“Sparkwood” by Daria Defore

I actually only got approved for this on NetGalley, like, yesterday. And then hurriedly read it last night so I could get a review up because (a) it came out this week and (b) I didn’t have anything else scheduled. (This whole month has been a bit like this so far — normally I try and schedule at least a couple of weeks in advance, but I’ve been barely keeping on top of it, mostly because all the review copies I’ve read don’t come out until late March or later and I’m saving them for closer to the release date. Sigh.)

sparkwood

Publication date: February 15th, 2017

I requested this from NetGalley because (a) fairies and (b) the protagonist’s called Finn. For those who aren’t aware, Finn’s a nickname of mine (and I’ve been thinking a lot about changing my professional name lately, so it may end up being more than that). Although it was an enjoyable read, I felt aspects of it were a little bit weak and needed some more work before it could reach its full potential.

First of all, I liked the book’s approach to queer characters. I found it in the LGBTQ section of NetGalley and it’s published by Less Than Three Press, so I assumed it would have a focus on that kind of thing, but I liked how it was done. Defore struck a balance between dealing with real issues like homophobia and being closeted, and allowing queer characters to be happy, mainly by offering the reader two worlds: our world, with all its accompanying homophobia issues, and the fairy world, which doesn’t care. This was effective in meaning it had some realistic grittiness without that being overwhelming.

I didn’t, however, enjoy the sex scenes. They weren’t exactly a big part of the book, but I’m pretty picky about that kind of thing (probably due to being ace and sex-repulsed and generally weirded out by anything involving penises). I have three categories: these scenes are either interesting, they don’t register with me on any level, or they weird me out. Sadly, these were in the third category. This is probably due to my own personal preferences, but it did make it difficult to feel invested in the denouement of the relationships involved because I would’ve been happy for the characters not to get together if it meant I didn’t have to read sex scenes. So, that was less great.

Also, I tend to enjoy the ‘fake dating’ trope (the most effective example I’ve seen was actually in a Les Mis fanfic AU of 10 Things I Hate About You which… says way too much about my teenage fan fic habits but it was great and I don’t care what you think), but I felt it wasn’t used to its full potential here, as the relationship developed too quickly and there wasn’t nearly enough of the slow realisation of feelings or agonised pining, to be honest.

I mostly really enjoyed the fairy lore, which seemed to work on the premise that fairies have been hidden until recently but now, and in this particular town of Sparkwood, they’re known and visible while generally feared and on the whole keeping themselves to themselves. However, I say ‘seemed’ because this was something that wasn’t explained as much as it could have been: I would’ve liked more backstory and worldbuilding to explain exactly what the situation was, and why it had changed (or even if it had). There were some tantalising glimpses at fairy politics, particularly with regard to changelings, but again, this was something we didn’t get to see quite enough of for my tastes.

I did like the way fairy promises and contracts of servitude and so on were used as plot points, and how magic worked. But all of these were things that I felt we only got tantalising glimpses of: I wanted to know more about how they worked, to delve deeper, and I’m not usually THAT big a fan of worldbuilding. (I like it and I always have questions, but I don’t tend to notice inconsistencies and I don’t care that much about the little details the way some of my friends do.)

The same could probably be said of all the things I found interesting — hints at character relationships, Finn’s backstory in the town itself, and so on, much of which was only revealed in passing references and flashbacks when it became relevant to the immediate story. Maybe it would have slowed the book down to learn more of this, but it was such a quick read that it would probably have benefited from that.

All in all, then, my issues with the book were to do with balance. There wasn’t enough of what interested me, and I never felt quite like I had enough information to go on. In some ways this kept me reading, but without the pay-off that would have been actually finding out all the details I was lacking. I still enjoyed it quite a bit, because hey, fairies, right? I’m fairly easy to please when it comes to fairies.*

It would probably be a 3.5* read, but I think a low one; it doesn’t feel strong enough to get pushed up to 4*s. It was one of those books that had a lot more potential than was realised.

Rating: ***


*There are definitely exceptions to this and they usually involve gross misuse of medieval Irish literature in the guise of ‘mythology’, for the record. Blame my degree.

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