As you may have noticed, I didn’t get a review up on Wednesday, and I think that’s going to be a bit of a theme this month. I didn’t read as much in January as I’d hoped, and a lot of the ARCs I did get around to reading are for books that don’t come out for a fair while yet, meaning that I won’t be posting those reviews until closer to the publication date. So I’m afraid that thanks to university eating my life and my own disorganisation, I probably won’t be posting three times a week throughout February. But I’ll absolutely post once a week, and hopefully twice — if I can get a moment to schedule a bunch of stuff, I will.
In the meantime, though, we’re back to the queer NetGalley ARCs. Wahey.
This is a book about a terminally ill character who is half-fey and lives in a world populated at least as much by magic as by humanity. His theory is that his fey heritage and his human heritage are somehow incompatible, and that’s why he’s sick. After he’s been getting worse and worse, his family insist he talks to this guy called Kin, who is a different kind of healer. This being on my ‘canon queer characters’ shelf, you can probably already see where this is going — Kin can’t heal him, but they do fall in love, so it works out on one level.
As someone who is chronically ill and keen on fairies, there was a lot that I enjoyed about this book. While my health problems are thankfully not killing me (just making being alive somewhat painful), I could definitely empathise with Luca on his bad pain days when he talked about his aching joints and reluctance to move. I also enjoyed the magical aspect of the book, although I have to admit, I found Lang’s approach to fairies and so on to be very unlike a lot of the folklore I’ve read and seen used in other books, and as a result, it was a bit tricky to keep all the different types of fairies straight in my head or to follow what the various terms were being used to mean in this context.
(I know what I mean when I use the term ‘sidhe’, but I couldn’t figure out what it meant for Lang: a distinction of species, or of class, or what? It was a bit hard to pin down, though that might’ve been because my pre-existing knowledge was getting in the way and meaning I came to it with my own ideas.)
I have to admit, though, that the book didn’t quite do for me what I’d hoped it might do. I didn’t find the writing as convincing as I might have hoped, particularly where the romance was concerned — it was a little bit too much like instalove for me, and was treated by the narrative as a foregone conclusion, which made it hard to see how it developed, which made it feel less authentic than it might have done.
It was a similar case with Luca’s sister Saben. This was a relationship I was really interested in and would have liked to explore more, but I felt too much of it happened before the book began and was only hinted at, meaning what remained felt incomplete. Along with the terminology issues I was having with the fey, I felt I spent most of the first half of the book scrambling to keep up and put together the pieces of everybody’s backstory, which were crucial to understanding them. It might have made sense to start the story a little earlier so that as readers, we could see more of that rather than having to guess at it.
My main problem, though, was more personal. One of the major themes of the book is Luca facing a decision whether to take a potential cure that Kin offers him, without knowing whether or not it will work but in the knowledge that if it does, he’ll be immortal. I have to admit, it’s probably my youth speaking when I say in his position I wouldn’t have spent half a book agonising about that decision.
I’ve written enough immortal characters to know it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but I also know that being in pain all the time and unable to live your life, knowing that every day you’re stuck in bed is one fewer days to achieve your dreams, sucks. It really, really sucks. If someone told me they had a cure and by the way it might make me immortal but nobody actually knows because it’s a legend… well, I’d take it. After all, it’s not like Luca knew for sure what would happen. To me, it would be worth the risk. For me, it wouldn’t even be about not dying young, it would 100% be about having better quality of life in the meantime. For a character to be in pain that was so familiar and not to take every step to change that was odd to me.
Although I could understand Luca’s position to a certain extent, I found myself taking Kin’s point of view, not for selfish “but I love you and don’t want to lose you” reasons or ideological “you have a responsibility to preserve your life” or whatever reasons, but simply because being in pain isn’t something I’d choose for a day longer than I had to. This made for quite a frustrating read at times, and meant any of the scenes where he started debating it with himself dragged somewhat.
I realise for readers who don’t have chronic pain, it might be easier to see his point of view, but frankly I couldn’t make sense of a character whose pain was so relatable and yet whose reaction to it wasn’t. Like I said, I think it’s my youth showing; I’m too aware of growing up faster than I’d like without hitting the milestones I’d hoped to because my health got in the way. If someone offered me not only the chance to get better, but also more time, I’d leap at it.
Finally, I felt like some of the prose wasn’t all that strong. There were some lovely moments, but other parts could have been more polished. It wouldn’t have mattered if the characters and plot had been strong, but I don’t think it helped me get into the story when I was finding it difficult.
That said, I still really like the concept of this book, and the fact that it’s very casual about the queerness of the characters (the main m/m relationship isn’t the only one), as if this isn’t even slightly a concern or question in this setting. Also, despite the premise of having a terminally ill character, it still makes it onto the ‘unbury your queers’ shelf, even if one doesn’t feel that would last too long beyond the end of the book.