to her previous romance. And hell, Mr. Quent is pretty much only around for book 2 (he disappears for most of the third section), so you don't spend too much time getting to know him anyway.
I'll not say too much about the third section of the book beyond what I have, other than it's not aping either style and actually gets down to the deep, dark stuff that went down with Ivy's dad and the Durrow Street house. Ivy needs a magician to help her deal with the riddle problem, and recruits newbie Rafferdy to the task because (a) she knows him, and (b) she can trust that he's not one of the bad guys. But left to their own devices without other aid, they may be up a creek compared to the forces they don't know about...
Here's the thing: there's major flaws in the writing of this. Mostly Elwyn, and the extremely slow start, and the second, weaker romance. There's also other things foreshadowed here and there about the world that doesn't really come to much fruition here. But on the other hand, despite Elwyn and the slow start, I was freaking hooked reading it. I whipped through it. I read the book while walking around in rainstorms hoping the umbrella would protect it. The situation is intriguing, and I enjoyed Ivy (more as a narrator on her own, but then again I prefer first person). Rafferdy did tie in at the end well. I'm curious to see what else would happen in this world, as something ominous is definitely happening on this freaky, freaky planet. So it's a good read, but with Issues.
I'm going to give it three and a half stars. It should probably be a three, but I found it compelling enough to bump it up a little.